Review: Anthem (Roslyn Packer Theatre)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jan 15 – 19, 2020
Playwrights: Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas, Irine Vela
Director: Susie Dee
Cast: Maude Davey, Reef Ireland, Ruci Kaisila, Thuso Lekwape, Amanda Ma, Maria Mercedes, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Eryn Jean Norvill, Sahil Saluja, Osamah Sami, Eva Seymour, Carly Sheppard, Jenny M. Thomas, Dan Witton
Images by Victor Frankovski

Theatre review
Much of the action takes place in train carriages around the Greater Melbourne area, where more than anywhere else, an accurate cross section can be obtained of who Australians are today. Rich and poor have to sit together, as do black, brown and white, along with young and old. When extricated from our respective communities, classes and silos, we are forced to look at the real differences that define us, probably more so than the similarities that we like to imagine give meaning to our national identity. In Anthem, it is the very nature of discrepancies, of wealth, power and all that might constitute a person’s cultural capital, that are exposed and very powerfully discussed.

On a land that remains unceded by its Indigenous who make up only an estimated 3.3% of the current population, it is absurd that the rest of us should experience privilege of any description. Director Susie Dee does a splendid job of articulating, not only that injustice, but also the harmful collective delusion driving this nation, that some of us deserve more than others. Anthem makes it clear that no one here can legitimately possess more than others; for as long as Indigenous peoples are marginalised and unable to exercise rights of ownership, the rest of us can only ever be holders of dubious property and position.

The politics of the piece is made saliently resonant by Dee, who imbues every vignette of Anthem with accuracy and urgency, accompanied by a strident level of realism that defies us to ignore the problems residing in the very foundation of our Australian existences. An extraordinary cast keeps us mesmerised for the entirety of these 150 passionate minutes. Tremendously well-rehearsed and unbelievably cohesive, their performance represents some of the most gripping theatre one could ever hope to see. Actor Carly Sheppard is unforgettable, giving voice to Black Australia, able to portray humour alongside a virtuous fury, to make an important and conclusive statement about Indigenous rights.

Ruci Kaisila, Jenny M. Thomas and Dan Witton provide live music over the duration, sensational in their manipulation of atmosphere and emotions, through the very accomplished works of composer and sound designer Irine Vela. Set and costumes by Marg Horwell are intelligently executed, able to convey a sense of veracity for characters and situations, whilst offering theatrical dynamism to our experience of the show. Paul Jackson’s lights too, bring animation to the stage, and is valuable in establishing tone for every nuanced moment of this sensitively rendered play.

As Australians, we have grown accustomed to tolerating inequalities in our social order. It has become acceptable that the rich get richer, at the expense of the poor, who can obviously only get poorer as a result. Marginalised communities, most notably Indigenous peoples, are routinely subjugated and muzzled, as our structures continue to privilege voices that adhere to conditions stipulated by white patriarchy. We have learned to think of the downtrodden as deserving of their lack of position in society. Even when we find ourselves oppressed by those with money and power, we take on the blame in accordance with the conditioning enforced by those at the top. It is no wonder then that James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is invoked in both the prologue and epilogue of Anthem. The only solution is a revolution, if only enough of us can see beyond the lies.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: Lady Tabouli (National Theatre of Parramatta)

Venue: Riverside Theatres (Parramatta NSW), Jan 9 – 18, 2020
Playwright: James Elazzi
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Nisrine Amine, Deborah Galanos, Antony Makhlouf, Johnny Nasser
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Danny is compliant and cheerful, as he lends a hand to his sister Josephine, who is causing a frenzy at home, preparing for her son’s christening. They are modern day Lebanese-Australians, very much a part of mainstream contemporary life, but not without their own traditions, as is common amongst minority groups. In James Elazzi’s Lady Tabouli, we celebrate the uniqueness of that cultural heritage, but together with everything good that contributes to the diverse tapestry defining our experience of identity on this land, comes a regressiveness determined to oppress the same people who wish to preserve those values.

As the hour draws close for the big event, in the midst of a lot of spirited hullabaloo, Danny decides to come out of the closet. The incongruity of sensibilities in Lady Tabouli, of a man revealing his true self whilst his family attempts to enact the most symbolic of ceremonies, forces us to acknowledge the complexities of our multiculturalism, especially in terms of LGBTQI issues, and how Australia must look beyond legislation to address the prejudice inherent in so much of our cultural practice. Gayness may no longer be illegal, but in so much of Australian society, gay people continue to be shunned.

Elazzi’s writing is powerful and passionate. Its incisive honesty provides an urgency that grips us, having us invested in the family’s story, regardless of where we stand in relation to its arguments. An abrupt conclusion however, suggests that more could be explored, even if we do appreciate the ambiguity pertaining to Danny’s subsequent developments. Directed by Dino Dimitriadis, the work is mesmerising when emotions run high. Early scenes are appropriately manic, but its humour never really takes flight. When things turn serious is when the magic happens. There is a depth to the way its characters and narrative are presented that absolutely captivates, alongside a sorrow that sings with disarming authenticity, of rejection and of loss.

That melancholy is exhaustively manufactured by the formidable partnership of Benjamin Brockman’s lights and Ben Pierpoint’s sounds, both elements hellbent on having our emotions respond with intense empathy. The show begins in the kitchen, depicted by production designer Jonathan Hindmarsh with middle class respectability, prosperous but ordinary, that transforms into the proverbial good room, where a more idiosyncratic notion of selfhood can be expressed.

Actor Antony Makhlouf is a compelling Danny, accurate in his portrayal of frustrated despondency, for a young man caught between two worlds. His mother is played by Deborah Galanos, a big presence bringing resonance to themes of piety and control, in a story about emancipation and freedom. Josephine the overbearing sister, is made scintillating by an exuberant Nisrine Amine, and Johnny Nasser is wonderfully nuanced in dual roles, adding intriguing texture to the show.

We have always tried to exercise control over nature, whether using commerce as a form of logic to plunder earthly resources, or to obliterate the most beautiful of human connections in the name of religion. We constantly position ourselves above, interpreting our variety of intelligence as solution for what we deem to be chaos in the world. More than ever before, we can see clearly that rather than being able to achieve order, what we do best is destruction. In pessimistic times, it is hard to talk about growth and progress, but our capacity for evil becomes painfully comprehensible.

www.riversideparramatta.com.au/NTofP

Review: Blue Christmas (New Ghosts Theatre Company)



Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 11 – 22, 2019
Images by Clare Hawley

Good People
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Laura Djanegara, Sasha Dyer, Chika Ikogwe, Jane Watt, Emma Wright

Shandy’s Corner
Playwright: Gretel Vella
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Meg Clarke, Laura Djanegara, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Zoe Jensen, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash

Theatre review
It is Christmas time, when things come to a boiling point for two groups of women. In Katy Warner’s Good People, old friends have their holiday in Indonesia cut short by a state of emergency, as violence breaks out and tourists are corralled and confined to an airport. These Australians have witnessed the true face of poverty, and are now confronting the brutal implications of their privileged first world lives. Shandy’s Corner by Gretel Vella takes place in a women’s shelter, in first world Australia, where the consequences of our patriarchal systems are on full display, with broken individuals trying to regain their agency and a sense of dignity.

Both hour-long works are sensitively written and immensely contemplative, offering valuable perspectives on the kinds of lives we currently inhabit. Directed by Lucy Clements, the double-bill presentation grips from start to end. Good People is provocative, able to instigate meaningful conversations, while Shandy’s Corner is fabulously entertaining, with a dark humour that proves deeply satisfying. Clements injects an infectious passion into every scene, for a theatre that communicates with efficacious power.

An excellent impression is left by a very strong and cohesive cast, remarkably engaging in their delivery of two ensemble pieces, with not a single weak link. Clementine Anderson and Laura Djanegara perform in both stories, taking the opportunity to demonstrate versatility, but are especially memorable in Shandy’s Corner for their compelling portrayals of women overcoming adversity in wildly different ways. Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Emma Wright bring complex characterisations and excellent drama to the staging, intense with the emotions they convey. Funny ladies Meg Clarke and Zoe Jensen are thoroughly enjoyable in comedic roles, each actor with approaches as bold as their imaginations.

It is appropriate that the Christmas message here relates to the inherent injustices of our way of life. To respond to these plays, we can do no better than to think, “what would Jesus do?” in the face of these man-made tragedies. Christianity proclaims to be about caring for the poor and the oppressed, as it preaches in Proverbs 31:8-9, to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” When we look around us, there is little that can be construed as holy, but good art remains, and it is eternally sacred.

www.newghoststheatre.com

Review: The Split (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 3 – 14, 2019
Playwright: Sarah Hamilton
Director: Charley Sanders
Cast: Amy Victoria Brooks, Max Garcia-Underwood

Theatre review
We are with Jules and Tom are on a small boat, where for several days and nights, they have isolated themselves to sort out an unspeakable problem. It must be a difficult one because we see them evading the issue, indulging instead in a lot of mundane chat and frivolous activity, leaving their purpose ignored in the background.

Sarah Hamilton’s The Split demonstrates what it is like, when things are too hard to deal with, especially if they relate to matters of the heart. The work is keenly observed, although its unrelenting sense of wistfulness can prove a challenge for the 90-minute duration. The couple is in a state of fragility, and we watch them unable to access anything that might fracture their emotional equilibrium, resulting in a play that stays too much in a delicate space, refusing to deliver a more obvious drama, or comedy, that would sustain our interest.

Performers in The Split are beautifully focused, very confident and precise with their respective portrayals. Amy Victoria Brooks and Max Garcia-Underwood may not deliver convincing sizzle as lovers, but both actors bring a valuable depth to their characters, able to convey authenticity for every scene. Director Charley Sanders’ storytelling is honest, but the production is too subdued in approach, and as a consequence, insufficiently engaging. Lights and video projections by Kobe Donaldson contribute some visual appeal to the staging, although atmosphere could be further enhanced to complement the writing’s sensual melancholy.

Life is hard; all we can do is to give it our best shot. As we watch Jules and Tom fail at what they had set out to achieve, we examine the way people deal with painful situations, in the understanding that it is the very nature of pain, that makes us run away from what we acknowledge needs to be addressed. The two take it slow, waiting for the ache to subside, so that they can finally arrive at a moment of confrontation that both know to be necessary. Not everything can be ripped off like a band aid. We learn that some things deserve the luxury of time, even if everything in this moment, does feel like a real state of emergency.

www.houseofsand.org

Review: Krapp’s Last Tape (Red Line Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 26 – Dec 14, 2019
Playwright: Samuel Beckett
Director: Gale Edwards
Cast: Jonathan Biggins
Images by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Another grumpy old man takes to the stage in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. He brings along a sense of confusion, perhaps disillusioned and defeated by a world that never lived up to its promises. A wall of filing cabinets containing a lifetime of voice recordings that he has made, an ongoing project representing a memoir that is both self-important, and self derisive. Indeed, it charts the man’s ageing process, from idealistic to despondent, as we find him in a state of decrepitude.

Most of the show involves Krapp listening to his tape machine, playing a collection of narrations that could only ever mean more to him than to anyone else. We observe past and present converge as he sits attentive to his personal oral history. Directed by Gale Edwards, the staging bears an affecting melancholy, with Veronique Benett’s lights and Brian Thomson’s set design providing just the right ennui. Actor Jonathan Biggins is confident and a sturdy presence, able to convey degrees of regret for a role that seems to be about little besides. He provides a charming wistfulness that translates as a sort of gentle comedy, more likely to elicit empathy than it would laughter.

Krapp looks back in anger and in pain, making us wonder about the way we regard the past, as it relates to today and tomorrow. On the occasion of his 69th birthday, he demonstrates that the older we get, the less we are able to be buoyed by the future. The anguish he experiences, as he hits playback on the tape, is a result of poor choices and bad luck. Decisions can be made every which way; right, wrong, indeterminate, bearing in mind that regret is valuable only as a concept for future use.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Coram Boy (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 7, 2019
Playwright: Helen Edmundson (adapted from the novel by Jamila Gavin)
Directors: Michael Dean, John Harrison
Cast: Rebecca Abdel-Messih, Lloyd Allison-Young, Violette Ayad, Andrew Den, Ryan Hodson, Joshua McElroy, Tinashe Mangwana, Suz Mawer, Emma O’Sullivan, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Ariadne Sgouros, Annie Stafford, Amanda Stephens-Lee, Petronella Van Tienen, Joshua Wiseman
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The story revolves around the “Coram Hospital for Deserted Children” in 18th century London. Babies are abandoned, with some subsequently rescued and many others allowed to die, in Jamila Gavin’s novel Coram Boy, adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson. The epic features unfeeling landowners, ruthless criminals, desperate mothers, music prodigies and George Frideric Handel, all woven into a very big play with narratives that all concern themselves with the welfare of children.

Wonderfully imaginative and often very touching, Coram Boy is written almost like a screenplay, with short scenes taking place in a myriad different places. Directors Michael Dean and John Harrison orchestrate the action marvellously, adventurous in their efforts to help us suspend disbelief inside a small black auditorium, allowing us to see in our mind’s eye, old streets, stately homes and the deep blue ocean. Lighting design by Benjamin Brockman is instrumental in manufacturing these impossible visions, extravagant and evocative with everything he presents. Similarly rhapsodic is Nate Edmondson’s sound design, an unbelievably rich aspect of the show, thoroughly assembled to cover all bases for a luscious rendering of this period drama.

Fifteen passionate members of cast bring soulful life to a huge roster of personalities, all of them imbued a sense of authenticity under the strict supervision of Dean and Harrison. The powerful Lloyd Allison-Young is captivating with the flamboyance he brings to the baddie Otis Gardiner, as is Gideon Payen-Griffiths who plays Handel, and other roles, with a delicious sense of theatrical ostentation. Annie Stafford takes care to introduce valuable nuance to the ingenue Melissa Milcote, while Joshua Wiseman impresses with musical talents that measure up beautifully to his considerable acting abilities.

Ariadne Sgouros is unforgettable with the emotional intensity she provides Mrs Lynch, a complex character with severely conflicting qualities that the actor makes truthful. Equally genuine in presence is Violette Ayad as Isobel Ashbrook, whose subtleties never fail to catch our attention, even in a sea of persistent cacophony. The noteworthy Emma O’Sullivan takes on a range of smaller parts with gusto, remarkably persuasive with all of them.

The greatest inspiration one would take from Coram Boy relates to the immense ambition on display. A grander project could not be envisioned for a smaller space, yet all three hours of the experience is entrancing, satisfying and fruitful. The rich people in the story have every resource to do good, but they do only bad. It may not be true that money will only bring forth evil, but it is clear that on this occasion, necessity has become the mother of invention. Endless shows have been put on costing more, but have delivered far less. When we feel as though in the gutter, looking at starry affairs of the wealthy, it is important to remember that the problems that money can solve for our individual lives, are not often as exhaustive as they seem to promise. When a lot is done with very little, is when we know that something truly great has been achieved.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: The Beauty Queen Of Leenane (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre at Walsh Bay (Sydney NSW), Nov 18 – Dec 21, 2019
Playwright: Martin McDonagh
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Noni Hazlehurst, Hamish Michael, Shiv Palekar, Yael Stone
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Maureen is full of resentment, because she has to live at home to care for her incapacitated and very demanding mother Mag. After a passionate night with Pato however, Maureen starts to think of a brighter future, and in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, we wonder how much of destiny is indeed predetermined, as our protagonist navigates what appears to be a new shift in luck.

The play is savage in its depictions of hard lives. Maureen and Mag are Irish women of the lower classes, and fending for themselves is nigh on impossible, as made abundantly clear in this painful story, about the compounding disadvantage of living with disability and poverty, as well as the structural sexism that functions as a major component keeping them at the bottom of the pile. McDonagh’s comedy is of the darkest variety, becoming pitch black as we approach its end.

It is a magnificently accomplished production that director Paige Rattray has assembled. Humour and drama are balanced exquisitely against dread and revulsion, for an entirely mesmerising experience at the theatre. Production design by Renée Mulder offers sensational rendering of the Folan’s home, both inside and out, for a vision of unimaginable decrepitude, reminiscent of the stuff nightmares are made of. The Beauty Queen Of Leenane is a masterpiece in the style of the modern Gothic horror; although devoid of supernatural elements, its atmosphere is unmistakably ominous.

Stunning performances by all four actors have us absolutely riveted. Maureen is played by Yael Stone who dances on a knife’s edge, in an intoxicating portrayal of a woman at the end of her tether, having us on the edge of our seats, with the psychological thrill of witnessing someone on the brink of losing her mind. Our perception of mother Mag oscillates precariously between humour and terror, as the fantastic Noni Hazlehurst masterfully manipulates her role to offer us immense entertainment.

Shiv Palekar has us amazed with his exceptional comic timing, as the puerile and very laddish neighbour Ray, able to deliver huge laughs with every one of his precise and intuitively executed punchlines. Maureen’s object of affection Pato too is a funny character, made tender and surprisingly earnest by Hamish Michael, who brings valuable sentimentality to the often brutal narrative.

Maureen’s world is a horrible existence, one that she has been taught to never leave. Poverty keeps people in their place. It works as a form of indoctrination that hopes to make large numbers feel a sense of acceptance of their stations, so that they can remain exploited for generations, if not for eternity. The two women are stuck at home, languishing and never daring to move beyond the familiar. They will not be rescued, but the rules are there ready to be broken, if only they were to choose defiance.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au