Review: Trojan Barbie (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 16 – 21, 2019
Playwright: Christine Evans
Director: Maddison Huber
Cast: Anthea Agoratsios, Sophie Avellino, Deng Deng, Sam Flack, Cathy Friend, Tristen Knox, Anjelica Murdaca, Taleece Paki, Lisa Robinson, Shannon Rossiter, Amy Sole, Kristelle Zibara

Theatre review
An homage to Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Christine Evans’ 2009 play Trojan Barbie places focus on legendary women of the Trojan War. Modern day tourist Lotte, who restores dolls in her normal life, is flung back to ancient times, where she is trapped in a women’s camp, witnessing the atrocities of war. Evans’ work is suitably tragic, but also surprisingly humorous in many of its early scenes. Familiar characters are rendered with a contemporary sensibility, allowing us to relate better to their stories, and to keep us amused.

Time travel aspects are not always presented effectively in the production, leaving us confused at several points, but director Maddison Huber ensures that each personality we encounter in her show, is distinct and memorable. Actor Lisa Robinson demonstrates strong comic abilities as Lotte, adept at delivering laughs even in the midst of battleground horrors. Kristelle Zibara is a convincing Hecuba, intense with the sorrow her maternal role is charged to convey. Sophie Avellino and Cathy Friend take on different kinds of madness, for Helen and Cassandra respectively, both performers bringing appropriate flamboyance to invigorate the stage. The show succeeds at dramatic moments of catastrophe, but when the action calls for a gentler touch, its lack of nuance can make for a less than satisfying experience.

A Chinese proverb says that women hold up half the sky. Even as men insist on occupying positions of power, we are always required to be on hand to pick up the pieces, whenever they bring degradation and destruction to the world. It is important that we look beyond how things currently operate, and commit to working towards a new system that does not simply replace men with women. These hierarchical modes of organising society have proven to be severely deficient, no matter who sits on top of the pile. If we want to ensure that nobody loses, it must mean that old ways of thinking about success, about winning, must be radically eliminated.

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Review: Romeo & Julien (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), Sep 5 – 14, 2019
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Jamie Collette
Cast: Ali Aitken, Jackson Blair-West, Jayden Byrne, Sasha Dyer, Daniel Gabriel, David Halgren, Ryan Hodson, Cynthia Howard, Samantha Lambert, Charles Mayer, Chiara Osborn, David Soncin
Images by Isabella Torv

Theatre review
Juliet is now Julien, so the question would obviously relate to how this new perspective of gender in Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet would result. It might come as a surprise, that turning a heterosexual love story into a gay one, does not necessarily involve a complete and fundamental transformation of the centuries old play. The Capulet and the Montagues are still at loggerheads, and the drama we encounter is still about blood and kinship. All the conflict in Romeo & Julien come from the same sources as Shakespeare had intended, and it seems that making boys of both lovers, does not change anything in their story.

If one can accept the validity of an artistic license in this gender alteration, one could probably be willing to see that the original narrative can remain, given our understanding that gender is ultimately a meaningless construct. As director, Jamie Collette’s efforts at imposing a new inclusiveness to an old icon of Western literature is laudable, but his creative spirit can seem insufficiently radical, when viewed against the inevitably conservative associations when taking on the Bard. Nonetheless, there is inventiveness and vigour in Collette’s staging, ably assisted by Scott Witt’s dynamic fight choreography, and Sara Delavere’s colourful live music accompaniment.

The ensemble is not always cohesive or balanced, but strong acting by several individuals provide moments of professional sheen. Daniel Gabriel plays an androgynous, possibly bigender, Mercutio, introducing much needed flamboyance to proceedings, leaving an impression with the sheer magnitude of their stature and bold presence. Friar Lawrence is given detailed rendering by the dazzling David Halgren, who locates unexpected, and entertaining, dimensions for the pivotal role. Romeo is on this occasion, a tentative, quiet type, as performed by an overly naturalistic Jackson Blair-West. All eyes are on Jayden Byrne, who brings surprising emotional range to Julien, and is particularly satisfying as pop star, in several enjoyable musical interludes.

We are beginning a new era in which queerness does not have to tear our families apart. We have dreamt of a time of unprecedented normalisation, when queer people no longer have to come out, and in Romeo & Julien, we are given the opportunity to imagine that possibility. Whether one is inclined to find this Shakespeare title romantic or dreary, the present re-gendering is unlikely to cause any transformation to those prior opinions. It is true that whether one is male or female should have no bearing on outcomes, but it is undeniable that we have grown to expect queerness to add spice, especially when old and painfully obsolete texts are concerned.

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Review: The Real Thing (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Sep 9 – Oct 26, 2019
Playwright: Tom Stoppard
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: Johnny Carr, Charlie Garber, Rachel Gordon, Geraldine Hakewill, Shiv Palekar, Julia Robertson, Dorje Swallow
Images by Lisa Tomasetti
Theatre review
Henry has an excellent relationship with words and philosophy, which is just as well, being a successful playwright much like his creator Tom Stoppard. In The Real Thing however, we discover that his cerebral talents do not extend to matters of the heart. It is that very human conundrum we deal with in Stoppard’s extraordinarily rigorous piece of writing, that it is one thing to be able to know so deeply all that can be intellectualised, yet be unable to have much control over how one loves. People in the play are smart. Their understanding of the world is astute and penetrating, and their talk is very highbrow, but when we observe the way their feelings are being enacted, it seems there is no escaping the fools that we ultimately are.

Couples in The Real Thing wrestle with issues of fidelity. They cheat, they are suspicious, they are apologetic, and they fail repeatedly. They struggle with the need to be faithful, often engaging in discussions about the meaning of love and monogamy, but what they say have little bearing on how they feel. A constant discord exists between logic and emotions, prompting us to wonder if there can be more than one real thing in the human experience, if what we think and how we act are so often not in concurrence.

Director Simon Phillips brings remarkable clarity not only to these immediate themes, but also to the many tangential musings that make The Real Thing memorable. The density of the text is translated on stage by Phillips into a luxuriant tapestry of inspiring observations emerging from Stoppard’s brilliant mind. In the role of Henry is the sensational Johnny Carr, bringing a startling truthfulness to dialogue that could very easily be turned, under the wrong hands, highfalutin and empty. The actor’s presence and timing have us captivated, as we find ourselves enraptured, deeply invested in the many meaningful discussions that provide the foundation, for an admittedly bourgeois narrative. Geraldine Hakewill too, is engaging as Annie, a strong counterpoint in the story, effortlessly convincing with the complexity she portrays, whether playing subject or object in this tale about affection and attraction.

Production designer Charles Davis delivers a spectacular set, wonderfully imagined for the revolve stage, to facilitate poetic parallels between words and visions. His costumes are quiet but effective, able to bridge the time disparity inherent in reviving a 37-year-old work. Lights by Nick Schlieper are correspondingly sophisticated, always pleasing with the imagery he manufactures, and exacting in the way he shifts our impulsive responses from scene to scene.

It is likely that one can arrive at the conclusion that realities are multitudinous, yet there is something in our nature that cannot resist the idea that there could be a singular essence to things, that there is a fundamental truth in how we regard the world. It is as though a key exists, that life is only ever experienced as a sort of mystery that requires solving. Henry’s racing thoughts are incessant, and luckily for us, always beautifully articulated, yet we only ever see him carry on like a fool for love, as though knowledge can never live up to its promise of having the answer to everything.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Splinter (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 6 – Oct 12, 2019
Playwright: Hilary Bell
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Lucy Bell, Simon Gleeson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Five-year-old Laura has just returned home, after a nine-month disappearance. Her parents are understandably traumatised, but relieved to have their nightmare come to an end. In Hilary Bell’s Splinter however, we see that the family’s problems do not vanish quite so easily, as questions arise about this sudden reunion. There are only two actors in Bell’s play, with little Lauren an apparition that we all have to conjure up with imagination, which proves a fascinating device for something that positions itself within the genre of psychological thriller. The ideas in Splinter are engaging, but it is arguable if its dialogue and plot structure are always effective in delivering the tension so crucial to this form of storytelling.

The show begins innocuously, perhaps even drearily, as a conventional family drama that overloads the stage with saccharine sentimentality. It takes a considerable while before director Lee Lewis introduces suspense elements that let the entertainment begin, by which time our boredom with the daytime television style of presentation had almost completely taken hold. At just over an hour long, there is little opportunity for us to settle sufficiently into the real substance of the piece, but the intrigue that does eventually manifest, is admittedly chilling.

The late transformation in atmosphere is cleverly manufactured by creatives including Alyx Dennison, whose sound design confirms the gear switch, giving us necessary cues to swiftly change focus in our interpretation of the narrative. Video projections by Mic Gruchy and lights by Benjamin Brockman become increasingly theatrical, thus guiding our minds into more pronounced spaces of fantasy and delusion.

Lucy Bell and Simon Gleeson perform the piece with extraordinary conviction, both bringing admirable intensity to a tale involving unimaginable suffering. Gleeson has the additional dimension of paranoia to help enrich his character, which he utilises compellingly, for several powerful moments of bloodcurdling dread. Bell is given less extravagant material, but nonetheless offers a reliable, self-possessed counterpoint that prevents Splinter from veering away from its central truthfulness.

Genre is infinitely more prevalent in film, because the form deals almost exclusively in illusion, and is therefore perfect for stories that require drastic alterations to reality. Theatre that venture into those territories must be praised accordingly, for even daring to test the possibilities of the live stage. There is a supernatural quality to Splinter that is almost inevitable, in its depiction of psychological disturbance. In those moments, the audience participates in seeing things that are not present, almost like artists who have the Midas touch, able to make something out of nothing, and in the process, giving to their communities a kind of magic that brings elevation to us all.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Affliction (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Legs On The Wall (Lilyfield NSW), Sep 7 – 8, 2019
Playwright: Lauren Orrell
Director: Steve Le Marquand
Cast: Jack Berry, Martelle Hammer, James Hartley, Deborah Jones, Isaro Kayitesi, Lauren Orrell, Luke Townson
Images by Isaro Kayitesi

Theatre review
Lucy is 12 years old, with mental health issues requiring professional medical care, but she tries to secretly tame elements of paranoia and psychosis, afraid of repercussions if the truth of her condition is made known. Lauren Orrell’s Affliction reveals the stigma surrounding mental illness, and the ignorance that still exists in relation to the subject. It offers a valuable glimpse into personal experiences that are too often hidden, allowing us to gain a better understanding of those challenges. The play is sometimes educational in tone, but its best moments are humorous in an absurdist style, with an irony that is smart and satisfying.

Directed by Steve Le Marquand, the production is macabre but surprisingly colourful in its explorations of some very dark ideas. A more intimate environment would allow us greater engagement with the characters, but the vastness of space is otherwise visually appealing. A video interlude by Marianne Khoo brings an unexpected dimension to the story, and an additional opportunity for twisted laughs that many will find enjoyable. Music by Clare Heuston offers excellent tension to some very theatrical scenes of psychological turmoil.

Playwright Orrell is also star of the show, convincing in her portrayal of a troubled child, strong not only with the emotions she is able to express, but also with the sheer physicality that she presents on stage. A grotesque nurse Doreen, is played by James Hartley whose comedic chops prove to be highly amusing. It is a small part that leaves us wanting much more. Deborah Jones is fabulous in her various roles, impressive with the range of monstrous personalities she is able to embody so effortlessly.

Affliction can feel pessimistic, but its creator makes a powerful and positive statement, about overcoming adversity with this ambitious work. Orrell talks openly about her own struggles with mental health, and to see her channelling those frustrations into art is most reassuring. We see a woman rejecting cultural impositions, choosing instead to define her own life, and to build her own identity, from what she sees to be authentic and meaningful. Disadvantage can sink us, but more than likely, the human spirit can see us swimming our way to the top.

www.catchmydisease.weebly.com

Review: Marisol (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Erskineville Town Hall(Erskineville NSW), Sep 3 – 7, 2019
Playwright: José Rivera
Director: Erin Louise Cotton
Cast: Chloe Baldacchino, Isabelle Fredericks, Sarah Maguire, Elizabeth Nicholls, Simon Thomson, Matthew Vautin

Theatre review
Marisol Perez is informed by her guardian angel that there is a revolt in the heavens. God is old and senile, no longer able to serve the universe, and a struggle for power is now under way. This means that earthlings are for the moment, no longer protected by the divine, and in José Rivera’s Marisol, it appears that when left to our own devices, we can only devolve into chaos and violence. The writing is surreal, and although approaching 30 years old, its apocalyptic sensibility seems more relevant than ever.

The production is at its most gratifying when actors are able to embody the play’s bizarre qualities, and approach the performance with an unabashed extravagance, whether dramatic or comedic. Matthew Vautin and Elizabeth Nicholls have strong moments on stage, both able to convey the dehumanised madness of the play’s dystopian vision. The eponymous role is taken on by Chloe Baldacchino, who brings a delicate timidness that can seem out of place. Director Erin Louise Cotton shows us the utter confusion of a world abandoned by all that is celestial, but without communicating anything particularly powerful with the text, Marisol leaves us with little more than an empty nihilism.

When we once again feel as if everything is going to hell in a handbasket, and the pessimism cripples us from being able to take any meaningful action that would make this world better, it is perhaps useful to indulge momentarily in delusions, that there are higher beings in the ether who have a greater purpose beyond our comprehension. It is one thing to feel disappointed with the way things are, but quite a lot worse when we turn hopeless, thinking that life is absolutely meaningless. The truth is that we know nothing outside of our tiny individual existences, but dreaming up gods and deities has always proven to be useful in making the human experience at least tolerable. We manifest the divine in our image and imagination, relating to them as separate superior entities, but actually, we can only ever pray to the sacred that resides within.

www.gradco.studio

Review: Nine (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 5 – 14, 2019
Book: Arthur Kopit
Music & Lyrics: Maury Yeston
Director: Alexander Andrews
Cast: Maddison Burton, Sophia Charters, Phoebe Clark, Kelly Goddard, Ellyn Gwillim, Amy Humphrey, Tayla Jarrett, Tisha Kelemen, Katelin Koprivec, Michele Lansdown, Andy Leonard, Victoria Luxton, Matilda Moran, Sarah Murr, Sophie Perkins, Caitlin Rose, Petronella van Tienen, Megan Walshe
Images by Blake Condon

Theatre review
Guido Contini is caving under pressure, unable to start work on another film, after the failure of his last three efforts. Instead his mind wanders, and in the 1982 musical Nine, we see him obsess over all the women he has loved, as though longing for one of them to turn into a muse and solve his writer’s block. An old-fashioned work, with a male protagonist placed firmly at the centre, surrounded by innumerable women often looking disposable, Nine however still boasts some of the finest melodies in the Broadway canon, with Maury Yeston’s songs remaining as stirring as they had always been.

Director Alexander Andrews assembles all the parts proficiently, and his production bears a level of polish that almost glosses over the regressive nature of its gender representations. Antonio Fernandez’s energetic musical direction, Madison Lee’s imaginative choreography, and James Wallis’ multifaceted lighting design, all combine to deliver an enjoyable, if slightly too traditional, musical extravaganza.

A cast full of conviction, determined to bring vibrancy to the stage, with Andy Leonard in the leading role, offering nuance in his acting, but not quite satisfactory in terms of vocal requirements for several of his songs. The quality of singing is in general slightly disappointing, although it must be noted that the “Folies Bergeres” number is performed with remarkable wit, by Katelin Koprivex as Stephanie and Michele Landsown as La Fleur, both impressive with the vigour they introduce for their memorable scene.

Writing can date, but theatre must always be made for now. Some works need a greater attempt at innovation, so that they can speak more resonantly with audiences of the time, and Nine is certainly an example of how a relic should be updated to match conversations of the day. Many will find it jarring to see so many women on this stage serving no other purpose than to facilitate the narrative of a man in delusion. For many others though, the sheer pleasure of hearing these splendid songs, is more than enough to make up for its political faux pas.

www.littletriangle.com.au