Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), May 11 – Jun 18, 2017
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Darren Gilshenan, Genevieve Lemon, Claire Lovering, Brandon McClelland
Image by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
It is a nondescript living room but a great deal happens in it. Edward Albee’s wild imagination is let loose in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, a modern classic that seems to be about a marriage breaking down, but the volume of themes and philosophical ideas it explores over a three-hour duration, extends beyond a person’s mental capacities within that one sitting. The incredible richness of Albee’s writing, and his insistence on disobeying conventions of literary coherence, produces something sensationally anti-naturalist, at times very strange, for all its misleading construct of a realist family drama. It all comes together beautifully, the ending result is quite sublime, but it is the disparate elements and divergence of meanings in all its interminable suggestions, that makes it a unique, rarely paralleled work.

Therefore, finding a focus becomes challenging for any production. Director Iain Sinclair uses the play’s absurdist qualities to his advantage, manufacturing a black comedy that not only delivers laughs but also, through its emphasis on uncomfortable contradictions, help draw attention to the many levels of meaning that the text implies. The show is often entertaining, but in spite of the great emotional upheaval that its characters experience, we remain at a distance, always at close observation, but from the outside. Visually pleasing, the staging draws inspiration from 1960s Americana, Michael Hankin’s set design and Sian James-Holland’s lights create a performance space that feels an accurate representation of the era, while establishing a sense of stifling oppressiveness crucial to the psyche of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.

Four actors conspire with unmistakable simpatico, to form a fascinating piece of theatre. Their personalities are individually distinct, but together they are harmonious, one engrossing organism that drives us through unexpected twists and turns. At the centre is Genevieve Lemon as Martha, ebullient and dedicated, determined to maintain a liveliness in the show even during its darkest troughs. The actor may not be able to sufficiently depict the rage crucial to the story, but there is no mistaking the turbulent existence Martha has to endure. Her husband George is played by Darren Gilshenan, who journeys into bleaker terrain more successfully, but who will be remembered for the mischievous approach he applies to the play’s cynical and sinister complexions. Effortlessly funny, Gilshenan is an engaging presence that keeps us fascinated at every audacious revelation. Similarly alluring is Claire Lovering, whose comedic confidence assures us that the tricks hidden up her sleeve are worth our anticipation. Honey is a small role, but the performer takes every opportunity to shine. Brendon McClelland brings out a complexity in Nick, a deceptively plain upstart, and surprises us with transformations that we never could see coming.

It is about marriage, it is about the way exercise control over one another, it is about the way we build meaning into our lives, it is about the futility of our pursuits. What a viewer will deduce from Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf could be a great many things, but there is no denying the nihilistic pessimism of Albee’s creation. In art we can find the truth, and it is without doubt that life can leave us bitter and hopeless. It is also true, that conflicting truths can co-exist, and whether one can perceive light through the darkness, is sometimes about luck, and sometimes about choice.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Homeroom Series (ATYP)

Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), May 10 – 19, 2017
Images by Tracey Schramm

Girls Like That
Playwright: Evan Placey
Director: Robert Jago
Cast: Annika Bates, Claire Giuffre, Ella Hosty-Snelgrove, Rashie Kase, Michelle Khurana, Molly Kyriakakidis-Costello, Miranda Longhurst, Emily Longville, Natasha Pontoh-Supit, Cara Severino, Emily Simmons, Lucy Valencic, Lara Wood

Michael Swordfish
Playwright: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Tamara Smith
Cast: Ashutosh Bidkar, Eden Bradford, Fergus Finlayson, Jason Hartill, Tim Kenzler, Louis Nicholls, Angus Powell, Daniel Steel, Gus Watts

Theatre review
Two plays about teenagers in high schools, both utterly contemporary, and equally relevant to the Australian experience. Evan Placey’s Girls Like That makes a powerful statement about feminism for the young, and Lachlan Philpott’s Michael Swordfish offers unconventional observations about teenage masculinity. Uncompromisingly complex, they each offer an unusual opportunity to explore adolescence in ways that might be surprising, through themes that are confronting but pertinent to all our lives. We watch the young, and learn about ourselves.

Robert Jago’s exquisite direction of Girls Like That is powerful, deeply engaging and thrilling in its combativeness. Michael Swordfish takes a gentler approach, with director Tamara Smith offering a poetic perspective to our young men’s lives. Designers, too many to mention, do an excellent job for an impressive pairing of shows that look and sound as vibrant as they are polished.

The actors are uniformly compelling and enthusiastic, with many displaying very fine potential for serious careers in performance. Cara Severino’s ebullience is unforgettable, while Rashie Kase has an unshakeable authenticity that can convince us of anything. Louis Nicholls portrays his character with a sense of creative freedom and adventure, and Gus Watts captures our attention with a confident hand at subtle comedy. These fledgling artists, all 22 of them, should feel greatly encouraged by the outstanding quality of work here.

The characters are in their formative years, so what they acquire now, could well stay with them for the rest of their days. What happens to them, and how they react, are depicted in both plays with a degree of honesty, that does not allow us to detach. For their contexts of juvenility, it is easy to diminish these experiences and consider them trivial, but contained within their microcosms, are truthful interrogations about our shared existence. Through these kids, we discern right from wrong, and decide how we must evolve.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Doubt: A Parable (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 10 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Dino Dimitriades
Cast: Charmaine Bingwa, Damian de Montemas, Belinda Giblin, Matilda Ridgway
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
John Patrick Shanley’s genius masterpiece, Doubt: A Parable takes a deep and extensive look at the nature of doubt, and through it, reaches for something fundamentally real about who we are. Its greater power however, lies in its narrative. It is the literal rather than the allegorical that many will find affecting in the play, with the ongoing predicament of paedophile priests in our churches never seeming to find satisfying resolution.

Sister Aloysious possesses no concrete evidence of Father Flynn’s trespasses, but her position as school principal requires that students are protected at all cost. Operating under severely defective systems of patriarchy and the clergy, Aloysious can only do the right thing by dehumanising herself in order that she may be able to undertake necessary measures, “in the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God.”

This sensitive interpretation by director Dino Dimitriadis pulls close focus to Shanley’s words, with theatrical devices kept at an intentional quiet, so that we garner maximum impact from the extraordinary writing. Design aspects are minimal and unobtrusive, but elegantly effective.

Performed with great detail by an impassioned cast of four, we are offered a marvellous intensity of interplay between characters that could only emerge from exhaustive study and immersion into the text. Belinda Giblin is stunning as Aloysious, psychologically meticulous and emotionally complex, she gives us crystal clear insight into the personality being presented, while providing astute access to the unusual world in which she resides. A wealth of meanings are implied in Shanley’s dialogue, and Giblin makes certain that we receive them all.

Father Flynn’s uncompromising ambiguity is the show’s dramatic lynch pin, brilliantly manufactured by Damian de Montemas whose hints of malice keeps us engrossed and on edge, even if he does sound uncomfortable in his American accent. The magnetic Charmaine Bingwa leaves a strong impression in a singular pivotal scene, embodying Mrs Muller’s specificity of time and space with a remarkable authenticity of presence. Matilda Ridgway is a quirky Sister James, veering slightly too far from naturalism, but whose interpretations are unquestionably entertaining.

We watch these people participate in a religion that has overwhelmed their lives, and wonder if Catholicism takes more than it gives. We see the destruction it causes, and are suspicious of the way it claims to be of benefit to these individuals. We also see the inextricability of religion, and the difficulty of achieving emancipation from its indoctrination. As our nation continues to wage war against “radical Islam”, rapists in our Catholic and Christian churches are allowed to fester year after year. We hear about investigations and inquisitions taking place every day but they deliver little, while our children face dangers that are constant, secretive and insidious. Sister Aloysious does the best she can, but knows that it is not yet enough.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Between The Streetlight And The Moon (Mophead Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 5 – 27, 2017
Playwright: Melita Rowston
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Joanna Downing, Ben McIvor, Lucy Miller, Suzanne Pereira, Lani Tupu
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Talent is a thing of mystery, and one of its elusive qualities surrounds the faith that an artist should have in their own abilities. In Melita Rowston’s Between The Streetlight And The Moon, we examine the ways in which painters are able to find a sense of belief in themselves, or more accurately, how their spirits can be dampened, by longstanding institutions that thrive on their own elitism and the implied deterrent of new individuals who wish to join the ranks.

The number of female names in the world of celebrated Western artists, is unquestionably paltry. The play looks at the way women painters and their work, are routinely subjugated and subsumed by their male mentors and counterparts. This chauvinism seems systematic, and it feels dangerously instinctual, and we wonder if this dynamic exists everywhere else in life.

Rowston’s writing is at its best when wistful and poetic. Her words are powerfully evocative, always passionate with advocacy for something meaningful. The plot is however, not as gripping as it wishes to be. Intrigue builds slowly, and when the story eventually becomes dramatic, we find ourselves more interested in Rowston’s philosophical ideas than the narrative being woven over them. Dialogue has a tendency to sound stilted when scenes attempt to be conversational, but the language turns beautifully sublime when characters move into more heightened modes of theatricality.

Actor Lucy Miller is an entrancing presence as painter-turned-academic, Zadie. Vulnerable, with an unmistakable gravitas, Miller brings authenticity to a protagonist who exists between shifting states of self-doubt and self-belief. Also impressive is Joanna Downing as the enthusiastic emergent, Dominique. Precise and considered, Downing’s portrayal of a brainy Millennial is truly delightful, even if her French accent is comically exaggerated.

Visual design is sparing but elegant. The use of projections to assist with our imagination of classic paintings is effective, and very gratifying, but an interpretation of The Seine requires much bolder execution. Live accompaniment by Benjamin Freeman on piano, adds brilliant flair to the show, a rare treat that theatregoers will find thoroughly enjoyable.

Zadie suffers humiliation when she mistakes a streetlight for the full moon. It is hard to conceive of creativity without sensitivity, but it is the artist’s responsibility to weather attacks on their pride, and return with greater vigour. It is also the responsibility of society to provide support to those who have the ability to give expression and meaning, to the human experience. In Australia, we have to give mindful emphasis to those artists whose voices continue to be silenced by a history of colonialism and its accompanying white patriarchy. Our art must strive for an accurate reflection of Australian life, and the white male artist is far from enough.

www.mophead.com.au

Review: Motherlode (The Hub Studio / Rue De La Rocket)

Venue: Actors Centre Australia (Leichhardt NSW), May 4 – 13, 2017
Director: Dean Carey
Cast: Jo Briant, Mel Dodge, Karli Evans, Lana Kershaw, Monette Lee, Jan Oxenbould, Natalie Rees

Theatre review
The journey begins from an unremarkable place. Seven women of Caucasian appearance sit in a row, talking about their children. The play is verbatim, with a script collated from interviews about the topic of motherhood, a life experience that many share, but little of which remains surprising. When humans bond, we can only embark with conversations that are pedestrian in nature, and then destiny decides if things can get deeper.

Halfway through Motherlode, the discussions become powerful, disarmingly so. The women begin to reveal the darkest of their lives, in order to get to the crux of how they manage their relationships with children. We can only love the way we had been shown, so much of the talk is about these women’s own parents, and one of these stories in particular, is nothing short of harrowing.

Actor Karli Evans’s retelling of a character’s shocking childhood encounters involving unimaginable abuse, is by far the most poignant of the vignettes that make up the play. Evans delivers the monologue with a sense of psychological accuracy, along with thorough emotional authenticity, causing us to not only witness the pain hidden behind some of our everyday facades, but also to understand the depth of meaning that having children could mean.

Similarly memorable is Monette Lee in the role of a bubbly, spirited immigrant of Russian origin, who offers balance to narratives that tend to depict Australia as being singularly bourgeois. Lana Kershaw’s portrayal of a lesbian-identifying sex worker and PhD candidate, who had chosen to be a single parent, adds immeasurable texture to an otherwise narrow image of motherhood. Both Lee and Kershaw use the outsider qualities of their parts to excellent effect, equally impressive with the exuberance they each bring to the stage.

The production concludes with a strong message of solidarity, but we think of the other mothers who are not represented on this stage. To understand our families, is to understand our cultures. It is not entirely clear if women of colour are among Motherlode‘s interviewees, but the increasingly diverse face of Australia requires that we broaden our conceptions about values and traditions. In anthropological investigations of motherhood, it is important to understand that we come from a range of backgrounds as varied as our skin colour. As we discover what it is to be an Australian mother, it is crucial to explore how our Indigenous women relate to the subject. If we are unable to cherish the past of this land, and if we continue to ignore the changing complexion of our evolution, we will never be able to completely know who we are.

www.thehubstudio.com.au | www.ruedelarocket.com

Response from show producer:
Thank you for seeing the show. And thank you for your comment about the casting – this is such an important issue and one we would like to briefly comment on. The production had culturally diverse collaborators on the project during its development process, but unfortunately due to last minute scheduling conflicts to do with family and work opportunities, a couple of cast members could unfortunately not proceed with the show. As we were unable to recast appropriately to tell the stories authentically, we decided to focus on this phase as a development stage of the project with a limited cast. We are really excited for the next phase where we will be actively increasing the culturally diverse stories told and broadening the conversation around motherhood.

Review: The Chapel Perilous (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 25 – May 27, 2017
Playwright: Dorothy Hewett
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Courtney Bell, Alison Chambers, Julia Christensen, Meg Clarke, Jasper Garner-Gore, Brett Heath, Madelaine Osborn, Tom Matthews, James Wright
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Defiant by nature, Sally faces a real challenge, having to live in the conservative times of 1930s Australia. In Dorothy Hewett’s The Chapel Perilous, we observe a young woman trying to be her own person, not hurting a soul in the process, but who constantly suffers injustice and oppression from a society that demands her gendered subjugation. Sally is a symbol of feminism, although she seems to be unfamiliar with the concept herself, unable to comprehend the futility of her insatiable need to make herself an object of desire to men who offer her little. She is not a hero, but she is like many of us, when we find ourselves motivated by pure desire, unafraid to want.

It is a dynamic production that Carissa Licciardello directs, with adventurous and vivid interpretations of scenes coinciding effectively with clever use of space. It is noteworthy that Kyle Jonsson’s set and Martin Kinnane’s lights are beautifully rendered, for a show that looks remarkably polished. There are moments however, where the politics of the piece becomes muddy, probably due to a conflict in ideologies between personnel and text, and the delivery of meanings end up less poignant than imagined.

Julia Christensen is a very exuberant Sally. The actor is extremely animated with her portrayal of the central role, bringing to the stage a sense of boundless energy, but that continuous vigour can turn alienating. Like the character she plays, Christensen has a hard time endearing herself to everyone in her presence. The charming duo of Alison Chambers and Brett Heath play figures of authority, with excellent nuance and flair. Both give commanding performances in what are admittedly less complex parts, leaving strong impressions in spite of that simplicity.

Sally has no compatriots in her struggle, so the chances of her emerging victorious are close to none. All of society objects to her behaviour, and when a person realises that she is one against the world, hope can only give way to hopelessness. The sadness in The Chapel Perilous however, belongs to the past. What we have today are radically improved circumstances. Feminists now join in a movement that gains momentum everyday, and although we feel the pain of our wronged protagonist (for we have experienced similar transgressions), we know that progress is taking place. Those whose resistance had counted little, are to be mourned, and those who continue to blaze our trails, must be celebrated.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Perhaps, Perhaps… Quizás (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 2 – 13, 2017
Playwright: Gabriela Munoz
Director: Gabriela Munoz
Cast: Gabriela Munoz
Image by Ricardo Castillo Cuevas

Theatre review
It is so sad when a woman is unable to find a man to marry her. When a man stays single however, the situation is not nearly as dire. In Perhaps, Perhaps… Quizás, Greta spends all her time lamenting her spinsterhood, and goes about creating fantasy weddings to escape her misery. It is a woeful context for a show, but when coming face to face with a sad clown, we discover the unique discipline that conflates depression with comedy, and makes everything work.

In art, we have to be careful about the messages we send, but we must also be authentic with how lived experience is represented. Gabriela Munoz’s work may be highly stylised, but the accuracy at which she presents her character’s feelings, persuades us to connect with the unquestionably real human emotion that is being recreated. For a moment, we put judgement aside and share in her melancholy.

Munoz is a funny lady, and her show is often hilarious. We laugh because we recognise the struggles she face, and also because so much of what she does, makes us feel uneasy. A significant segment involves audience participation, and one lucky viewer gets to be on stage for more than a few minutes to help Greta indulge in her craziest delusions. It is as unnerving as it sounds.

The best of theatre happens when safety nets are removed, and everything comes to life. Munoz’s face might be hiding under chalk white pancake, but she opens herself up to our incontrovertible presence, accepting and encouraging our input into her performance. The vulnerability is moving, and the fragility is beautiful.

The truth is that we are sad about Greta’s sadness, rather than her failure to find a mate. Some of us wish that she gets her man some day, and some of us wish that she finds something else more meaningful on which to expend her energy. Life promises so much, but for most of us, it gives so little. There is always more to want, but to be in love with what we do have, is how the days become a bit sweeter.

www.old505theatre.com