Review: Collapsible (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 9 – Apr 1, 2023
Writer: Margaret Perry
Directors: Zoë Hollyoak, Morgan Moroney
Cast: Janet Anderson
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Esther is asking everyone she knows, for a word to describe herself. In Margaret Perry’s Collapsible, we see the strange things a person does, when deep in the process of job hunting. Esther contorts her personality into different forms, in hopes that she may be perceived as a right fit, for one of the many organisations that she is interviewing with. We observe someone trying to be all things to all people, and ultimately becoming an empty vessel, knowing nothing about herself, from trying to appeal to an economy determined to reward mediocrity and that encourages one to shed their values and principles.

There is an abundance of abstraction in Perry’s writing, which Zoë Hollyoak and Morgan Moroney use as directors of the piece, to deliver something memorable for its rich visuals. Although unpredictable and exciting with its sense of theatricality, the show can feel somewhat hollow, which admittedly is an accurate representation of Esther’s essence. A more intense depiction of anxiety and unease, that accompanies the existential angst being reflected, could perhaps make the experience more worthwhile.

Set and costumes by Hayden Relf offer surprising solutions, that make for a quirky staging that sustains our attention, in what could easily have been a very understated one-woman show. Video projections by Daniel Herten and Moroney, are ambitiously rendered but offer little other than a demonstration of an experimental spirit. Lights, also by Moroney, are a more satisfying aspect of the production, delivering great texture and atmospheric transformations. Herten’s sound design is wonderfully lively, but could benefit from a greater sensitivity in approach.

Actor Janet Anderson is thoroughly captivating as Esther, with an impressive degree of control over the challenging material being explored. Emotional aspects of Anderson’s performance could be more delicately managed, but her vigorous physicality keeps us engrossed.

It is not only for financial reasons that Esther loses herself, but also the pressures of social conformity, that pushes her to twist her soul, into something that prioritises external expectations. We are not certain if Esther has forgotten herself, or if she had indeed ever truly known herself. The hard part of being, is to arrive at a state of knowing the self. To navigate life only in bewilderment, is unquestionably tragic. /

Review: Macbeth (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 25 – Apr 2, 2023
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Peter Evans
Cast: Rebecca Attanassio, Julia Billington, Isabel Burton, Jeremi Campese, Eleni Cassimatis, James Lugton, Kyle Morrison, Hazem Shammas, Jessica Tovey, Jacob Warner
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review

The most timeless element about Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is perhaps its meditations on ambition and guilt. Centuries on, men continue to be ruthless, as they claw their way to the top, but it is not often that we see any evidence of remorse thereafter. The play is concerned with the human conscience, but it is revelatory that most of how its characters experience regret, can only take place in supernatural realms; an indication that much as we wish for the rich and powerful to admit wrongdoing and make amends, it is but a fantasy in our individual and collective minds.

Under Peter Evans’ direction, the production certainly bears a dreamlike quality, inspired by the subconscious goings on, that are mercilessly unleashed throughout the narrative. Designed by Anna Tregloan, the monochromatic space looks to be Twin Peaks meets Art Deco, complete with heavy drapes and patterned floor, sumptuous but nightmarish, in its evocation of the World War I period. Lights by Damien Cooper add to the luxuriant visual style, whilst rumbling music by Max Lyandvert, although not short of tension, is at times strangely hesitant in getting involved, with the drama’s unbridled extravagance.

Actor Hazem Shammas is extraordinary in conveying operatic scales of emotions, in a deeply compelling treatment of the titular role.  Shammas’ intensity seems to know no bounds, with an uncanny ability to externalise the dire psychological trauma being investigated, for a performance memorable for its fascinating physicality. Jessica Tovey’s approach for Lady Macbeth is considered, but sanitised, with an unusual degree of restraint applied, to one of the most outrageously imagined women in the Western literary canon.

When Macbeth receives his just desserts at the bitter end, it is both a result of his own unravelling, and of Macduff’s need to seek revenge. Our desire for good to triumph over evil, is repeatedly evidenced in the art that we make. Art provides opportunities for catharsis, when real life fails to deliver what our instincts know to be true and just. In a world that insist on rewarding those who act nefariously, it is only in our storytelling that we can find, the most perfect of resolutions.

Review: Choir Boy (National Theatre of Parramatta)


Venue: Riverside Theatres (Parramatta NSW), Feb 14 – Mar 11, 2023 | Wollongong Town Hall (Wollongong NSW), Mar 22 – 25, 2023
Playwright: Tarell Alvin McCraney
Director: Dino Dimitriadis, Zindzi Okenyo
Cast: Gareth Dutlow, Robert Harrell, Darron Hayes, Abu Kebe, Tawanda Muzenda, Quinton Rofail Rich, Tony Sheldon, Theo Williams, Zarif
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Pharus is leader of the choir, at his prestigious all-boys American prep school. Being naturally swishy and flamboyant, he draws the ire of other students, most noticeably Bobby who takes great joy in inflicting homophobic taunts, as many bullies have done at schools everywhere and in every generation. Fortunately, Bobby has protectors in his roommate AJ and his teacher Mr Pendleton, but even with allies on his side, there is no evading the aggression directed at him, so persistently and maliciously.

Choir Boy by Tarell Alvin McCraney is a keenly observed story on young queer Blackness, exploring the nature of conflicts that arise, when camaraderie meets hostility. Those who live at the intersections of marginalisation, often suffer multi-pronged persecution, as well as a complicated form of mistreatment, from those with whom one is meant to share parallel experiences of oppression. Pharus should be able to rely on a comradeship with the other Black boys at school, but instead of thriving in safety, he is required to be in a stated of constant vigilance.

Directed by Dino Dimitriadis and Zindzi Okenyo, Choir Boy is a poignant work of theatre, that demonstrates not only the vulnerability of young Black lives, but that also celebrates their joy and power, in colonised spaces built to undermine them. The characteristically resilient spirit of being both Black and queer, is a conspicuous feature of the production, alongside a unique sense of pride that emerges from inhabiting those dual identities. Musical direction by Allen René Louis in this “play with music” delivers an extraordinary sense of transcendence, in song sequences that highlight African-American traditions of performance, on Australian stages that are perhaps much too habituated to colourless manifestations. Energetic choreography by Tarik Frimpong too, draws meaningful attention to Black bodies, in important ways that supplement dialogue and lyrics.

It may be that the most enjoyable aspect of the production, is the exquisite singing by its young cast, but moving performances provide a gravity that delivers more than entertainment. As Pharus, Darron Hayes is charming and authentic from the very start, winning our hearts effortlessly, and keeping us firmly on his side for the entire journey. In the role of AJ is Quinton Rofail Rich, deeply convincing as the loving and supportive ally, beautiful in his exemplification of positive masculinity. Mr Pendleton is played by the captivating Tony Sheldon, whose intensity in a crucial moment of upheaval, could bring tears to the most hardened of hearts. The antagonist Bobby is given valuable dimensionality by Zarif, whose depiction of his part’s unexpected sympathetic side, makes for a more believable villain.

The sentimentality of Choir Boy is enhanced by the immense sensitivity of Karren Norris’ lighting design, that seeks to further engage our emotions. Brendon Boney’s sounds are restrained but effective in creating dramatic shifts in atmosphere. Costumes by Rita Naidu portray character types with accuracy, and adept at instilling a sense of body positivity for scenes involving states of undress.

People who experience marginalisation, should understand what it is like for other people who experience different forms of persecution, yet it is commonplace to discover people of colour living in the West, unable to embrace queer members of their own communities. There is a sense that the struggle to survive, encourages people to only champion individual interests, and in the process impose onto others, the same prejudice that they wish to interrogate. When we are divided, we are doing the coloniser’s work on their behalf, for it is separation and subjugation, that will forever be fundamental to their project. |

Review: CAMP (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 4, 2023
Playwright: Elias Jamieson Brown
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Adriano Cappelletta, Anni Finsterer, Genevieve Mooy, Jane Phegan, Lou McInnes, Sandie Eldridge, Tamara Natt
Images by Alex Vaughan

Theatre review

Elias Jamieson Brown’s CAMP tells the 50-year story of a Sydney based queer activism group, Campaign Against Moral Persecution. Comprising mainly of women, the group aims to bring social and legislative progress for Australian gays and lesbians. A pastiche of anecdotes, chronicling the coalition’s achievements, as well as the many details of their personal lives, the play is an important documentation of the LGBTQIA+ movement, especially of key events in the formative decade of the 1970s.

More intimate sections of the writing, provide an opportunity for greater appreciation for the individuals and their sacrifices during those challenging years. CAMP is perhaps not as emotional an experience as one would expect, from a show that is entirely about reminiscences and nostalgia. We can certainly recognise the gravity of its narrative, but the work remains strangely unaffecting, perhaps due to its earnest desire to cover too much ground.

Production design by Angelina Meany evokes the wistful charm of community halls, where meaningful gatherings have taken place on this land for many generations. Morgan Moroney’s lights help us navigate the many shifts in time, making it clear whenever the plot takes a turn, and conveying distinct changes in mood and tone. Sound and music by Jessica Dunn are ambitiously rendered, for thorough transformations of time and space, as CAMP takes us through the many valuable and varying facets of these activists’ lives.

Directed by Kate Gaul, the production is consistent in its representations of the passions behind the politics; the noble intentions are always evident and admirable. The ensemble cast is appropriately enthusiastic, in their depictions of personalities who had fought for the betterment of society. Scenes tend to be brief, in a show that has a lot to talk about, but characters feel nonetheless deeply explored, by actors who demonstrate strong levels of commitment.

Without a concern for legacy, one will likely struggle to find guiding principles that will shape a good life. Without courage, existence can only be one of passivity, in adherence to rules and conventions that are likely to have been established in the interest of others. Understanding the nature of the greater good, that the rising tide lifts all boats, will prevent any person from falling into an insular despondency, that has become so characteristic of these times. Not all of us have to be warriors, but the fighting spirit, as exemplified by our queer leaders, is essential in preventing time on earth from going to waste. |

Review: Bright Half Life (Meraki Arts Bar)

Venue: Meraki Arts Bar (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 2 – 19, 2023
Playwright: Tanya Barfield
Rosie Niven
Cast: Genevieve Craig, Lisa Hanssens, Loretta Kung, Samantha Lambert 
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review

Erica and Vicky are each other’s greatest love story, but like most love stories, theirs is one that feels just a bit mundane to everybody else. Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life is concerned with the big romance in a person’s life, both the enormity and normalcy of such an experience. The non-linear aspect of the storytelling helps draw us into the women’s decades-long narrative, but the sheer ordinariness of their union, makes for a theatre that seems somewhat unremarkable.

Direction by Rosie Niven brings clarity to both the unconventional timeline, and the emotional fluctuations, as we encounter key moments in the evolution of Erica and Vicky’s life together. The presentation struggles to convey some of the play’s humorous dimensions, but its central gravity is certainly well communicated. Lights by Capri Harris bring much needed visual variation, and sound design by Akesiu Ongo Poitaha helps us envision the many places and years, as we accompany the couple on their reminiscence.

Genevieve Craig and Samantha Lambert play respectively, Vicky and Erica in their younger days, both detailed in their explorations of women in love. As they grow older, we see the roles go to Lisa Hanssens as Erica and Loretta Kung as Vicky, who manufacture a more intimate and tender connection. Performances are slightly too earnest in parts, but all four prove themselves accomplished actors, in a play that provides ample opportunity to demonstrate skill and acumen.

Bright Half Life reminds us of the centuries of absurdity, and cruelty, when same-sex marriages were thought of as abominable. In a few short years since its legalisation in Australia, so much has changed culturally and ideologically; it is now hard to fathom the immense difficulty with which so many normal relationships had faced to simply attain recognition, just because they were queer. Normal can be boring, but sometimes the road to normalcy is the most arduous imaginable. |

Review: Darkness (The Library)

Venue: The Library (Newtown NSW), Jan 10 – Feb 19, 2023
Playwrights: Andrew Bovell, Zoey Dawson, Dan Giovannoni, Megan Wilding
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Caroline L. George, Zoran Jevtic, Jerome Meyer, Imogen Sage, Alec Snow, Drew Wilson
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Hopelessness fills the house, in which 5 characters dwell. Misery has seeped in from without, and the despondent personalities are lashing out on one another. They tell stories of loss, regret and forlornness, but there is little sympathy to be gained from people consumed with their own anguish. Darkness by Andrew Bovell, Zoey Dawson, Dan Giovannoni and Megan Wilding attempts to be a coherent effort, but delivers instead something decidedly fractured and erratic. Its narratives are uninspiring, and relationships flimsily rendered. In efforts to create something stylistically cohesive, it may seem that the crucial ingredients of heart and soul have gone missing from the writing process.

Other elements of the show however, are wonderfully assembled. Set and costumes are sexy and mysterious, creatively imagined by Isabel Hudson whose transformation of space for the old building, proves a real triumph. Lights by Benjamin Brockman are full of impact, with a sense of playfulness that prevents the bleakness of Darkness from turning dreary. Sound design by Danni Esposito envelopes our bodies, to turn our experience of atmosphere from subconscious to palpable, in a show directed by Dino Dimitriadis, that although fumbles with its stories, cannot be denied for being able to do magical things with space.

Performers Caroline L. George, Zoran Jevtic, Jerome Meyer, Imogen Sage and Alec Snow demonstrate strong commitment to their parts, able to convey intensity, even if helping us connect with the material seems a thankless task. Darkness attempts to manifest a sense of the apocalyptic, with all its mesmerising theatrics, but it is no match for the real world horrors that await us outside the auditorium. Artists will always try to represent devastating aspects of existence; that may even be considered their most noble purpose, but to find resonance for something humans know at the deepest instinctual levels, will forever be a challenge.

Review: A Broadcast Coup (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jan 26 – Mar 4, 2023
Playwright: Melanie Tait
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Tony Cogin, Ben Gerrard, Alex King, Amber McMahon, Sharon Millerchip
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

Michael King is one of those stars of Australian radio, a straight white man of an older generation, retaining popularity on a waning platform. He presents a decent front, conscious of prevailing social expectations, but as we discover in Melanie Tait’s A Broadcast Coup, some leopards never change their spots. His younger colleagues however, have no capacity for tolerating his archaic ways, and as the title suggests, a revolution is under way.

The destination is predictable. From the play’s very first minutes, we can see no where else for the story to end, but thankfully the journey getting there proves to be deeply satisfying. Tait’s exhaustive representation of the nuances pertaining to current discussions, about gender and about power in general, are finely observed and thoroughly considered. Her dialogue is captivating, and her characters feel richly imagined. Her plot for  A Broadcast Coup is engaging throughout, with a narrative that tells us categorically what our future is going to look like, and how we must act today, not only to be magnanimous, but also for reasons of self-interest and self-preservation.

Janine Watson’s direction of the piece is passionate, with an unmistakeable generosity that allows each personality we encounter, to be convincing and compelling. Watson frames the show’s arguments in ways that appeal to our humanity, preventing any assertions from coming across lofty, radical or exclusionary.

Set and costumes by Veronique Benett take inspiration from real-life examples of broadcast studios and media companies, accurate with the obsolescence and dourness being portrayed. Lights by Matt Cox are sensitively calibrated, to precisely articulate all the tonal shifts, for a show that moves effortlessly between comedy and tragedy. Clare Hennessy brings dramatic tension with her music and sound design, especially memorable for the hyper-realistic audio documentation, of sexual assault victims and their testimonies.

Actor Alex King plays with conspicuous dedication and charisma, a modern ingenue Noa, slightly naïve but mostly gregarious and impressively erudite. The role of the villain Mike is performed by Tony Cogin, who although lacks the swagger of a celebrity Casanova, speaks with the persuasive voice of a veteran radio star. Amber McMahon’s admirable dynamic range as podcaster and antagonist Jez, delivers scenes that are full of gripping intrigue. Louise, the faithful radio producer, is given emotional authenticity by Sharon Millerchip. Ben Gerrard’s comic timing is an undeniable highlight, as executive Troy who struggles to keep his troublesome headliner under control.

The story comes to a gratifying conclusion, only because enough people in the story decide to do the right thing. It is evident that what the system encourages, is for individuals to turn a blind eye, and allow bad things to persist. The system rewards such behaviour, because it does not wish to change. What we think of as rot, is to the system, beneficial elements that keep it perpetuating.

What we see in A Broadcast Coup is that humans know instinctively and objectively, right from wrong, yet many of us are comfortable, from a lifetime of habituation, to accept deplorable conditions. We need to stop protecting a system that does not serve us, and distressing and awkward as it may be in the interim, to disrupt everything that we know to be appalling.

Review: Chef (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 25 – Feb 5, 2023
Playwright: Sabrina Mahfouz
Victor Kalka
Cast: Alice Birbara
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

Her passion for the culinary arts is undeniable, but she talks about her favourite food in the past tense. There is a lot to be unnerved about, in Sabrina Mahfouz’s Chef. A woman is caught between spaces coarse and rarefied, living simultaneously in moments mundane and sacred, for a story that explores issues of class, along with themes about gender. It is a multi-faceted work, with generous doses of abstraction that make for an unpredictable theatrical experience.

Performed by Alice Birbara, under the direction of Victor Kalka, the one-woman show is intricately constructed, especially in terms of the character’s complex emotional condition, and her vacillating mental states. There is an intensity that can feel too unrelenting in the production, but the commitment to authenticity is an admirable one. The difficulty of a traverse stage, when only a single actor is occupying our attention, is successfully addressed by Birbara, who maintains consistent contact, whichever side of the auditorium one finds themself.

Kalka’s set design is palpably accurate, in its evocation of locations relevant to the unnamed woman’s tale. Jasmin Borsovszky’s lights are dynamic and imaginative, effective at providing surprising and gratifying visual variety. Sound by Ryan Devlin bring a sense of drama to the piece, reliable at heightening tension whenever required.

Women are expected to know our way around a kitchen, unless it is a commercial one, with money, status and real power at stake, then we are denied equitable participation, as is the case in every situation where the patriarchy institutes the rules to benefit a privileged few. The word “chef” in French, refers to a leader, a master of their own domain. The woman we meet in the play has all the qualities, and every right, to be the determinant of her own destiny, and an absolute boss in her professional realm, but sadly she is not going to make it on her own. |

Review: Janet’s Vagrant Love (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 19 – 22, 2023
Playwright: Elaine Crombie
Directors: Kirk Page
Cast: Elaine Crombie
Images by

Theatre review

In between personal anecdotes of love and loss, Elaine Crombie sings incredibly beautiful songs, as she plays her guitar, with accompanist Amaru Derwent on keyboard. The show is entitled Janet’s Vagrant Love, but not for a second do we feel that Crombie conveys anything but her own deepest truths, in these recollections, involving people who have come and gone. We witness joy and pain, seemingly dichotomous but in comfortable juxtaposition, as well as strength alongside vulnerability, such are the complexities and incoherence of existence.

Direction by Kirk Page allows the fractures to remain exposed and unvarnished in the show. The experience is simply about being in the presence of humanity, one that we can feel to be natural and real, with narratives that are as disjointed as those in every person’s life. The presentation may be unpretentious, but there is no denying the skill of Crombie’s vocals and song writing, delivering many moments of transcendence.

Crombie, as a Pitjantjatjara, Warrigmal, South Sea & German descended woman, very generously says that this place is home for all of us. It can only follow, that when one of our family, especially if they are part of a lineage that has grappled with generations of dispossession, takes to the stage and magnanimously shares the contents of her heart, we have to bear witness, and be filled with a deep appreciation, to be offered an opportunity that many do not deserve.

Review: Blue (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 14 – 29, 2023
Playwright: Thomas Weatherall
Directors: Deborah Brown
Cast: Thomas Weatherall
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review

Barely out of his teens, Mark is already facing some of life’s biggest challenges. Having been dealt devastatingly bad hands in quick succession, he is left to pick up the pieces, in a world he is not quite ready for. Thomas Weatherall’s Blue is a work of fiction, but its explorations of despair feel exhaustive and authentic. There is a beauty in his rhythmic arrangement of words, that keeps the darkness from becoming alienating, along with a wistful humour that gently endears. As is perhaps typical of young writing, Blue may not always be sufficiently insightful, but its ability to convey poignancy is unequivocal.

Directed by Deborah Brown, the staging is tender and immediate, consistently intimate in its rendering of a contemplative one-man show. Set design by Cris Baldwin and Jacob Nash evokes a glacial edge, mesmerising with its intricate detailing of surfaces, and effective at transporting us to the oceanic settings that play an important part of the storytelling. David Bergman’s video work is projected onto the entirely white vista, for breathtaking visual transformations that move us beyond the capacity of words. Lights by Chloe Ogilvie are soft and sensitive, helping us connect with the undulating melancholy of the piece. Wil Hughes’ minimal sound design too, is delicate in its efforts to enhance the efficacy of the words we hear.

As performer, Weatherall’s disarming charm lures us into the deeply introspective monologue, to participate in Blue‘s solemn ruminations about the nature of love and loss. Weatherall’s knack for naturalism makes convincing everything that he presents. His ability to inhabit Mark’s intense emotions is compelling, proving successful at drawing sympathy for the character’s very unfortunate circumstances.

Blue showcases a new era of masculinity, one that feels radically different from all preceding generations. It is unafraid of what it feels, and refuses to be humiliated for honouring truth and emotion. It disregards pretences of power, seeking instead genuine manifestations of strength. It values vulnerability, and understands human fallibility to be natural and necessary, in attaining improved lives, for the individual as well as for communities. When men stop denying the sadness that will always figure in being human, they can perhaps chart a new course, by first identifying what it is, that they really need, to make this existence truly fulfilling.