Review: Follow Me Home (ATYP)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 16 – Jul 3, 2021
Playwright: Lewis Treston
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Laneikka Denne, Jasper Lee-Lindsay, Sofia Nolan, Thomas Weatherall
Images by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Lewis Treston’s Follow Me Home is comprised of anecdotes, from young Australians who have experienced homelessness. Although unified by a central theme, the stories are varied and surprising, able to reveal to viewers, the pervasive ignorance that surrounds these issues. To see the way people are treated as though discarded, especially at a tender age, is to interrogate our values as a community. Treston’s writing is incisive, and wonderfully dynamic. His dialogue sparkles and pops, to draw us in, and to keep our emotions invested.

The production is directed by Fraser Corfield, who exercises great restraint in stylistic terms, placing emphasis entirely on the quality of performance by a remarkable group of actors. It is worth noting however, that lighting design by Martin Kinnane contributes significantly to the tone of storytelling, and to the ways we respond to the play. Hugh Clark’s video projections provide a dimension of documentary authenticity, that helps us connect the onstage drama, with real world conditions just outside of the auditorium.

The ensemble radiates an unbridled enthusiasm, with four tremendously likeable actors taking on a wide range of roles, in disparate scenes that share a common urgency. Thomas Weatherall brings splendid detail to his characters, and a conspicuous intelligence that allows the narratives he presents, to be perfectly mapped out for our delectation. Sofia Nolan demonstrates great capacity for nuance, blending meaningful subtlety into the playful theatricality she unleashes for each of her personalities. Laneikka Denne is memorable for her earnest renderings, and Jasper Lee-Lindsay’s interior truthfulness proves captivating, in a showcase of some extraordinarily talented performers.

We need to acknowledge that there is something so deficient in our culture, that to have individuals languishing and suffering on the streets, is a normalised expectation. A new-born baby abandoned in a public restroom will cause an uproar, but when people grow past some arbitrary age, we are happy to completely renounce responsibility over their well-being. Each of us understands the fragile nature of life, and we know exactly what it feels like to need help, but rarely are we ready and willing to offer assistance. That frame of mind, is at the very core of our nation’s problems.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Come From Away (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 3 – Aug 22, 2021
Book, Music & Lyrics: Irene Sankoff, David Hein
Director: Christopher Ashley
Cast: Zoe Gertz, Sharriese Hamilton, Douglas Hansell, Kolby Kindle, Phillip Lowe, Simon Maiden, Sarah Morrison, Emma Powell, Katrina Retallick, Kellie Rode, Ash Roussety, Gene Weygandt

Theatre review
At the moment the disaster of September 11, 2001 occurred, hundreds of aeroplanes were mid-air across the Americas, thrust into utter chaos. Thousands of passengers had to be diverted as a result of the terrorist attack, to safer harbours, including the island of Newfoundland, at the outer east of Canada. The musical Come From Away comprises a collection of anecdotes from the five days, during which international strangers were welcomed by country folk into their homes, at a historic time.

Written by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, the material is warm and witty, offering a way for us to look back at a traumatic event, without having to engage directly with its immense darkness. Instead, it is the overwhelming goodness of ordinary people that comes to the fore. Directed by Christopher Ashley, the show eschews the usual manipulative cheesiness of the musical format, trusting in our collective memory of that fateful day, to transport us to a space of deep emotion and great empathy.

The staging feels deceptively simple, but in the absence of predictably flamboyant manoeuvres, thoughtful details are introduced instead, notably by Kelly Devine’s choreography, for a theatrical experience that is surprisingly sensitive in its rendering, to achieve an authentic expression of the human need for connection. Howell Binkley’s lights too, are memorable for delicately shifting us from nuance to nuance, never overly dramatic, but always precise in how they convey mood and tone for each scene.

The ensemble cast is brilliantly cohesive. Each performer is given plentiful opportunity to shine as individuals, but it is their tightness as a group that makes their presentation feel bulletproof. All are required to play multiple characters, and for the audience to discover every personality to be a likeable one, is truly remarkable. Similarly, musicians in the productions are no less than awe inspiring. Their work is spirited and exhilarating, incredibly rousing in this story about humans at their best, at a time of crisis.

Come From Away emerges from a horrific incident, yet we find it to be full of light and hope. In some ways, there is a sense that twenty years ago, even in the midst of tragedy, we knew clearly the distinction between right and wrong, good and bad. With the passage of time however, it may seem that an erosion of innocence has accelerated, probably through the Trump years, where seeing the worst of people is no longer a shock, but almost a matter of course. Fortunately though, the good people of Newfoundland do not seem fictitious; they only seem very far away.

www.comefromaway.com.au

Review: The 7 Stages Of Grieving (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), May 21 – Jun 19, 2021
Playwrights: Wesley Enoch, Deborah Mailman
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Elaine Crombie
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
In popular understandings of psychological processes, there are well-known stages of grief, that relate to loss and anguish. Less commonly spoken of, are the sorrowful experiences of our Indigenous, that stem from over two centuries of colonisation. In The 7 Stages of Grieving by Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman, a veil is lifted with great generosity, on the burdens of Blackness in this country.

A one-woman play in which the soul of a people is laid bare, The 7 Stages of Grieving offers a valuable opportunity to obtain a condensed overview of challenges faced by our First Nations. Although living in divergent communities, these marginalised voices are given a unified focus, in order that we may cultivate an appropriate attitude and response, for the critical improvements needed for Black lives on this land.

The storyteller takes us through seven phases of Aboriginal history, namely Dreaming, Invasion, Genocide, Protection, Assimilation, Self-Determination, and Reconciliation. Performed by Elaine Crombie who takes on the daunting challenge of representing an entire non-monolithic culture, we see her indomitable and joyful spirit shine through, even as she makes her way through one catastrophic anecdote after another. Crombie resists being defined by adversity; demonstrating that it is in fact a combination of defiance and resilience, that is truly formative.

Directed by Shari Sebbens, the show is memorable for both its gravity and its levity, juxtaposing hardship with humour, to deliver what are arguably the most important messages of our time. Set design by Elizabeth Gadsby (inspired by the work of Megan Cope) too, contrasts shimmering surfaces against earthy shrines, to communicate a sense of struggle in those who fight harder than most to survive. Verity Hampson’s lights and video projections, offer impressive visual variety, while Steve Francis’ work on music and sound, take our minds to ethereal places, as though creating a momentary paradigm shift, in this communal sharing of theatrical magic.

At the show’s conclusion, we are spared the indignity of walking away with little more than melancholy or worse, resignation. The artists urge us to take action, even prescribing “The 7 Actions of Healing” to assist in transforming what is normally a passive audience, into an activated one. Indeed, there is always a danger that the hard work of minority communities, is consumed as a kind of perverse entertainment, or a vehicle to raise awareness at best, but nothing besides.

The labour of presenting one’s trauma, to those directly and indirectly responsible, is rarely received with any comparable urgency. 26 years after the first staging of The 7 Stages of Grieving, we can now take this time to acknowledge the advancements that have and have not been made, since 1995. Whatever we decide is the current state of affairs, it is hard to deny that the room to improve, remains infinitely vast.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Bigger and Blacker (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), May 19 – 22, 2021
Music and Lyrics: Steven Oliver
Director: Isaac Drandic
Cast: Steven Oliver
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
For just over an hour, a gay Black man reigns supreme, in Steven Oliver’s cabaret outing Bigger and Blacker. Entirely live and intimate, Oliver performs self-written songs accumulated over the years, a greatest hits compilation that spans everything from love to politics, that take us from hilarity to devastation.

Much of the presentation is concerned with being on the outside. Marginalised for both his racial and sexual identities, there is no wonder that Oliver is famously funny. Like many whose very existence poses a threat to the hegemony, being comical is a defence, a mode of self-preservation that becomes second nature. In Bigger and Blacker, the artist is characteristically flamboyant, but the underlying gravity of his raison d’etre is always apparent. Through the sensitive eye of director Isaac Drandic, we discover a duality of the persona, whimsical yet dark, and we respond accordingly, sometimes with joy, sometimes with sadness, but most often with a melancholic combination of both.

Oliver’s songs are cleverly written, all of them beautifully melodic and lyrically meaningful, made more poignant by the performer’s sincere introductions for every number. Accompanist Michael Griffiths is his spirited companion, whose inspired musical direction guides us through a multitude of stylistic genres, for a seriously engaging one-person variety extravaganza. From torch song to hip hop, Bigger and Blacker keeps itself fresh and surprising, not a single dull moment permitted.

Brady Watkins’ work on sound design transports us to a sensual world, distinctly lush and enchanting, and coupled with Chloe Ogilvie’s tender lighting, the audience finds itself effortlessly lulled into a temporary theatrical romance. Oliver is dressed by Kevin O’Brien, resplendent in a deep pink tuxedo jacket, determined to steal our hearts.

Identity labels are tiresome, for people who do not have to wrestle with oppression. Those of us who are systematically and habitually excluded, however, learn to embrace that which others have used to define us. What others try to shame us with, we grow to love, and we grow to understand the positively formative power, of everything that is meant to be inferior or contemptible. Oliver talks a lot about being a minority; he is Black, and he is gay, and as we come to realise, is therefore extraordinary.

www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: A Room Of One’s Own (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 6 – 23, 2021
Playwright: Virginia Woolf (adapted by Carissa Licciardello, Tom Wright)
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Anita Hegh, Ella Prince
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was almost a hundred years ago, when Virginia Woolf had given her lectures espousing the importance of championing women writers. Subsequently compiled and published in 1929 as an extended essay, A Room of One’s Own has since become a prominent work of twentieth-century feminist literature, providing language and concepts that have helped advance the cause.

Woolf’s meditations on liberation are, of course, much further-reaching than its immediate academic concerns. Finding ways to empower women writers, as we have discovered, involves an interrogation of how power is fundamentally distributed in our lives. These analyses about the people who do, and those who do not, have the space to think and write, generate a political discourse whereby women can contextualise their experience of freedom, or more likely lack thereof.

Adapted into a theatrical format by Carissa Licciardello and Tom Wright, we discover that Woolf’s words remain potent, even if her approach to these persistent issues can at times seem dated. We also observe that although much of how she had conveyed her thoughts, bear a passion that translates well to the stage, some of her writing is probably more effective when encountered in a book.

Performer Anita Hegh demonstrates a baffling super human memory, completely at ease with the enormous barrage of words she has to deliver. Her graceful gravitas creates for us, a version of Virginia Woolf who is engaging and persuasive, a formidable force of nature that lives up to our imagination, of what the legendary agitator could have been like in the flesh. Hegh’s work is extremely detailed, able to sustain our fascination with the intensity of her depictions, even in moments when one’s intellect falters at trying to keep up.

Licciardello’s direction of A Room of One’s Own introduces a substantial element of abstraction, to provide the show with a sense of elevation. In addition to what remains a lecture by Woolf, is a second performance space, a smaller cube in which a second actor Ella Prince is housed, as she manufactures physical augmentation to what is said and heard. These brief sequences are perfectly conceived, to add much needed theatricality, and to aide digestion of Woolf’s dense words.

David Fleischer’s work on set and costumes, are technically proficient but also surprisingly sensual. Lights by Kelsey Lee too, are soft and almost romantic in quality. The visuals offer a valuable counterpoint, to the understandably militant tone of the text. Music by Alice Chance is luscious, maybe even dreamlike, and along with Paul Charlier’s uplifting sound design, our mind is maintained in a mode of inspiration, as we welcome Woolf’s passionate call for progress.

“500 pounds a year” is the author’s unmissable refrain, reflecting a way of looking at equality that places emphasis on giving to women, what men possess. In the new century, we learn that what men possess, is no longer that which represents a better way of being. Woolf implies that to be rid of menial tasks, is the only way for women to think, but she was wrong. Many of modern feminism’s greatest thinkers were/are never able to leave the trenches of patriarchal oppression.

It is appropriate that both performers in the show are white women. Although much of what Woolf has written is valuable, it comes from a position of privilege that the author was evidently unwilling to confront. There is a deceptive simplicity to her message, and a strong tendency to preserve structures that should be called thoroughly into question. All she wants it seems, is to swap male for female, in these old ways of running things. What we need is to admit that these very systems of running things, are a problem, no matter who occupies positions within.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Fun Home (Sydney Theatre Company / Melbourne Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 27 – May 29, 2021
Book and Lyrics: Lisa Kron (based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel)
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Gilbert Bradman, Ryan Gonzalez, Emily Havea, Mia Honeysett, Lucy Maunder, Jensen Mazza, Maggie McKenna, Adam Murphy, Marina Prior
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
In the American musical Fun Home, based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, we observe the cartoonist hard at work on her drafting table, looking back at memories of her difficult father. Bruce was a baby boomer, and like many queer people of that generation, never came to terms with being gay. Even as Alison began to come out as lesbian, his personal anguish never diminished, struggling even to offer support to his own daughter at a time when she had needed him most.

Clearly intended to be an emotional theatrical experience, the show’s reliance on an unlikeable character is risky, and even though the music is predictably and relentlessly sentimental, it is doubtful if audiences could ever feel the full impact of the hardship that this family had gone through. Alison goes to considerable lengths to find forgiveness and understanding for her father, but it is arguable if the musical provides sufficiently for us to respond with deep compassion, or even to care enough for these characters, to be able to invest adequately into their story.

The staging is a polished one, with Alicia Clements’ design facilitating efficaciously, the need for frequent oscillations of time and space. Matt Scott’s lights are beautiful, especially when depicting illusory moments during which we see characters suspended in the undefined abyss of Alison’s imagination. Director Dean Bryant introduces an excellent sense of pizzazz to the production, making sure that we are entertained to the fullest of the show’s potential. He ensures that the story is told with clarity, including the unsavoury revelations relating to Bruce’s life.

We see Alison at three periods of maturity, from childhood and her college years, to the grown woman she is today. Child star Mia Honeysett is fantastic as Small Alison, wonderfully nuanced and authentic, in her portrayal of a child navigating complicated family dynamics, as well as her own blossoming homosexuality. Medium Alison is performed by Maggie McKenna whose singing voice proves a divine pleasure, and Lucy Maunder is captivating as Big Alison, bringing a palpable tenderness that underpins the show. The striking Adam Murphy does his best to honestly depict Bruce, warts and all, but it is Marina Prior who leaves a strong impression playing his wife Helen. When she finally breaks her silence and delivers a faultless solo number, Prior’s technical prowess brings momentary elevation to the production, inviting us to luxuriate in the sheer genius of her singing.

It should come as no surprise that humans are sometimes much more troubling, than a 100-minute Broadway musical can accommodate. The formulaic nature of these creations, requires a form of storytelling that follows many rules, and we discover that truth can sometimes become its nemesis. Bruce’s sexual encounters with underaged boys, is not forgivable, especially in this space of commercial theatre. Fun Home requires us to regard Bruce’s past sins with generosity, the way his daughter has to, in order that our emotions may become engaged in accordance with the traditional peaks and valleys of a conventional musical. Bruce’s transgressions however, are much too severe, at least for the old-fashion song-and-dance format.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Honour (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Apr 23 – May 5, 2021
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Lucy Bell, Huw Higginson, Poppy Lynch
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
After 32 years of marriage, George, a renowned writer, suddenly decides that he is no longer in love with Honour. To be more precise, he simply no longer wants a life with her. Unsurprisingly, this change of heart is precipitated by the appearance of a younger woman, Claudia, who had been assigned to interview George for a publication. In Joanna Murray-Smith’s wonderfully contentious play Honour, the meanings of love, marriage and fidelity, are brought under scrutiny.

Some of our most fundamental values come into scintillating question by the work, as good art is want to do. Four characters, with differing perspectives, challenge the way we think about something that seems so often, to be prescribed and immovable. Additionally, a modern approach to the depiction of female desire, encourages us to examine romantic partnerships in renewed ways. Issues around duty and responsibility, as they apply to womanhood (who we care for, and who to care for us) further broaden the scope of how we regard these long-established notions of matrimony and family.

Although never too radical in temperament, Murray-Smith’s work bears intellectual dimensions that are deeply compelling. She presents her ideas in a way that feels accessible, but encourages us to go further with how we consider repercussions (for her characters, and for ourselves) as they appear through her narrative. Directed by Kate Champion, there is no shortage of richness in how the production discusses these topics. In fact, it often appears that philosophy comes before drama, in Champion’s presentation of Honour. The result is a rewarding experience of theatre, even if its dialogue can sometimes move quicker than our minds can keep up with.

Actor Lucy Bell invests heavily into emotional authenticity for her portrayal of Honour, the jilted wife. The human complexities in Honour’s reactions to her predicament are rendered soundly by Bell, who makes believable the extraordinarily cerebral way that this wronged woman processes her trauma. The other woman Claudia is compassionately interpreted by Ayeesha Ash, who prevents the audience from too easily dismissing the role for her problematic actions. It is in our understanding of Claudia, that we can attain a more sophisticated appreciation of the play’s ideas. George is made surprisingly sympathetic by Huw Higginson, a sensitive performer unjudgmental of the celebrity writer’s dubious choices. Honour and George’s daughter Sophie is played by an energetic Poppy Lynch, who succeeds at making substantial, a comparatively small role.

Production design by Simone Romaniuk is elegant and evocative, with a simplicity that complements the show’s performance style, focussing our attention closely on the intricacy of dynamics between characters. Damien Cooper’s lights too, offer generous enhancement to the tone of each scene, gracefully moving us from one mood to another. Music by Nate Edmondson adds a sense of flamboyance to the story’s inherent dramatics, effective at turning every seemingly mundane circumstance into something unequivocally theatrical.

We put so much time and effort into this thing called love, but rarely do we interrogate the impulses that lead us to it. In the play Honour, we can recognise that the experience of love, is influenced so much by factors that relate to social conditioning, or “the way we are brought up”. What feels natural and organic, is so heavily informed by beliefs that have been unconsciously, but actively, cultivated, yet to dare shift parameters around what is and is not permitted in how one chooses to experience love, is often met with disapproval. When George declares that he is no longer in love, in the old-fashioned way, with Honour, the overwhelming pang of betrayal is obvious to all. To want him to stay because of guilt, debt and responsibility however, is not what Honour deserves.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Dead Skin (White Box Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 2 – 17, 2021
Playwright: Laneikka Denne
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Ruby Maishman, Sarah Jane Kelly, Abe Mitchell, Laneikka Denne, Camila Ponti-Alvarez
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
When high schooler Andie falls in love, it is not only her new girlfriend Maggie who occupies her mind. Visions of her mother Andrea come flooding relentlessly in. Laneikka Denne’s Dead Skin talks about teenage love, in tandem with the complications of a girl coming of age, without the presence of her mother. Young Andie needs to know what it is to become a woman, and in that transitionary process, the urge to understand a mother she never knew, becomes irresistible.

Much of the story is about the things we suppress, in order that we may survive, and the breaking points that occur, to open the gates for the confrontation of truth. As a child, Andie never received satisfactory information about Andrea’s disappearance, only knowing that life has to go on, imperfect as it may be. Things change however, when she is no longer able to experience the world as a child, and the truth of a woman’s being, must come to the fore.

Denne’s ideas are expressed meaningfully in her piece. Abstract concepts are juxtaposed comfortably against naturalistic scenes, using the theatrical form cleverly to explore curious facets of human psychology. The fragmented nature of the writing’s structure however, has a tendency to work against the audience’s capacity to sufficiently invest in its characters. Dialogue for Dead Skin whilst charming in its authentic representation of contemporary youth culture, can expose a superficiality in its efforts to capture painful aspects of emotional growth.

As performer, Denne is intense in the role of Andie. Very believable, if slightly monotonous, in her depiction of the awkward teenager; we never question the authentic voice she brings to the stage. Her new love is played by Ruby Maishman, charismatic and confident as the comical Maggie. Camila Ponti-Alvarez leaves a strong impression as Audrey, an unlikely maternal figure, especially captivating in moments of heightened drama. Sarah Jane Kelly and Abe Mitchell are mother Andrea and father Harry, respectively, both demonstrating excellent commitment, for somewhat perfunctorily conceived personalities.

Production design by Angus Consti offers clean lines on a very black stage, to denote a space that is about accuracy in the mind, rather than somewhere more tangibly material. Lights by Martin Kinnane provide much needed variation to atmosphere, but Chrysoulla Markoulli’s near constant drone for sound design, proves challenging.

Much of the show, directed by Kim Hardwick, feels like a dream state. We fluctuate between different levels of lucidity, with resonances that hit and miss. Dead Skin ebbs and flows, more interested in its own discoveries, than in driving home a point. Let artists do their art, and be grateful in our participation from the perimeters, as we observe and glean what we can. Together at the theatre, let us delight in curiosity, and hold each other safe, in an inevitable evolution of our species, whichever direction it may take us.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: Fuente Ovejuna (Flight Path Theatre)

Venue: Flight Path Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 25 – Apr 11, 2021
Playwright: Lope de Vega (adaptation by Angus Evans)
Director: Angus Evans
Cast: James Bean, Tristan Black, Julia Christensen, Steve Corner, Shayne de Groot, Dominique de Marco, Lucinda Howes, Suzann James, Martin Quinn, Davey Seagle, Idam Sondhi, Madeleine Withington
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Originally published early seventeenth century, Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna is based upon the true story of a bloody revolt that took place in 1476 Castile. After sustained mistreatment by authorities, residents of the town Fuente Obejuna banded together and decapitated their commander in a coup. When investigators took to torturing individuals, each victim would refuse to divulge information, and in solidarity answered only that “Fuenteovejuna did it.”

Adapted and directed by Angus Evans, this new version of Fuente Ovejuna takes the opportunity to express the discontentment of contemporary Australians with our own leaders. Evans’ approach demonstrates that themes of the play could easily be applied to any period of recent political memory, but of particular salience is the Prime Minister’s current inability to manage the upheaval brought upon by revelations of sexual assaults, committed by members of his own government. Their sustained and wilful insolence certainly does inspire fantasies of mutiny and murder.

Evans’ ideas are put forward passionately, if not always sufficiently coherent. It is a galvanised team under his guidance, with all aspects of the production demonstrating admirable levels of commitment and energy. Actor Steve Corner leaves a particularly strong impression in a variety of roles. A powerful and compelling presence, he introduces a delicious, and necessary, sense of heightened drama, especially when occupying centre stage. Lucinda Howes as Laurencia, fires up our emotions in a crucial scene that sees her stoke the flames of rebellion. The authenticity that Howes musters for that moment, is sheer theatrical joy. Tristan Black is charming and very funny as Mengo, and as puppeteer for the King. The performer’s comic timing is perfect, and a real highlight of the show.

Live music is provided by Edward Hampton and Liam Peat, both musicians attentive and inordinately sensitive, adding tremendously to our enjoyment of the staging. Lights by Jas Borsovsky are suitably ambitious, and clever in their seemingly intuitive manipulations of our emotional responses. Victor Kalka’s set and Lucy Ferris’ costumes evoke a time past, whilst maintaining relevance to the present, so that we understand the foreign places to be no different from here, and the historical personalities to be the same as us.

It is gruesome but undeniably joyful to witness the execution of a heinous autocrat. The truth however, is that our systems of power, can withstand the toppling of any one figure, no matter how eminent. We may feel empowered when daydreaming about Prime Ministers, movie moguls and press barons being cancelled or removed at will, but these positions undoubtedly will be swiftly replaced, by more of the same.

Fuente Ovejuna is a story about solidarity, and the power of the people. In places like Australia, the establishment only exists, because we the people, allow it to. The reason we authorise its powers, is that we believe them to be beneficial to our existence, but it seems that what we believe, is almost entirely controlled by those powers that be, in an ominous cycle of causality.

It is easy to acknowledge that parts of our minds can fathom a way of life devoid of corruption, that in our imagination, an idealistic utopia always seems just a hair’s breadth away. We want to think that as a united people, we can make decisions that are right, that those determined to be rapacious and unjust can be vanquished. In reality however, our way of life has long been predicated on inequity and greed. If our fundamental values require that there be losers as well as winners, then surely true unity will forever elude us. We may experience flashes of reckoning, in fact these moments of cultural awakening seem to occur increasingly frequently, but there is little proof that knowing what is right, is ever going to lead us to actually doing better.

www.flightpaththeatre.org

Review: You’re Not Special (Rogue Projects)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 5 – 20, 2021
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Arkia Ashraf, Kate Skinner, Ariadne Sgouros
Images by Kate Williams and Australian Theatre Live

Theatre review
Dan and Ellie are moving in together, as is the convention when humans decide to couple up. They expect to become closer as a matter of course, but like many others, these new living arrangements begin to test their mettle. You’re Not Special by Sam O’Sullivan is thankfully, not another rom-com on the humorous pitfalls of heteronormativity, but an intensely thought-provoking work about the tensions between organic and synthetic, in our age of unprecedented technological advancement. Characters in the play are caught up in their virtual lives on all their electronic devices, and at varying degrees, struggle to negotiate the nature of reality as it stands in the twenty-first century.

O’Sullivan’s writing is wonderfully engaging, with an intellectual curiosity that sustains our keen interest. There is a passion in the way its ideas are disseminated, that gives You’re Not Special a delicious sense of urgency, even though what it wishes to effect can feel somewhat didactic. Director Samantha Young does a splendid job of bringing to life, these concepts of right and wrong, in scenes featuring dramatic confrontations that always feel authentic and powerful. The show is very persuasive.

Arkia Ashraf’s uncompromising naturalism in his approach to the depiction of central character Dan, conveys a valuable quality of the everyman, one that invites the viewer to relate his story to each of our own lives. It is a solid, heavily introspective performance, that benefits tremendously from the intimacy of the space. Ellie is played by an exquisite Kate Skinner, scintillating in moments of vigour, and genuinely delightful when delivering comedy. In the enigmatic and pivotal role of April, is Ariadne Sgouros, who demonstrates excellent capacity for complexity. She revels in the many layers offered by the unusual personality, and challenges us to bring interpretations that are as expansive as the work she presents.

Design aspects are comparatively low-key, although appropriately so. Set and costumes by Anna Gardiner evoke a familiarity that helps us place the action at close psychological proximity. Martin Kinnane’s lights contribute a sense of dynamism to the narrative’s unfolding turmoil, and Kaitlyn Crocker’s sound design is memorable for surprising touches that hint at the surreal.

You’re Not Special asks important questions, but is perhaps too strident in its need to provide answers. Its default position of honouring an imagined point of human origin, and of what is traditionally thought of as “natural”, puts restrictions on the efficacy of its own artistic possibilities. The discussion of humanity and technology, when framed strictly as a duelling dichotomy, can feel mundane and old-fashioned. Technology can be thought of as essentially human, and at this point of our evolution, one could argue that a more futurist appreciation of lifestyles could be beneficial.

Quite certainly, truths often reside in all factions of our debates, and to participate in society, should not require that we must take sides on all issues, all the time. In 2021, it seems we have been conditioned to be irrepressibly opinionated over every matter. Maybe to remain impartial on some things, especially when the ethics involved are not cut-and-dried, means to keep an open mind.

www.rogueprojects.com.au