Review: I’m With Her (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 9 – Dec 1, 2019
Lead Writer: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Director: Victoria Midwinter Pitt
Cast: Gabrielle Chan, Shakira Clanton, Lynette Curran, Deborah Galanos, Emily Havea
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Named after a prominent slogan from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, I’m With Her features nine remarkable women, and their tales of resistance in relation to patriarchal structures that have tried to stand in the way of women’s achievements. Indeed these are success stories, representing only those who had made it in spite of immense opposition, but through them we observe not only the struggles that women everywhere encounter, but also how some of us have been able to emerge victorious.

Based on first-hand accounts by some of our favourite Australians, from Julia Gillard to Marcia Langton, as well as some lesser known but equally accomplished others, the work offers valuable inspiration to those who encounter roadblocks everyday on account of our gender. Created by Victoria Midwinter Pitt, the three-hour show is infrequently sentimental, but always powerful with what it says in terms of our capacity to weather storms and overcome obstacles. There is a uniformity in how each monologue unfolds, that reflects the similarity of experiences, and the journeys we have to make, in order to attain fulfilling lives.

Although repetitive in its form, I’m With Her is composed of anecdotes from highly compelling individuals, performed by an exceptionally sincere cast. Shakira Clanton’s emotional intensity, along with a precision in her motivations, give resonance to everything she utters. Similarly affecting is Emily Havea, who brings valuable zeal to the show. The whimsical Gabrielle Chan is memorable for her wonderful sense of humour, and Lynette Curran’s ability to convey vulnerability keeps us on the edge of our seats. Deborah Galanos is robust in her portrayals, and as with all the other actors in I’m With Her, presents an indelible impression of strength and resilience.

Audio-visual design by Mia Holton is noteworthy for delivering breathtaking imagery via a series of cleverly assembled projections. Further enhancing theatricality is sound and music by Tegan Nicholls, punctuating the journey with aural cues that help us absorb nuances as they arrive. Kelsey Lee’s lights are delicately calibrated, to guide us through shifts in mood and attitude, as we traverse these profound testimonies.

Many of these, are women at the top of their game, but it is important we remember that these games are often themselves the problem. One of the personalities we meet is Sister Patricia Madigan, who wishes for women to one day be ordained as priests, but we must not ignore the fact that even if a female pope should eventuate, the church is still Catholic. Having more women in power will certainly improve things for everyone, but we must not pretend that any tactic that retains old systems that thrive on the subjugation of vast numbers of people, is the way to solve our problems. As we continue with trying to get more women replacing men at positions of influence, it is imperative that we think up new ways to organise our lives. Glass ceilings can be broken, but the end game is to have all of us elevated.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: A Delicate Balance (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Viktor Kalka
Cast: James Bean, Martin Bell, Alison Chambers, Zoë Crawford, Suzann James, Alice Livingstone
Images by Blake Condon

Theatre review
Agnes and Tobias are rich, white, empty nesters who appear to live the suburban dream, yet not a moment goes by that is not filled with anxiety, in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Everything seems in place so that the couple could go about their business without a care in the world, but there is a terror that permeates. We soon discover that all the characters in their home suffer from an intense and prolonged existential crisis. Albee shows only the manifestations of his characters’ fears, leaving us to find an explanation for their condition.

Under Viktor Kalka’s direction, the 53 year-old play retains its pertinent bite. Although the production lacks visual flourish, Kalka is able to manufacture a disquiet that rings with authenticity. Ryan Devlin’s restrained sound design helps us locate dramatic tension, as the plot moves through waves of dilemma.

The show is demanding of its cast, and can at times seem under rehearsed. Agnes is played by Alice Livingstone, who brings an appropriate sense of loss and bewilderment to proceedings. Martin Bell as Tobias has a tendency to be subdued in approach, but occasional emotional outbursts make for excellent drama. Their daughter Julia is made compelling by Zoë Crawford, and Suzann James as Agnes’ sister Claire, offers a persuasive portrait of an alcoholic escapist. James Bean and Alison Chambers leave a strong impression as family friends Harry and Edna, both actors invigorating with the precise humour that they bring to the stage.

Agnes and Tobias adhere to all the rules, and even though their cookie-cutter existence appears perfect on the outside, there is nothing right about how they feel on the inside. Every day we are told what achievement and success looks like, but if we follow every prescribed route, without sufficiently interrogating their true purposes and consequences, we risk using up our time only on the wishes of others.

The characters in A Delicate Balance spend all their energies wrestling frustrations, but fail to identify what they need that will deliver peace, or even a modicum of joy. They are in constant struggle with the expectations of those they do not like, refusing to disengage with the familiar, as though addicted to the comfort of their pain. It is true that people care too much about all the wrong things, but to shift focus to where the good things are, is always easier said than done.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.facebook.com/SydneyClassicTheatreCo

Review: The House At Boundary Road (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 5 – 16, 2019
Playwrights: Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe, Jordy Shea
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Violette Ayad, Henrietta Amevor, Monique Calarco, Jemwel Danao, Nancy Denis, Felino Dolloso, Adam Di Martino, Jessica Phoebe Hanna, Mark Paguio, David Soncin, Angela Sullen, Mike Ugo
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
It is in Western Sydney’s Liverpool, that we find The House At Boundary Road, and the families who had lived in it over the years. Written by Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe and Jordy Shea, the work comprises four short plays, each featuring a migrant family. De Angelis writes about Italians in the 50s, Shea on Filipinos in the 60s, followed by Ayad’s Middle Eastern sisters who grew up there in the 80s, and finally Ikogwe presents today’s Nigerian inhabitants. Each segment is compact but powerful, for a meaningful encapsulation of our recent history.

The stories are an emotional tribute to difficult times, all of them offering intimate insight that pertain to the migrant working class. Truths about our economic system are revealed, along with the persistently inequitable nature of our nationhood. Directed by Jessica Arthur, the production is appropriately sentimental, presented in a simple style that conveys poignancy for every moment. A deeply evocative set by Keerthi Subramaniam, recalls interiors of modest homes that form the inner sanctum for so many Australian battlers. Kate Baldwin’s lights and Clemence Williams’s sound keep us in a beautiful melancholy, for an intimately resonant representation of both the past and the present.

Actor Felino Dolloso is especially moving as Jovy, the despondent father of the Filipino household, helping us see the pain of displacement in the most sobering way. The captivating Henrietta Amevor plays Chioma, a 14 year-old Nigerian obsessed with boys and selfies, bringing to the role exquisite humour and phenomenal star quality. Nancy Denis absolutely charms as Chioma’s mother, and their neighbour Ugo is portrayed by Mike Ugo, who impresses with an unexpected tenderness, and the effortless warmth he brings to the stage.

Many of us were allowed in, because difficult jobs needed to be done. We are built on the backs of economic migrants, yet they are routinely demonised by those who benefit most, from the smooth functioning of this capitalist way of life. Those at the top of our hierarchies understand that their positions are only tenable for as long as there are people at the bottom holding things up, yet they never fail to take every opportunity to vilify and demean those who are newer to this land, and darker in skin tone. The characters in The House At Boundary Road may look disparate to suspicious eyes, but there is little that separates them besides. The powerful will insist that we are never the same, so that they can keep trampling over us, but as soon as we reject those notions of difference, we can begin a revolution to erase these despicable disparities.

www.bontom.com.au

Review: Good Dog (Green Door Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 1 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Arinzé Kene
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Justin Amankwah
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Good Dog by Arinzé Kene, details the life of a young black man in working class England. We watch him from childhood, an innocent boy like any other who dreams of owning a bicycle, but who learns instead, the harsh realities of poverty. It is a story about race and class, and how people can be depleted of patience and naivety, in the face of unremitting injustice. Years of deprivation sets our unnamed protagonist on a course of rebellion, that the play appropriately depicts as a valid response to systematic failures of modern economies.

Kene’s writing is intriguing, in a linguistic style faithful to the cultural contexts from which it emerges. Directed by Rachel Chant, the production is sensitive, and dignified, in its portrayals of prejudice and disparity in a foreign land. Sound design by Melanie Herbert is particularly subtle in how it conveys psychological shifts for the one-man show. Kelsey Lee’s lights are an elegant feature, and a set by Maya Keys provides just enough visual cues to spark our imagination. Actor Justin Amankwah is extraordinarily charismatic, but insufficiently inventive and overly naturalistic in the role. Good Dog requires a more expository approach to speak to an Australian audience, and at over two hours long, a stronger sense of theatricality is necessary to sustain our interest.

The power of white supremacist capitalism lies in the way it is able to subjugate so many, for so long. Those of us who are oppressed, not only buy into their myths about hard work and meritocracy, we further sympathise with their prescriptions of politeness and civility. They keep us asking for better, over generations, knowing that their continual denials are only met with perpetual compliance. Once in a blue moon however, a revolution will arise, with people tired of waiting, finally pressed to claim back their due by force. How and when this is going to happen, is as always, anyone’s guess.

www.greendoortheatreco.com

Review: The Indian Wants The Bronx (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 24 – Nov 2, 2019
Playwright: Israel Horovitz
Director: Rahel Romahn
Cast: Tristan Artin, Elliott Giarola, Rajesh Valluri
Images by Shayan

Theatre review
As delinquents Murph and Joey wander the streets of New York, they stumble upon Gupta at a bus stop trying to get to the Bronx without knowing the English language. The boys are amused by Gupta’s Indian clothing, and proceed to taunt him, gradually increasing in intensity over the play’s 45 minutes.

Israel Horovitz’s The Indian Wants The Bronx premiered in 1968, the year of Martin Luther King’s death, at the height of America’s civil rights movement. Although the work is undoubtedly dated, with a central Indian character unable to speak English, the way it frames bigotry as an unassailable reality regardless of intentions by individuals, remains valuable in our discourse about race. The young New Yorkers do not think of themselves as xenophobic, but consequences of their actions are certainly racist.

Directed by Rahel Romahn, the show is suitably energetic, fuelled by the irrepressible ebullience of unruly youth. A greater sense of danger, and dramatic tension, is slightly missing in early portions, but the show delivers the goods in its second half. Sound by Kailesh Reitmans provides excellent support in calibrating atmosphere for every scene, and lighting design by Thomas Walsh, although obvious with its objectives, is effective in escalating tensions.

Three accomplished performers take us through this story of racially motivated violence, with Rajesh Valluri leaving a strong impression as Gupta, able to convey a sense of dignity for the character in spite of his unfortunate circumstances. Tristan Artin and Elliott Giarola are strong in their roles, both actors detailed and passionate with what they bring to the stage. The production is an engaging one, made believable by a thoughtful and cohesive team.

One of the boys is Irish, and the other Jewish. Mid-century New York was not always kind to them, yet they are unable to see themselves reflected in their Indian victim. History shows that it is easy for people to forget their own persecution, and dispense upon others the injustices they had previously suffered. Half a century after Horovitz’s writing however, it may seem that the new generations of today, determined to define themselves as unprecedentedly enlightened, have become much more compassionate in how they regard society. The establishment is still in the habit of keeping groups of people subjugated, but opposition to their modus operandi is indisputably growing.

www.chippenstreet.com

Review: Haunted (Spark Youth Theatre)

Venue: Petersham Town Hall (Petersham NSW), Oct 29 – Nov 8, 2019
Concept: Felicity Nicol
Directors: Felicity Nicol, Scott Parker
Cast: Alan Fang, Andrea Mudbidri, Bedelia Lowrencev, Caitlyn Wright, Ellie Oppen-Riley, Emily Pincock, Fanar Moonee, Jeno Kim, Jeremy Lowrencev, Mason Phoumirath, Niamh Kinsella, Pedro Luis Barrientos Rios, Rebekah Parsons, Tirian Tanious
Images by Patrick Boland

Theatre review
It is night time, and a group of young adults are exploring a disused hall, spinning tales involving missing persons from a 1940’s debutante ball. The audience too are on foot, lingering and observing, and soon we find ourselves standing in as ghosts, when the adventurers begin seeing things. Felicity Nicol’s Haunted makes extensive use of an old town hall, one that is similar to the hundreds that exist all over Australia, with performers dispersed throughout the venue, and us behaving like voyeuristic apparitions, tracking their activities over ninety spooky minutes.

Directed by Nicol along with Scott Parker, the work is fresh and playful, impressive in its exhaustive and imaginative use of space. There is pleasure not only in investigating the many curious satellite occurrences, but also in the very experience of exploring a forgotten building. Sensational work on sound by Nate Edmondson heightens all our senses, to have us feeling as though immersed within a world of horror cinema. Lights by Benjamin Brockman are extravagant at pivotal moments, to help convey varying states of surrealism, for a story about young people discovering their local history.

A cast of fourteen performers demonstrate excellent commitment and verve, relying on intuition and physicality, rather than dialogue, to deliver a thrilling, inventive and often beautiful work of modern theatre. Mason Phoumirath and Niamh Kinsella are memorable in their featured roles, proving themselves to be compelling actors, with limitless potential.

The present collides with the past in every moment, but we are rarely encouraged to look back, whilst we wrestle with busy existences dominated by demands of the rat race. Mistakes may not have to be made again, if only we understand their previous incarnations, and evolution would only be in positive directions, if only we remember all former failures. Individuals are only young once, and as a community we too should always strive to mature with each passing day. Lessons learned must not be forgotten, or we will forever be in positions of regret.

www.sparkyouththeatre.com

Review: Bird (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 22 – Nov 2, 2019
Playwright: Katherine Chandler
Director: Jane Angharad
Cast: : Marvin Adler, Sarah Easterman, James Gordon, Bella Ridgway, Laura Wilson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Ava is turning 16 and homeless. Her cruel mother rejects repeated efforts by Ava to mend bridges, letting the girl languish in crisis accommodation, and on the streets of her Welsh town. Katherine Chandler’s Bird is about survival, when a young person is abandoned. We look at the challenges that Ava has to negotiate having been left to her own devices, and the dangers she encounters as she does her best to stay alive.

It is a poignant story, featuring an honest portrayal of a loveless family not often seen in our storytelling. Its characters are realistic and thoroughly explored, so that we may sympathise with the depths of Ava’s despondency, and identify the hope that she never relinquishes. Directed by Jane Angharad, the production tends to be overly subtle in approach, but its emotional resonances are strong when necessary. The dynamics she renders between cast members is often moving, for an effective manifestation of the play’s generous measure of sentimentality.

Actor Laura Wilson’s authentic portrayal of innocence is crucial to how we regard Ava, along with a commendable focus and conviction that keeps us invested in the protagonist’s journey. The mother, Claire is played by Sarah Easterman, whose quiet brutality provides valuable fortification to how the plot unfolds. Mystery man Lee is given excellent depth by James Gordon, whose ambiguity creates exquisite dramatic tension for all his scenes. Marvin Adler and Bella Ridgway play Ava’s friends, both performers offering a balance of melancholy and purity, for depictions of youth that are vividly truthful.

To be unwanted by one’s parents is unimaginable for most, yet many continue to flourish in spite of this bitter deprivation. The odds against her are staggering, but Ava never gives up trying. With no choice but to be fearless, she is always able to muster the courage to march on, even if her days are aimless and sad. We have all experienced what it is like to be lost, but to brave the world when feeling unloved, is an immense tragedy, yet somehow, we are capable of it.

www.secrethouse.com.au | www.redlineproductions.com.au