Review: No End Of Blame (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 12 – 28, 2017
Playwright: Howard Barker
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Akos Armont, Angela Bauer, Danielle King, Sam O’Sullivan, Monroe Reimers, Lizzie Schebesta, Amy Usherwood, Bryce Youngman
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
In No End Of Blame, Howard Barker creates a hero out of political cartoonist Bela Veracek, who begins his life in Hungary at the end of the 19th century, and ends up in England decades later, after a stint in Lenin’s Russia. It is a man’s search for truth, through decades of war and social unrest, and an artist going against every grain to make sense of the world.

First published in 1981, the piece is stylistically representative of English male playwrights of the time, angsty and very wordy. Thatcher had become Prime Minister, and the righteous had much to fight for; Barker is certainly argumentative in No End Of Blame. Damien Ryan’s production updates the work from the punk era to something altogether more earnest and refined.

Projected on a large, white backdrop, are drawings by Nicholas Harding, David Pope and Cathy Wilcox, who bring an extraordinary dimension of artistry, constantly pulling our attention back to the actual medium being celebrated. Also remarkable is Alistair Wallace’s sound design, utilising a meticulous selection of music that takes us to places far away and sublime.

There is a lot of excellent acting to be enjoyed. Akos Armont is the charismatic and passionate lead, dependably convincing even though Bela’s emotions seem always to be operatic in scale. Supporting roles are all vibrantly rendered, with Danielle King especially memorable in a range of small parts, and highly effective as newspaper editor Stringer, delivering a tremendous sense of poignancy at show’s end.

As commentators of our world, cartoonists have the noble responsibility of pointing their finger at all that is wrong. This usually means that it is the powerful that come under the pencil’s attack, and it is necessary for us all to be cognisant of how those powers will try to quash their naysayers. Bela’s story came before the internet age, but even though we no longer have the same reliance on the print industry to provide a battle ground for democracy, those same dynamics exist today in how we use our phones and computers. The bad guys are able to control our freedoms, in some ways easier than before, and our resistance must remain vigilant and tenacious.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Birdland (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 3 – Nov 4, 2017
Playwright: Simon Stephens
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jack Angwin, Graeme McRae, Charmaine Bingwa, Leilani Loau, Louise Harding, Airlie Dodds, Matthew Cheetham
Image by Chris Lundie

Theatre review
Paul is a rock star who plays to crowds of 100,000 people. That scale of extraordinary fame and fortune, is an existence beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals. In Simon Stephens’ Birdland, we see a kind of dehumanised individual struggling to find a sense of normalcy in a world where everything is permissible and accessible, and where everything is eventually reduced to meaninglessness.

The play lifts the lid on the lustrous personalities who entertain us. We fall in love with these strangers, and envy their lifestyle, thinking that theirs is the ultimate freedom, to have every request and desire met. It is fascinating to imagine what it must be like, to not be able to want, after having consumed everything. The human compulsion to pursue that which remains unsated, is crucial in how we are able to operate from day to day. The depressed cannot get out of bed, because nothing is worthwhile. The superstar experiences something similar, when all appetite is quelled even before they appear.

Paul becomes increasingly anaesthetised, resulting in a frantic escalation of indulgence and excess. Graeme McRae is strong in the lead role, offering an interpretation that is detailed and intelligent. It is extremely demanding work, and while our compassion for Paul is carefully sustained for the entire two hours, McRae’s stamina seems to wane in the later stages. The production is quiet and sensitive, with director Anthony Skuse’s remarkable ability to provide a sense of fragility keeping us engaged, but the bareness of the stage, although visually appealing, can at times feel overly taxing on the actors, who have nothing but themselves to make each moment spark.

It is less daunting for the rest of the cast, who play a series of supporting characters orbiting Paul. Charmaine Bingwa is outstanding in Birdland. As an African escort, she is dangerously alluring, and as an English policewoman, she is deliciously unkind, but it is in the scene where she plays Paul’s father that Bingwa is most memorable. We are suddenly overwhelmed with emotion, when we see the only thing of genuine value to Paul, falling to pieces along with every other aspect of his being. It is a beautifully performed show, with each actor captivating in their passionate commitment to the craft.

It is healthy to want better for ourselves, and dreaming big is a way for us to find impetus to live with excitement and joy. A state of contentment however, must never be absent. The tension between needing more, and feeling satisfied, might seem a contradiction, but it is in finding a way to negotiate their co-existence that we can perhaps achieve emotional and psychological stability. Nobody rejects Paul, so it can only be up to him to say no.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Hypnagogism (Balter Theatre Co)

Venue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Oct 4 – 14, 2017
Playwright: Frankie
Directors: Luke Beattie, Frankie
Cast: Kate Allison, Bretany Amber, Daniel d’Amico, Brielle Flynn, Lachlan Mcnab, Vonne Patiag, Ash Sakha, Tivy Siripanich
Image by Margaret Grove

Theatre review
Michelle goes to acting school everyday, where teachers tell her to dig deep for emotions worthy of display. Trauma is fetishised, but little care is given to the young adults who find themselves in a constant state of vulnerability, with open wounds that are left to their own often inadequate devices. Michelle suffers from a history of sexual assault and finds herself encouraged to exploit those very painful memories.

Frankie’s Hypnagogism portrays with striking persuasiveness, the neglect of mental health in some of our less proficient institutions. Although lacking in polish and maturity, the play makes salient points about how we train our actors, by drawing attention to problematic practises that are usually hidden from the public eye.

It is essentially a work of dark comedy, with a strong tendency to turn very melodramatic in its efforts to maintain emphasis on Michelle’s struggles. Directors Luke Beattie and Frankie herself, use the stage with commendable imagination, but edits could be made at more than a few junctures, to achieve a considerably crisper result. Playing Michelle is the confident Bretany Amber, one of an impressively well-rehearsed and cohesive team of young talents. Flamboyant actors Brielle Flynn and Daniel d’Amico are memorable in comedic roles, both bringing exuberance and excellent entertainment value.

The infinitely multi-faceted nature of art, allows for participation by artists of all kinds. It is easy to identify the ones who go to extremes, but more than a few level-headed individuals have found success on their own terms. In the process of art however, the extant discovery of self and environment is fundamental, meaning that limits and boundaries must always be explored. Where and when one chooses to transgress, is perhaps how art is best able to get involved, in the creation of meaning.

www.baltertheatre.com

Review: Home (Tantrum Youth Arts)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Oct 4 – 7, 2017
Director: Janie Gibson
Cast: Sara Barlow, Thomas Lonsdale, Roger Ly, Alexandra Mangano, Meghan Mills, Meg O’Hara, Taylor Reece, Stephanie Rochet, Rosie Scanlan, Clare Todorovitch, Phoebe Turnbull
Image by Eryn Leggatt

Theatre review
The point of departure is a meditation on home, a concept that we associate with all things secure, warm and familiar, but the 11 artists delve deep within, to unearth instead, many unexpected and troubling aspects of living in Australia today.

The piece begins predictably, perhaps too innocently, about the planet and its natural environment, with seen-it-all-before physical configurations, typical of theatre featuring ensembles of young people. After some warming up, director Janie Gibson takes us to the deep end, where pretence gives way to raw honesty, and the real drama happens.

Home‘s collation of words by various entities (with dramaturgy by Lucy Shepherd), is a remarkable achievement, showcasing a valuable range of perspectives that form a truthful and timely representation of where we are today, as a society and a collective consciousness.

Alexandra Rose talks poetically about the idea of body as home, Phoebe Turnbull speaks boldly for new feminists everywhere, Roger Ly articulates with great humour, the historical experience of our many marginalised ethnic minorities, and Meg O’Hara is blinding with her infectious passion as a queer activist. There is a lot of power in Home, derived from very serious and exquisite thought.

Art scintillates when brave and authentic, and there is much to be excited about here. Also very noteworthy is the live music accompaniment by Huw Jones, whose electronica underscores the entire show with intelligence, and beautiful sensitivity. Quality of acting in the group is inconsistent, but Stephanie Rochet-Cuevas’ brilliance as performer is unequivocal, presenting a “star is born” moment on the Sydney stage, having recently arrived from Chile, via Newcastle. She is formidable, a force to be reckoned with, and a personality one sincerely hopes to see grace our theatres again soon, and often.

Home is where we should be able to find comfort. It is also where we are safest and most able to confront the darkest of our beings. In bringing their audience their most authentic vulnerabilities, the artists compel us to connect, with the work and with each other. Enclosed and tethered, we think about the spaces we share, and the inevitability of our dependence on each other, and the care, that increasingly, we forget to take.

www.tantrum.org.au

Review: The Gloveman (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Oct 4 – 14, 2017
Playwright: C.J. Naylor
Director: Michael Block
Cast: Chris Argirousis, Brinley Meyer, Chris Miller, Matt Blake, Janine Penfold, Ben Dewstow
Image by Hayden Brotchie

Theatre review
Edith has an unfulfilling life, working in a small town pub in Leeds, England. Restricted by a minor disability, she had all but resigned herself to a life of discontentment, until a pivotal encounter with Hugh, a shady figure in the local football circuit. C.J. Naylor’s story involves corruption and ambition, but for all its enthusiasm, The Gloveman serves up little drama. The stakes never seem to feel high enough, and the various divergent narratives contributed by each of its characters, add up to a plot that is consequently haphazard. Naylor’s approach to dialogue however, is often delightful, with colourful and lively exchanges that some will find amusing.

It is an energetic show, featuring an exaggerated tone to acting styles that can be charming at times, and comical at others. The decision to use Australian accents instead of a very specific Northern England one is understandable, but the effect is disorienting. The role of Edith is played by Brinley Meyer, whose warm and confident presence keeps us endeared. Personalities in The Gloveman are portrayed with little complexity, but director Michael Block provides a sense of familiarity akin to everyday television presentations that helps us relate. Supporting actor Janine Penfold is particularly memorable, for her interpretation of journalist Gabe as a woman of substance and grit.

When Edith goes missing, presumed abducted by baddies, the menfolk she takes care of at home, preoccupy themselves with arguments about who amongst them is the best goalkeeper in town. It is not uncommon that the woman imagines herself indispensable, persisting with her servitude convinced that the greater good justifies her personal suffering. Meanwhile, all the glory and dirty money that circulates within her community, bypasses Edith, as her elbow grease continues to be called upon to support their sporting economy.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: The Winter’s Tale (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 27 – Oct 7, 2017
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Sean O’Riordan
Cast: Jane Angharad, Alison Benstead, Alana Birtles, Russell Cronin, Laura Djanegara, Alec Ebert, Neil Sun Hyland, Derbail Kinsella, Dave Kirkham, Grace Naoum, Roger Smith, James Smithers, Romney Stanton, Charles Upton, Richard Woodhouse, Emma Wright, Danen Young
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
No one can really claim to know Shakespeare’s personal politics, and the further along we progress, the harder it is to investigate with any objectivity, how he would have thought about the way societies should be managed. In The Winter’s Tale however, there is no doubt that modern standards can only judge him deeply misogynist.

Leontes is a king who decides on his own whim, that his pregnant wife is being unfaithful, then proceeds subsequently, to cause the death of both mother and their newborn daughter. Later in the piece, we witness the king becoming consumed by guilt, until the end, where he is unjustly rewarded with their resurrection, in the play’s quite absurd happy ending. Like Leontes, Shakespeare inflicts beastly harm on the two women, in order that his own purposes of creating presumably sensational drama may be served, then summons them back for a tidy and convenient conclusion.

Domestic violence is hugely topical, but The Winter’s Tale is clearly not the right story for our times. There is no need in any contemporary existence, to see an abuser get away with murder, and subsequently be absolved of all his sins.

Nonetheless, the production is an earnestly assembled tribute to the literary great. Isabel Hudson’s meticulous work on set design is laudable, and Liam O’Keefe’s dynamic lights are a crucial element in the many tonal transformations between scenes. Director Sean O’Riordan works closely with his young actors to create opportunities for their talent, where they exist, to be displayed, or at least to demonstrate a sense of exuberance where a natural flair for the stage may be absent. There are issues with blocking, if solved, that could improve the efficacy of what the cast attempts to provide.

Leontes is played by Charles Upton, who although lacks the appropriate level of maturity, is a sturdy and persuasive presence, providing a centrifugal vitality that the play’s narratives rely on to develop. Laura Djanegara is memorable as Camillo, with a confidently naturalist approach that feels authentic and refreshing. Also noteworthy is Russell Cronin who offers excellent timing as the Clown, energetic and adorable, with an unmistakable intuition for performance.

It is appalling that one Australian woman is killed every week by her partner (as reported by the Australian Institute of Criminology), yet our national consciousness continues to struggle with the severity of that fact. We spend inordinate effort on debating things like border protection, while all the real atrocities are happening inside our homes. The inability to see the evil within, is unquestionably harmful. We have to be vigilant with that which is too often taken for granted, including those we consider heroes of our artistic experience.

www.secrethouse.com.au

Review: The Nether (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 13 – Oct 7, 2017
Playwright: Jennifer Haley
Director: Justin Martin
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Alan Faulkner, Katie Fitchett, Kim Knuckey, Alec Snow
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
The Nether takes place in a future where people are able to spend as much time as they want, in the virtual reality of an advanced form of the internet, where they can smell the trees and touch the flesh of another. Jennifer Haley’s entertaining and provocative play takes us into an imaginary new frontier of pornography, and has us consider the ethics surrounding online sexual behaviour, beyond rationalisations that pertain to simplified concepts of the consenting adult.

Sims is a paedophile who runs a secret playground that he has invented, designed to satisfy the urges of people who share his egregiously sexual and violent compulsions. The children in his world are however, not creations of artificial intelligence or robotics. Other adults are required to play these roles, destined to be savagely defiled by Sims’ paying customers. The police are investigating this underground community, and Detective Morris is determined to have the mastermind prosecuted.

Cleverly structured, with layers of surprising complexity that has us gripped from the very beginning, The Nether is an edgy and thrilling ride, that appeals to our perpetually conflicted feelings about the ways we regard technology and sex. Justin Martin’s direction is crisp and powerful, keeping us attentive for the entire duration, while we engage with the philosophical and contentious material being presented.

The production is beautifully designed in all its aspects. Pip Runciman’s set, Melanie Liertz’s costumes, and Christopher Page’s lights, are ambitiously conceived and splendidly cultivated, for an appropriately seductive peek into the precarious moralities being explored. Music and sound by the talented duo, James Brown and Tom Hogan, are on hand to enhance dramatic tension, and to facilitate an ominous atmosphere around the disturbing story.

Excellent performances by all five actors deliver a vivid rendition of the play, tightly paced and sharply focused, so that we find ourselves completely mesmerised by its extraordinary narrative. Pseudo child Iris is convincingly portrayed by Danielle Catanzariti, whose deftly exaggerated infantile femininity is a constant reminder of the artifice being represented, whilst maintaining an impressive emotional realism that allows us access to a genuine humanity that lies behind the illusion. Equally memorable is Kim Knuckey as Sims, the dubious character we find ourselves vacillating between hating and wishing to protect. Knuckey’s ability to let us see the good and bad that co-exist in his character, gives the show a level of sophistication that is quite remarkable.

It can be argued that The Nether contains some glaring plot holes in its sci-fi manifestation that require some finessing, but there is no question that this is theatre that will tantalise. We have not reached the future that it depicts, but we already share that same potent sense of guilt in our current reliance of technology. To posit real and virtual worlds as binary oppositions is increasingly suspect, and to argue that the organic is essentially better or more important than the synthetic is no longer easily persuasive, but we certainly do find ourselves giving pause here.

www.catnipproductions.com