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

Review: Wild Thing (Flight Path Theatre)

Venue: Flight Path Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 2 – Mar 20, 2021
Playwright: Suzanne Hawley
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Di Adams, Philip D’Ambrosio, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Katrina Foster, Helen O’Connor, Di Smith
Images by Lisa Tomasetti

Theatre review
When Jackie’s health begins to fail, it is her group of besties who come to the rescue. Suzanne Hawley’s Wild Thing features four women who share a friendship of over half a century. Now in their sixties, each individual is no less vivacious or fun-loving, and even though nature does not spare them the usual and inevitable impediments, we discover their spirit to be unyielding.

Hawley’s endearing characters tell a meaningful story, of love, of resilience, and ultimately, of generosity. It showcases the best qualities of being old, and even though its earnestness can feel somewhat overwrought, there is much wisdom to be gained, as always, from being in close quarters with our seniors.

A humorous piece with lively direction by Kim Hardwick, Wild Thing opens up discussions surrounding ageing and death, in a surprisingly upbeat manner. End of life is an emotional affair, but it is also inescapable, so to treat it with some degree of levity can only be healthy.

The presentation is designed competently, with Tom Bannerman’s set leaving a particularly good impression. Able to offer versatility, as well as practical solutions, Bannerman’s creation is an efficient performance space that frees up the cast for what they do best.

Di Smith brings nuance to the role of Jackie, along with considerable dignity to this important tale of personal agency, for women of a certain age. Helen O’Connor is memorable as the carefree Elizabeth, bringing a sense of cheeky ebullience to the show. The passionate Frances is played by Katrina Foster, whose approach proves to be unmistakeably kooky, and Di Adams’ restraint only makes Susan’s sexual escapades more scandalous.

We need to talk a lot more, about the subject of dying. It seems that evasion is how Australians (and much of the world) typically deal with mortality, which is to say, that we do not deal with it at all. It is our propensity to leave facing it, until the final moments when we have nowhere to run. It is ironic that we should place attention on everything else except for the one certainty in life. Thankfully, art exists to remind us of who we are, at our most essential.

www.flightpaththeatre.org

Review: Playing Beatie Bow (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Feb 22 – May 1, 2021
Playwright: Kate Mulvany (based on the novel by Ruth Park)
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Tony Cogin, Lena Cruz, Claire Lovering, Heather Mitchell, Sofia Nolan, Rory O’Keeffe, Guy Simon, Catherine Văn-Davies, Ryan Yeates
Images by Daniel Boud
Theatre review
Two Sydney girls connect across centuries, through supernatural means, leaving indelible marks upon one another’s destinies. In Kate Mulvany’s brand new revision of Ruth Park’s 1980 novel Playing Beatie Bow, teenager Abigail wormholes from 2021 to 1873, meeting young Beatie Bow and her migrant Scottish family, in a story that broaches the sensitive subject of our colonial history. It also touches upon themes of female solidarity, of matrilineality, and on the nature of love, for places and for people, in a three-hour long epic that is as expansive as it is adventurous.

Abigail and Beatie are able to time travel, because they were born spaewives, ready to transcend physical realms of earthly existence. Mulvany as writer too, ventures beyond the obvious, so that the audience is never allowed to linger in the mundane. With Playing Beatie Bow, she insists that we look under every surface, to reach for a deeper appreciation and understanding about the people we like to think we are. The action takes place at The Rocks, where our history is especially rich, and where its cultural influence is particularly far reaching. To excavate at that location, is to uncover the gems, and the dross, that shape our Australian identities.

Direction by Kip Williams takes care to address both the issues, of who we are and who we ought to be. His work is honest, but also highly aspirational. It provides so much that is warm and fuzzy, through the nostalgia of the piece, and the saccharine sweetness of the relationships being depicted. The notion that we are good people, is reinforced through the classic, if slightly hackneyed, salt-of-the-earth tone of the staging. Concurrent though, is the refreshing incorporation of Aboriginal and Asian perspectives, that prove fundamental in encouraging a reimagination of community. The inclusion of people of colour within this context of an “Australian classic” addresses the exclusionary strategies, that have informed the ways we have been permitted, and not permitted, to conceive of ourselves, over centuries of white imperialism. Williams’ reformation of our collective attitude, is somewhat surreptitious but undoubtedly political.

David Fleischer’s set design takes full advantage of a very deep stage (at the extravagantly renovated Wharf Theatres), utilising configurations of sparseness to communicate elements of time and distance, that are central to a story that has us frequently thrust into moments of magical abyss. Lights by Nick Schlieper are appropriately ethereal, reliably transporting us through one translucent apparitional scene after another. Renée Mulder’s costumes provide great assistance, so that characters are convincing from the get-go. Music by Clemence Williams and Matthew Doyle, are sentimental and beautiful, and along with David Bergman’s restrained sound design, provide us with meditative spaces so that our thoughts and emotions can be activated, in the audience’s pursuit of interpretation and introspection.

A remarkable warmth emanates from the cast; they seem to be saying that this tale is for all of us, and that we are in this together. Catherine Văn-Davies is powerful as Abigail, an urgent and compelling presence whose sense of precision, keeps us attentive to all the valuable dimensions of what we discover to be a surprisingly complex exercise. Văn-Davies brings an authentic earthiness that anchors the production in a place that feels universal and meaningful, even when its flights of fancy take us far away from reality. It is often a deeply moving performance, one that tethers us to humanity, of the self and of others.

Guy Simon is unforgettable in his various roles, but as Johnny Whites, his controlled delivery of an Indigenous man whose daughters have been stolen by the crown, is utterly devastating. Heather Mitchell is a sheer delight as two vastly different matriarchs, both wonderfully comical, yet profound with what they convey. The precocious Beatie is played by Sofia Nolan, with excellent timing and a formidable exuberance. The show requires of its actors, a high level of technical proficiency, but they are unrelenting with the heart and soul of the piece, and as a result, the audience cannot help but be thoroughly affected.

We need to know our origins, in order that our destinations can be properly mapped out. We have for the longest time, misunderstood our past, and therefore so many have to suffer painful consequences. This is a task that has no room for delusions. We can no longer pretend to be wholly benevolent. People need to own up to their mistakes, make reparations, and correct our pathways. Travelling back in time to face the demons is hard, but for the brave, it is the only way forward.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Symphonie Fantastique (Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 17 – 27, 2021
Director: Mathew Lee
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Alex Beauman, Cassie Hamilton, Clare Hennessy, Annie Stafford, Nicole Pingon, Chemon Theys, LJ Wilson
Images by Patrick Boland, Julia Robertson

Theatre review
In 1830, French composer Hector Berlioz created Fantastical Symphony: Episode in the Life of an Artist… in Five Sections, a work from the Romantic period that is now considered seminal in what is known to be the Program music genre. The piece involves obsessive love and morbid fantasies, which the Little Eggs Collective, under the direction of Mathew Lee, extracts to use as central themes in their 45-minute theatrical presentation, named Symphonie Fantastique after the original French. Examined through contemporary eyes, Berlioz is less romantic, and a lot more rapey.

Transformed into a genderless protagonist, the reimagined maestro is frustrated, cowardly, out of control. Grandiose and insufferable, their story is reminiscent of Fellini’s , in which we see an artistic genius trapped inside their own paranoia-filled process, filtering everything they encounter into a self-serving narrative, as though the world has been created in their own image. The play Symphonie Fantastique is virtually wordless, with deconstructed interpretations of Berlioz’s music (by Oliver Shermacher’s inventive and inspired musical direction) forming a foundation, on which the show is built.

The ensemble of eight are called on to dance, act, sing and even to play musical instruments, for a multidisciplinary exploration of the performing arts, that audiences will find captivating, at least on sensorial levels. Director Lee has a tendency to be overly literal with his storytelling, but the unfettered impulse to surprise, makes for an enjoyable experience. Performer LJ Wilson offers a strong portrayal of the lead character; not always detailed with emotions being conveyed, but certainly a magnetic presence. As a team, the eight are tightly rehearsed, and extraordinarily cohesive with the constantly undulating energies they bring to the stage.

Visual concepts are ambitiously concocted, and manufactured, for this Symphonie Fantastique. Costumes, hair and makeup by Aleisa Jelbart are marvellously assembled, with an impressive eye for sophistication and finish. Lighting and set designer Benjamin Brockman’s combination of mirrored surfaces and bold colours, insist on firing up our synapses, for unforgettably transcendent moments that are nothing less than electric.

There is a considerable amount of gender bending in this iteration of Symphonie Fantastique, and if the dissolution of gender parameters is essential in approaching, or perhaps advancing, a feminist theatre, then this production is on the right path. There are conundrums, of course, as is the case whenever we attempt to address problems of a sexual nature, whilst working simultaneously to dismantle old frames of thought. We want to bring justice to victims, yet we wish to deny hierarchical power structures their persistence. Feminism is the key to a future where no one is powerless, but it also presents the greatest challenge, for us to understand our world, without tops and bottoms.

www.littleeggscollective.com

Review: Videotape (Montague Basement)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 13, 2021
Playwright: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Laura Djanegara, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, Lucinda Howes
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Juliette and David are a young couple, isolated in their Sydney apartment, in the middle of this pandemic. They live together because there is an unmitigated conventionality to their relationship, although we are never sure if there is any love between the two. Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s Videotape borrows its premise from David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway, where a mysterious videotape is delivered, containing frightening visions that threaten to discombobulate a household. The pleasure in Lusty-Cavallari’s creation, lies in the unexpected amalgamation of comedy, drama and horror; although not perfectly harmonised, the mishmash of intonations does deliver something with an enjoyable quirky charm.

In Lynch’s deeply misogynistic original, the femme fatale comes in two guises, both of whom are helpless yet maligned. In Videotape, we wonder if Juliette stays with David because of the virus, or if she is a sucker for punishment. The work’s occasionally obtuse intimations provide a sense of texture to an otherwise uncomplicated plot, and although ambiguous in its intentions, allows the audience plentiful room for wide ranging interpretations.

Production design by Grace Deacon is noteworthy for its ability to convey wealth and polish, in a succinct manner. Lights by Sophie Pekbilimli too, help to tell the story in an economical way. Jake Fryer-Hornsby and Lucinda Howes are engrossing as lead performers, both evocative with what they bring to the stage. Laura Djanegara is effective in her smaller roles, offering a valuable hint of the surreal to the show.

We are stuck being humans, and in many ways, trapped in the past. The VHS tapes function as a device of excavation, opening wormholes that make us reach back, whilst materially positioned in the present. Videotape is both a new story, and an old one, not only with its intertextual obsessions, but also in its examinations of how history repeats. The cassette tape stands as an allegory, in our understanding of humanity, and in our experience of it. Rewinding it, fast forwarding, recording over, pause, play or stop, it is its finiteness that is truly chilling.

www.montaguebasement.com