Review: City Of Gold (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), May 7 – Jun 11, 2022
Playwright: Meyne Wyatt
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Mathew Cooper, St John Cowcher, Simone Detourbet, Ian Michael, Myles Pollard, Trevor Ryan, Meyne Wyatt
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
Breythe is trying to establish a career for himself as an actor, but when called home to Kalgoorlie, he is reminded that there are far more important things that require his attention. In Meyne Wyatt’s City of Gold, it is that tension between one’s need for personal fulfilment, and their responsibilities to community, that drives the story.

In Breythe’s case, being an Aboriginal man, makes that juxtaposition even more pronounced. For most of us, self-preservation involves compromises, when participating in dominant systems that control resource distribution in the economy. To play with the big boys, we have to obey their rules, and if the big boys are determined to annihilate one’s community, one is destined to never be able to operate with true integrity.

To pay for his father’s funeral, Breythe has to perform in a problematic television advertisement. To help one’s community, one often has to sleep with the enemy. First Nations peoples, more than any other on this land, understand that subsistence may be permitted, but for the marginalised to thrive, not as exceptional individuals but as whole communities, is nigh on impossible. In fact, like Breythe we find ourselves in positions of pseudo betrayal, when trying to represent and advance causes. The white patriarchy will tempt us with its crumbs, and some of us will pick them up, always hoping that a difference would be made.

Wyatt’s very deep reflections on Indigenous identity are brought to scintillating life by Shari Sebbens’ passionate yet humorous direction. It is political theatre that speaks with a level of authenticity rarely seen; one which prioritises in its viewership, the same minority culture it wishes to represent. Those of us who are not its main concern, benefit from observing through that ajar door, a perspective so kindly made available, so that those of us on the outside who proclaim to be supportive, can feel closer to the nuances of their predicament. Sebbens keeps the discussion in the family, understanding that to care too much about the white gaze, does little to help unearth the truth.

Set design by Tyler Hill makes a literal statement about the outside-inside demarcation of family life, with its left-right split of the performance space. More interesting is its incorporation of hidden scrims to facilitate the depiction of supernatural dimensions, allowing us to draw important connections with the dead and the living, in City of Gold. Verity Hampson’s lights are understated, in complete service of the storytelling, while Rachael Dease’s music gives affirmation to the wide range of emotions being depicted.

As actor, Wyatt’s performance as Breythe is a searing one, filled with a righteous indignation that is satisfying both in terms of its capacity for driving home a message, and for its sheer theatricality. His chemistry with Mathew Cooper, who plays brother Mateo, is invulnerable and effortless; their tumultuous brotherly love is portrayed with great power. Simone Detourbet’s earnest interpretation of their sister Carina is tenderly moving, and Ian Michael breaks our heart as cousin Cliffhanger, beautifully elevating a smaller part to something unforgettable, with his palpably generous approach to characterisation.

The abruptness to the ending of City of Gold seems intentional in depriving us of any catharsis. It provokes us into taking a stand, leaving no room for ambiguity, in how an Australian viewer would position oneself, at the show’s conclusion. It is right, that the situation is framed as a binary one; you are either anti-racist, or you are racist at least by default. You can make contributions to improving the situation, or you can stand on the sidelines and let injustices perpetuate. Feeling bad is not enough, but there is only so much theatre can do for you.

www.bsstc.com.auwww.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Tell Me Before The Sun Explodes (Rock Bottom Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 4 – 14, 2022
Playwright: Jacob Parker
Director:
Hayden Tonazzi
Cast: Tim McGarry, Joshua Shediak
Images by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
Even though Andrew and Chris are no longer lovers, their bond continues to be a strong and passionate one. In Jacob Parker’s Tell Me Before the Sun Explodes, we meet the couple at various points of their relationship, flashing back and forth in time, to observe how things change and how things stay the same. It is a portrait of rare intimacy, the kind of which any person would count themselves lucky to have experienced once in a lifetime.

Parker’s dialogue is witty and incisive, revealing an uncanny ability to observe the world with inordinate sensitivity. Director Hayden Tonazzi turns Parker’s words into 70 minutes of short, sharp scenes for which our minds race to put the pieces together, as our hearts feel the involuntary pull of Parker’s ephemerally meaningful musings on desire and death (a significant age gap exists between the characters).

The production feels poetic, with a pretty wistfulness that is quite charming in its delicacy. Soham Apte’s set design is an intriguing manifestation of what our emotions become, after years of wear and tear; it is ambitiously conceived, and accomplished with an admirable eye for detail. Lights by Ryan McDonald do the practical work of moving us through the linear and the circular dimensions of time, whilst keeping us connected to the heart of the story. Sound design by Chrysoulla Markoulli is stunning in its intricacy, and highly effective in guiding us through the complex and vacillating feelings that are being aroused.

Actor Tim McGarry delivers exceptional technical proficiency in the role of Andrew, with a performance memorable for its precision, both in terms of design and of implementation. As Chris, Joshua Shediak impresses with his presence and his authentic impulses. There is a clarity to his depictions that allow us to understand instinctively, the many internal fluctuations he goes through, so quickly yet so convincingly.

The wonder of love is that it feels eternal. The truth of it though, is that its beauty is completely contingent on the fact that nothing is forever. It is in the knowing that an end will come, that love becomes so precious, and so overwhelming in its allure. The threat of its absence can be so palpably harrowing, that it makes us invest in it, so unfathomably immensely. We are also capable however, of taking people for granted, of forgetting that all our human connections hang by a thread. The union of Andrew and Chris starts, and it ends. That inevitable conclusion only makes their time together even more special.

www.rockbottomproductions.com.au

Review: Son Of Byblos (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 4 – 21, 2022
Playwright: James Elazzi
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Violette Ayad, Kate Bookallil, Simon Elrahi, Deborah Galanos, Mansoor Noor
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Cousins Adam and Clare are queer Australians, but they are also Lebanese. Like many of our LGBTQIA+ compatriots from minority cultural backgrounds, they do not have the luxury to live loud and proud, like the mainstream examples we often see in white media. Instead, they indulge in their sexualities surreptitiously, and rely only on each other, for open and honest companionship. Things begin to unravel however, when Clare decides to marry a man, in a radical attempt to stop being a lesbian once and for all.

James Elazzi’s Son of Byblos exposes the truth about queer life on this land, as experienced by many people of colour. On one hand, it questions the progress that we think we have made as a political movement, and on the other, it challenges traditional ways of life that are still pervasive in enclaves everywhere, that continue to struggle with acceptance. Adam wants to be a good son to his loving parents, but he is never able to reconcile fundamental truths about his sexuality, with expectations at home.

This is by no means a new story. In fact in can be considered an age-old one, but Elazzi’s insistence on discussing the issue, prevents us from looking away. Delusions about social advancement, means that people can be left behind, but a play like Son of Byblos in 2022 reminds us that activism and advocacy should always be about those who are most disadvantaged. LGBTQIA+ progressivism in Australia it seems, has taken its eye off the ball.

The work is directed by Anna Jahjah who anchors the action in that space of conflict and tension, where tradition and rights of the individual, prove dissonant. Performances oscillate in and out of naturalism, but when the cast hits upon moments of authenticity, is when the drama really captivates.

Actor Mansoor Noor brings polish to the production, playing Adam with great nuance and believability. It is admirable that Noor’s portrayal of a difficult existence is one of a man taking it in his stride, rather than only looking tortured. There is a valuable air of dignity given to all the characters in Son of Byblos. Kate Bookallil as Clare is especially moving in her final scene, completely devastating as she tries to deal a final blow to her genuine self. Also very touching and vulnerable, is Violette Ayad who as old friend Angela, stands up for herself and refuses to be a pawn in Adam’s charade. Simon Elrahi and Deborah Galanos play Adam’s well-meaning parents, both warm presences that help us mediate this painful conundrum, of the truth against piety.

Sex in Son of Byblos is never depicted in a positive light. Instead of pleasure, connection and empowerment, it only delivers anguish. When we see that even the most beautiful things, can be turned harrowing, we must come to the realisation that resistance is critical.

www.belvoir.com.au / www.bnwtheatre.com.au

Review: Breathing Corpses (Eye Contact Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 8 – 23, 2022
Playwright: Laura Wade
Director:
Jess Davis
Cast: Nisrine Amine, Xavier Coy, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin, Mark Langham, Monica Sayers, Joshua Shediak, Emma Wright
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
A hotel maid discovers a dead body, when she opens the door, to one of the rooms that require her daily attention. Several people die in English writer Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses, and it is the macabre quality of those lingering presences, that gives the play’s three disparate stories, a sense of danger and tension. Like in real life, there is a certain evasion in attitudes pertaining to the unassailable fact of death, and an inability to look death in its eye, to deal with it honestly, that underscore everything that we see unfold.

Directed by Jess Davis, the production bears an intensity that sustains our engagement, from start to end. Although some of the playwright’s humour seems lost in the staging’s focus on high-stakes drama, the 90-minute journey is nonetheless an enjoyable one. Sam Cheng’s sound design is a noteworthy element, that effectively, and elegantly, amplifies the gravity of situations being explored. Production design by Kate Beere, along with Sophie Parker’s lights, are accomplished with notable restraint, both contributing to a chilly atmosphere, that is characteristic of this staging.

A well-rehearsed cast of seven, deliver strong performances that ensure our investment in all of their narratives. Emma Wright plays hotel maid Amy, with great concentration and sensitivity; she sets the tone beautifully for a contemplative experience. Nisrine Amin and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin are excellent as the abusive couple Kate and Ben, both actors powerful in their convincing depiction of a terrifyingly destructive relationship.

People go about their lives, as though death will never come. So much of what we do, depends upon the certainty of a tomorrow. It is so easy then to devalue the time that we do have today, and leave what really matters for imaginary futures. Today then is only ever comprised perennially of inferior interludes, rarely allowing life to reach their fullest potential. Appreciating death, is to let every second count, which also means that one can finally learn, to live in the moment.

https://www.facebook.com/eyecontacttheatreco/

Review: Heroes Of The Fourth Turning (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 23, 2022
Playwright: Will Arbery
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: Micaela Ellis, Madeleine Jones, Eddie Orton, Kate Raison, Jeremy Waters
Images by Richard Farland

Theatre review
Four friends are gathered in a Wyoming backyard after a celebration, for their mentor Gina’s induction as president of their Catholic alma mater. Prompted by traumatic events of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally just two days prior, and with the assistance of alcohol, conversations quickly become passionate, and revealing, between these conservative Americans, at the height of the Trump era.

Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning is an exploration of the political discord that seems to have permeated so much of contemporary life. The unrelenting vilification of the other side, without ever getting to really know any of those adversaries in meaningfully personal ways, has created new societal structures that are increasingly fractured, and that feel dismally irreconcilable. In Arbery’s play, we are given the opportunity to look intimately at those who pride themselves as being conservative. The work is often challenging, especially when it skates close to drawing precarious equivalences between left and right, in efforts to make us find empathy for the enemy. The thorough frankness of Arbery’s writing though, encourages introspective reflections that would at least have us reconsider our own incapacity for generosity, when acceptance of conservative ideology remains appropriately an abhorrent idea.

Directed by Craig Baldwin, the dense and bombastic text of Heroes of the Fourth Turning is translated into unexpectedly entrancing drama, the tension of which is unabating and marvellously delicious. Brilliantly confronting, Baldwin’s staging does the hitherto unimaginable task, of making one find understanding for the other, whilst reaffirming one’s own oppositional convictions.

Production design by Soham Apte conveys authenticity for place and characters, with quiet but detailed renderings that serve well to tell the story. Lucia Haddad’s lights are similarly understated, effective in placing us in the right time and atmosphere, to connect with the play’s less than charming personalities. Baldwin’s own sound design offers elegant solutions to sustain our attention, and to keep it firmly focused on the show’s complex dialogue.

An exquisite ensemble of five actors, individually compelling, and powerful as a collective, conspire with great cohesiveness to take us through this tumultuous but highly satisfying examination, of tribes and factions. Madeleine Jones’ flawless recitation of some spectacularly wordy and convoluted alt-right diatribes, as the exasperating Teresa, proves to be maddeningly impressive. Kevin’s crisis of faith as a Catholic with compassion, is conveyed with dazzling fervour and excellent humour, by Eddie Orton. Micaela Ellis’ oscillations between soft and stern, for the role of Emily, provide much needed moments of relief for the audience.  The strong, silent Justin is played by Jeremy Waters with a beautiful restraint, leaving us plentiful room to cast judgement however we wish. Woman of the moment Gina, is given a splendid sense of grace by Kate Raison, who also does us a great favour of putting terrible Teresa in her place.

Humanising one’s foe is necessary, if only to keep our eye on the ball, and not be distracted by endless other conflicts that serve little to advance the cause. Heroes of the Fourth Turning does well to aide us in understanding how these American conservatives think and behave. It is true that the very mechanics of our humanity do not vary much; our need to fight for what is right, seems to be universal, and how our circumstances push us to grow vehement with our beliefs, also looks to run parallel. Any ideology, no matter why they come about, whose flourishment requires the subjugation of large categories of people however, simply cannot be allowed to thrive.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Opening Night (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 26 – Mar 27, 2022
Playwright: John Cassavetes, adapted by Carissa Licciardello
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Caitlin Burley, Jing-Xuan Chan, Anthony Harkin, Luke Mullins, Toni Scanlan, Leeanna Walsman
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Myrtle is having serious problems with the role she had signed on for; the show is about to open, but she is still unable to make sense of the play she had agreed to star in. In the meantime, the director and playwright are becoming increasingly abusive, heaping blame on her for not making it work, often saying that she has lost her spark as an actor, and that she has grown too old to be any good. There is nothing subtle about John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, and in this adaptation by Carissa Licciardello, the story does not get any less heavy-handed, in making its point about our reprehensible attitudes regarding women getting older.

Licciardello’s adaptation and direction are certainly enthusiastic in trying to assert the point of the exercise, but the message quickly becomes too simple and obvious. Plenty of effort is put into creating an air of mystery surrounding Myrtle’s behaviour, which provides an updated theatricality for the audience, although it becomes clear, that the plainness of its motivations struggles to sustain our interest for the production’s 100 minute duration.

David Fleischer’s set design too is uncomplicated, in its depiction of a masculine and superficially stylish world. Costumes by Mel Page are flattering, and appropriately understated. Nick Schlieper’s lights and Max Lyandvert’s sound are relied upon for dramatic flourishes, to further engage our senses, although those moments of abstract elevation can seem slightly gimmicky, when we fail to decipher enough behind, that could feel substantial.

Leading lady Leeanna Walsman conveys the confusion and dreariness of Myrtle’s arduous battles, but it is a conservative performance that offers little to relish. Myrtle’s director is played by Luke Mullins who thankfully injects dynamism into the show, for his part as an uncomplicated villain. Anthony Harkin and Toni Scanlon are Myrtle’s co-star and playwright respectively, both bringing a degree of nuance to their supporting roles. Caitlin Burley and Jing-Xuan Chan are solid presences in all of their brief appearances, both demonstrating noteworthy commitment.

At the end of Opening Night, we find a satisfying conclusion. In real life, Myrtle’s story could end up either way, good or bad, for real life is anything but predictable, but in a play that wants so much to talk about doing what is right in our storytelling and in our art, it is hard to imagine any other way for things to end. It is of course true that misogyny exists, and it is right that we should see it represented. It is also important that we reiterate again and again, our agency and power as women, to make exhaustive revisions to centuries of indoctrination about us being weak and domitable. We love watching Myrtle triumph, but even if she falters, we know that she is strong enough to get up and try again.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: A Chorus Line (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 11, 2022
Music: Marvin Hamlish
Lyrics: Edward Kleban
Book: Nicholas Dante, James Kirkwood
Director: Amy Campbell
Cast: Max Bimbi, Molly Bugeja, Angelique Cassimatis, Ross Chisari, Nadia Coote, Tim Dashwood, Lachlan Dearing, Mackenzie Dunn, Maikolo Fekitoa, Adam Jon Fiorentino, Natalie Foti, Ashley Goh, Mariah Gonzalez, Brady Kitchingham, Madeleine Mackenzie, Rechelle Mansour, Natasha Marconi, Rubin Matters, Ryan Ophel, Tony Oxybel, Ethan Ritchie, Suzanne Steele, Harry Targett, Angelina Thomson
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Originally conceived in 1975 by Michael Bennett, the legendary musical A Chorus Line involves an ensemble cast of nineteen, several unforgettable songs, and dance sequences that have become an indelible part of our collective cultural memory. It is the simple story about Broadway director Zach at a casting call, auditioning a throng of dancers, for eight places in his new show. A Chorus Line is a tribute to the innumerable artists who have dedicated their lives to a passion, that never yields commensurate rewards. The show is an opportunity for talents to show their wares, with each member of cast provided individual moments of glory, as well as working in groups for some of the most exciting and complicated choreography in the musical format.

Director and choreographer Amy Campbell’s ambitious revival, is a breath-taking experience. Even though the lacklustre book remains tedious, it is always an unequivocal joy when the performers are in motion. Campbell’s love for the art of performance, and for those who do it, is palpable. Her show is faithful to the look and feel of 1970s New York, complete with slinky modern jazz flourishes that transport us back to a time of decadent glamour. Each second of dance is complex, detailed and powerful, a real sumptuous feast for the eyes.

Peter Rubie’s lights are at least as visually impressive. They enhance perfectly every scene that unfolds, sometimes quiet and subtle, sometimes flamboyantly bombastic, but always stylish and surprising. Whether accompanying bodies active or still, Rubie’s work is consistently imaginative, never settling for the obvious. The beauty he delivers is truly sublime. Christine Mutton’s costumes too, are noteworthy, in bringing both realism, and vibrant, balanced colour, to a staging that will be remembered for its unparalleled resplendence.

The pivotal role of Zach is played by Adam Jon Fiorentino, whose use of voice marvellously regulates atmosphere from start to finish. Angelique Cassimatis delivers the singularly most poignant anecdote, as Cassie, complete with jaw dropping intensity in her iconic number, “The Music and the Mirror”.  We fall for all of the cast, as they are foregrounded one at a time, but it is their work as a cohesive whole, that has us spellbound. Together, they are formidable.

Much has changed over these five decades, since the inception of A Chorus Line. For one, we are no longer tolerant of authority figures like Zach irresponsibly demanding their subordinates, to reveal secrets or to relive trauma, in the company of strangers. Women and men, in the arts especially, have started to reject the delineations between gender constructs, and in the process are learning to meld the false differences of us and them. The theatrical arts however, remain a pure vehicle for communities to congregate, to debate, and to share. Since time immemorial, we have formulated ways to listen to each other, to understand our neighbours, and to reach consensus, hard as it might be, because we always knew that on our own, we are doomed to fail. There are no queens and kings in A Chorus Line, only a united front that can weather anything, and keep the dreams alive.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Breaking The Code (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 11 – Mar 5, 2022
Playwright: Hugh Whitemore
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Naomi Belet, Igor Bulanov, Steve Corner, John Grinston, Bridget Haberecht, Jason Jefferies, Leilani Loau, Ewan Peddley, Martin Portus, Dallas Reedman, Harry Reid, Jess Vince-Moin
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Breaking the Enigma code, and therefore effectively ending World War II, was Alan Turing’s greatest achievement, but our memory of him today seems to have a lot more to do with homosexuality, than just his professional triumphs. Hugh Whitemore’s 1986 stage biography Breaking the Code, documents Turing’s parallel lives, that saw him decrypt the Nazi cipher device, and breaking the code of silence around homosexuality in mid-century England.

During investigations into the burglary of Turing’s home in 1952, authorities discovered that Turing had engaged in sexual activity with another man. The punishments that followed were dire, as was the suppression of Turing’s identity, as a gay war hero, that had prolonged for several decades after his death in 1954. Whitemore’s play brings excellent elucidation to that remarkable story of cruel betrayal, enacted by the state upon one of its own.

That indictment of government and of society, is gently implemented by director Anthony Skuse, who brings sensitivity and an immense melancholy to his staging of Breaking the Code. Skuse is also designer for the production, with beautiful work on a set that provides inordinately elegant performance spaces, for every scene. Along with Patrick Phillips’ video projections and Jordan Russell’s lights, the show delivers visual splendour, in many of its moody moments.

Sound aspects too are thoughtfully rendered, with Naomi Belet’s impressive live singing proving a particularly memorable element. Three actors perform the role of Turing. Steve Corner brings scintillating drama, to counteract the often overly languid tone and pace of the staging. The spirited Harry Reid brings valuable vibrancy and agility to the role, and Ewan Peddley’s earnest presence helps engender compassion for the heart-breaking tale. Also noteworthy are Bridget Haberecht and Leilani Loau, both remarkable for the nuance and emotional precision they bring to the parts of Pat and Sara, respectively.

To perpetuate the notion that queerness is bad, so much of our accomplishments and our contributions, as LGBTQIA+ people, are routinely buried and made to be forgotten. With this sanctioned invisibility, heteronormativity expands its dominance. Queer people are conditioned to accept the notion that we are all “just human”, whilst simultaneously having to suffer homophobic and transphobic attacks that simply refuse to end.

Alan Turing was a gay war hero. He played a vital part in obtaining freedom for his countryfolk, who in turn deprived him of his humanity, and drove him to an early grave, all for the sin of homosexuality. That system will only raise him up for helping to win the war, but will not acknowledge the destruction unleashed upon his private life, at least not until half a century later. Turing’s sexuality may not have been relevant in defeating the Nazis, but his sexual identity needs to remain at the fore of our memories, as long as homophobia persists.

www.newtheatre.org.au/

Review: At What Cost? (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 20, 2022
Playwright: Nathan Maynard
Director: Isaac Drandic
Cast: Luke Carroll, Sandy Greenwood, Alex Malone, Ari Maza Long
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Boyd has a very rich and meaningful life. Not only does he have to make a living to ensure the sustenance of his young family, there are a myriad responsibilities as an Aboriginal leader in Tasmania, that he has to undertake all through the day. The play At What Cost? by Nathan Maynard begins at the point where it is announced, that the remains of an ancestor is being returned to Boyd’s land and family, after being held dishonourably in London for several lifetimes.

The drama intensifies, when the sacred moment is marred by an external entity suddenly claiming to be mob, and insists on being part of rituals meant only for rightful descendants. Maynard’s writing is in a word, explosive. At What Cost? begins with extraordinary vitality, as it establishes the every day existence of its spirited characters, but the profound pain that takes over when Maynard’s real intentions come to the fore, is completely devastating.

It is the story of a colonialism that never ceases; one that morphs and takes by surprise, coming to undermine and subjugate from unpredictable places. Maynard’s searing honesty feels unbearably dangerous, but also absolutely essential. This is art that tells the truth of what routinely happens to our First Nations communities, and art that should shake you to the core as long as you live on this land, regardless of which tribe you belong to.

Director Isaac Drandic too, pulls no punches in his delivery of this incandescently political work. Full of pride, and of righteous anger, the staging puts on display not just the ravages suffered by our Indigenous peoples, but more importantly their eternally indomitable spirit. There is a generosity and vulnerability to At What Cost? that is disarmingly moving, with a crucial message about racial violence that needs urgently to be heeded.

Set design by Jacob Nash succinctly conveys both the material and metaphysical realms of Boyd’s existence, allowing us to, on one hand, identify with the normalcy of his daily life, and on the other, encounter the spirituality that informs all facets of his being. Keerthi Subramanyam’s costumes help provide a sense of immediacy for the personalities we meet, but is especially memorable for a ceremonial cloak that impresses with its beauty and grandeur. Lights by Chloe Ogilvie take us seamlessly from spaces mundane to ethereal, and music by Brendon Boney with sound design by David Bergman, manipulate with precision our emotional responses to each element of the narrative, as it escalates to a feverish pitch.

Actor Luke Carroll brings extraordinary passion to the project. As Boyd, we watch him develop from effortlessly delightful, to frighteningly austere, all while keeping us enchanted. The uncompromising and unapologetic qualities of the play, come through beautifully via Carroll’s powerful delivery. No less affecting is the scintillating Sandy Greenwood, whose embracive naturalism as the effervescent Nala, provides our moral compass with clear guidance, as we navigate trickier portions of the rageful tale. Alex Malone is fantastically excruciating, as the foolish Gracie. It is a courageous and forceful performance that makes its important point, with merciless abandon. Daniel is played by Ari Maza Long, with great charm and humour, for an inspiring portrait of the modern Aboriginal youth, that absolutely teems with compassion.

White supremacy creates racial categories, yet vehemently insists on being blind to their existence. White people often declare ignorance of racial difference, choosing only to believe in the universalities of the species, in an effort to deny the very systems of oppression they have built at the exclusion of others. That is, until aspects of that otherness becomes momentarily appealing, and white people step in to annex it without hesitation, and claim it their own.

In At What Cost?, we see a white person misappropriating and misidentifying cultures, in a way that can only be seen, as a clear extension of racial violence on this land. They feign obliviousness and ignorance, even to the extent of purporting to be doing good for Indigenous lives, but is in fact implementing the perpetual project of colonialism. The continual eradication of Indigenous rights, and removal of the very existence of Indigenous peoples, may not look like the genocide of previous centuries, but is no doubt under way, only in surreptitious guises.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The Museum of Modern Love (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 22 – 30, 2022
Playwright: Tom Holloway (based on the novel by Heather Rose)
Director: Timothy Jones
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Julian Garner, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Sophie Gregg, Glenn Hazeldine, Aileen Huynh, Tara Morice, Jennifer Rani
Images by Ten Alphas

Theatre review
It is 2010 in New York City, and legendary performance artist Marina Abramović is presenting her work of endurance The Artist is Present, in which she sits face to face with random gallery visitors, for a total of over 700 hours, across three months. In Tom Holloway’s play The Museum of Modern Love (based on Heather Rose’s novel), we meet several people in attendance at Abramović’s exhibition, and catch glimpses of their most intimate selves, in what may be considered a snapshot of the people we are, in this moment, in the middle classes of the Western world.

It may be a touch narcissistic to say that these representations of us on stage, are fascinating and surprisingly likeable. In The Museum of Modern Love, we appear to be nice people, full of vulnerability yet passionate, and even at our worst, we seem to always operate from the best of intentions. The writers do not fear the darker parts of being, but all their depictions come with a fundamental sense of hopefulness, that makes the work an ultimately uplifting one.

Directed by Timothy Jones, the production is elegantly rendered, with perhaps a little too much restraint applied onto the expressions of these very human stories. There is a cool and distanced approach to the storytelling (that feels so much like a visit to any modern art museum), but although detached, there are scenes that will certainly resonate, even if their touch can feel too gentle.

The stage is designed by Stephen Curtis, who very effectively recreates the severe and chilly ambience of conventional museums, with plain colours and straight lines. Alexander Berlage’s lights give enhancement to that astringent aura, but also softens at crucial points to draw attention to the inevitable sentimentality of  these human explorations. Costumes by Veronique Bennett look to be appropriately American, principally functional whilst endeavouring to be subtly stylish. David Bergman’s work on sound and video, elevates the production in a manner that helps to disarm the audience, so that we may respond with emotions rather than rationale, as if a reminder that the experience of life, is never only about logic.

Eight performers are positioned on stage for the entirety, including Julian Garner whose Arky opens and closes the show, and therefore seems to be somewhat the centre of proceedings. Garner introduces a captivating volatility, that makes believable his character’s confounding behaviour. The remarkably committed Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Tara Morice play his daughter and wife respectively, with Morice’s enigmatic presence leaving a particularly strong impression. Sophie Gregg and Aileen Huynh too are memorable, for the vibrancy they deliver each time they occupy centre stage. Justin Amankwah, Glenn Hazeldine and Jennifer Rani bring idiosyncrasies that make The Museum of Modern Love feel intensely truthful, as a kind of testimony about our emotional lives in the early parts of this troubled century.

At MoMA, Abramović was resolutely present, but the intimacy she had tried to embody, can over time, appear contrived. In The Museum of Modern Love, Arky and others are hardly present with their loved ones, but it is that portrayal of absence that makes us understand intimacy. To put forward the case that we are essentially masochistic, is not such an overwrought stratagem. It seems that it is our nature to value things the most, only when we have lost possession of them. It is no wonder then, that we do so much that is determined to put happiness in jeopardy.

www.seymourcentre.com