Review: My Carer (Walk Now Productions)

Venue: Hellenic Art Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jul 19 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Sam Cosentino
Director: Sam Cosentino
Cast: Maria de Marco, Helen Kim, Jacob McLean
Image by Katt Gao

Theatre review
Rebecca endures a lonely and hopeless existence. Having dedicated everything to a career in law, she finds herself at retirement age with nothing but a house and a cleaning lady as companion. Her husband has passed, and their son is estranged, living in a distant city, resentful of his mother’s neglectful behaviour.

Sam Cosentino’s My Carer talks about family discordance, and explores the challenges we face when trying to mend those bridges. The piece is thoughtfully written, mature and insightful with observations that will doubtless strike a chord. As director, Cosentino’s approach is oversimplified, for a production that can feel too basic and pedestrian, but the strength of his text keeps our attention firmly engaged with its characters and themes.

Also captivating is Maria de Marco in the role of Rebecca, offering a powerful depiction of a woman with more than a few regrets, and a prideful obstinacy to accompany them. The nuanced intensity de Marco brings to the stage is sheer theatrical delight. Helen Kim and Jacob McLean are not quite as compelling, but the young performers exhibit a conviction that is nonetheless infectious.

Some apron strings can only be cut with a great deal of ruthlessness. In order that her son may become his own man, Rebecca has to experience a rejection that is as humiliating as it is cruel. What happens in the aftermath proves just as difficult, when a new harmony is sought by both parties, each having to negotiate uncharted terms of their reconciliation. When love is not enough, the choice to take on the hard work that will mend the fissures, is rarely an easy one to make.

www.walknowproductions.com

Review: Stupid Fucking Bird (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 12 – 28, 2018
Playwright: Aaron Posner
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Gil Balfas, Brendan Miles, Mansoor Noor, Megan Smart, Annie Stafford, Kaitlyn Thor
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
It is a wonderful world that the characters in Stupid Fucking Bird inhabit. Consumed by love and art, their lives might seem frivolous to some, but to those of us tired of the daily grind, their romantic mashup of 21st century Australia and 19th century Russia, suggests an imaginary existence where only the exciting things matter.

Aaron Posner’s rendition of Chekhov’s The Seagull retains the original’s narratives and personalities, but radically transforms the way in which the stories are told. Chekhov enshrined in his play, a wish to establish new theatrical forms, so it is appropriate that artistic liberties are taken. We are also entirely grateful for Posner turning the antiquated piece into something much more entertaining, and relevant to our times.

Director Warwick Doddrell presents a stunning production; gripping from the start, relentlessly amusing, compelling and vivacious, for a very unlikely experience of the venerated classic. Doddrell’s dramaturgical excellence is accompanied by an experimental spirit that permeates all faculties of the show, and we see all its cast and creatives deliver some truly outstanding work on this stage.

Set design by Jeremy Allen offers simple solutions for a highly effective transformation of space. Original songs by Jim Fishwick are replete with wit and charming vibrancy. Ben Pierpoint and Mary Rapp’s sound design is thrilling in its urgency, with an exuberant contemporariness that provides an air of irresistible edginess. Lighting designer Veronique Bennett is similarly striking in approach, creating alluring and refreshing imagery, demonstrating valuable proclivities that are sensitive yet vivid.

Seven actors, individually delightful, prove themselves a formidable ensemble in Stupid Fucking Bird. Mansoor Noor’s memorable athleticism and emotional vigour as Conrad, form a reliable centre for the show’s quality of interminable liveliness. Megan Smart is a splendid Nina, with a bewitching authenticity that accompanies every delicious melodramatic turn. The iconic Emma Arkadina is played by a fierce Kaitlyn Thor, seductive and powerful as the grandiose matriarch.

Lloyd Allison-Young and Annie Stafford are gifted with arresting presences, both captivating performers with a knack for making everything look effortless. Gil Balfas and Brendan Miles offer exquisite balance to the extravagant goings-on, both able to bring confident subtlety, at junctures where nuance is required but unexpected. Stupid Fucking Bird represents a rare theatrical occasion, where brilliance emanates from all its participant components.

Characters in the story suffer unrequited love and artistic jealousy. Their personal sense of inadequacy feels familiar, but also strange, if not completely bizarre, should we choose to evaluate their behaviour closely. The disquiet that overwhelms the privileged can be seen to be counter-intuitive, although it is clear that money does not solve all problems, least of all, our narcissism. When Conrad is told to “try loving something more than yourself,” the key to his salvation is succinctly and perfectly awarded, but predictably, left direly unheeded.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: A Single Act (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 12 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Jane Bodie
Director: Travis McMahon
Cast: Dominic Di Paolo, Georgia Nicholas, Evan Piefke, Rachel Slee
Images by Ethan Hatton-Warham

Theatre review
This is a story of two relationships disintegrating against the backdrop of a catastrophe, possibly an act of terrorism that proves to have continual reverberations after its moment of impact. Jane Bodie’s A Single Act places two very conventional couples side by side in the play, unified only by that vague catastrophic event they are all trying to keep out of their minds. One of the women suffers physical abuse from her partner, and we are made to connect the attack on human life that occurs in the domestic sphere, with those in public. It does not make obvious links, so the meanings we try to formulate can feel tenuous, but the parallels regarding damage to person and society are certainly intriguing.

Comprised entirely of two-hander scenes, the show relies heavily on chemistry between our onstage lovers, but the intimacies being presented are rarely convincing. Much of the work on acting seems to be filmic in style, with emphasis placed on voice and facial expressions, while actors’ bodies are left to look as though stranded in space. The subtle writing requires of the cast an extraordinary level of nuance, but the few memorable moments involve very exaggerated manoeuvres. Consequently, the production struggles to communicate more than the surface, although it does keep our minds inquisitive.

Acts of terrorism committed in Australia have been few and far between, but family violence happens around the clock. We often find ourselves engaged in passionate discussions about religious fanatics and asylum seekers, unable to acknowledge much more pressing issues that are quite literally right at our doorsteps. Our beliefs and opinions are so easily manipulated, by economic and political interests that have much to gain from our fear of alien forces, that terrors within our midst can be so effectively rendered invisible. One’s own backyard should always be tended to with great conscientious care, but it is much easier to worry about imagined enemies from foreign lands.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.paleblue.com.au

Review: Permission To Spin (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 3 – 28, 2018
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Mary Rachel Brown, Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Yure Covich, Anna Houston, Arky Michael
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Cristobel is suffering an existential crisis, having learnt about her music being used for gravely nefarious purposes. After 14 years in the highly commercialised industry of children’s entertainment, her integrity is now unable to escape scrutiny, but corporate interests deny all her attempts to quit. Art and commerce are once again at loggerheads, in Mary Rachel Brown’s Permission To Spin, a dramedy that interrogates not only artistic purity, but also our general complicity and participation in the often ugly world of big money.

It begins with a big bang, two businessmen are snorting cocaine, in the midst of a lot of ruckus, wondering how to solve a problem like Cristobel. The laughs are loud and abundant, courtesy of Brown’s witty, often very incisive, dialogue. It is evident however, that the play is intent on seriously exploring our social, economic and political lives, and a gradual but marked change in tone occurs about midway through the hour-long presentation. Direction by Brown and Dino Dimitriadis provide good clarity to ideas, even when the writing turns dense. The contrast in mood, as the play crosses over from funny to heavy, involves an inevitable drop in energy levels, but we are kept attentive by some very resonant postulations.

Three excellent performers accompany us on this trip, helping us navigate the combative activity of Permisson To Spin, and in the process, locate a sense of our communal ethics. Anna Houston provides soul to the piece, simultaneously vulnerable and strong, with incredible nuance that speak volumes in her interpretation of Cristobel. Yure Covich is splendid as an obscene and irredeemably vile corporate asshole, powerful in his embodiment of our social ills and perfect as the show’s bad guy. Arky Michael is wonderfully comical, landing every punchline with remarkable precision and aplomb, displaying himself to be the kind of actor any production could rely on, for charm and interminable effervescence.

All our occupations contribute to greater consequences, even if we think them insignificant. Cristobel is meant to be creating music that is educational at best, innocuous at worst, but she is unable to stop her work from being repurposed in a manner that contradicts all that she believes in. There is a machine that absorbs and integrates us into its operations, to serve its purposes. We do not always have control over its desires, as is proven again and again, by the flaws and inadequacies of the way we execute our democracy. “It was music we were making here until they told us, all they wanted was a sound that could kill someone from a distance… I just pray that someone there can hit the switch.” Kate Bush, Experiment IV, 1986

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: The Rolling Stone (Outhouse Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 5 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Chris Urch
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Henrietta Amevor, Nancy Denis, Zufi Emerson, Damon Manns, Mandela Mathia, Elijah Williams
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Dembe is an 18 year-old gay man living in Uganda. His family thinks of themselves as being exemplary Christians, but for many in their culture, the killing of homosexuals is not only a permissible deed, it is often exhorted to be a godly act. When Dembe falls in love, the personal and the social can no longer be reconciled. The persecutions illustrated in Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone, are extremely cruel, but we know them to be factual. Urch pulls no punches in his storytelling; the passions are wild, whether evil or virtuous, and we are not spared the worst of human nature, even as we delve into the purest of our emotions.

Much of the play is horrifying and depressing, but an overt theatricality in the production’s tone chooses our minds over hearts, in how it wishes to keep us engaged. Adam Cook’s direction requires of us, a cerebral approach in our appreciation of his show, so that we may come to a greater understanding, of the colossal stakes at play, and of the mechanisms that drive the barbarism being depicted. The Rolling Stone steers clear of ever turning itself into torture porn, ensuring that Dembe’s conflicts and suffering are used, not for masochistic indulgence, but for a greater sociopolitical purpose.

Elijah Williams is a powerhouse leading man, completely captivating with a larger than life presence, and disarming with the extraordinary degree of vulnerability he is able to convey. Dembe’s love interest Sam, of Northern Irish and Ugandan descent, is played by Damon Manns, deeply impressive with the nuance he puts into the portrayal, of a man unable to escape the oppression he has to endure for his sexuality, in both Europe and Africa. The actor delivers remarkable dynamism and complexity, for a role that he makes wonderfully convincing.

Also very endearing is Henrietta Amevor as Naome, the young woman who has lost her voice to trauma. Amevor’s performance speaks louder than words, perfectly calibrated to tell us all we need to know of her secret story. Zufi Emerson proves herself very likeable, pairing an effortless warmth with technical precision, for a surprisingly memorable turn as Dembe’s sister Wummie. Nancy Denis and Mandela Mathia are splendid in more dramatic scenes, both bringing chilling power to the formidable malice they represent in this painful tale.

There are noteworthy technical elements in the production, including Isabel Hudson’s sophisticated take on scenic design that adopts traditional style wings to complement the show’s classic acting traits. Lights by Sian James-Holland give the stage an astonishing beauty, even when the action turns daunting. Ryan Devlin and Nate Edmondson keep music and sound design understated, but there is no denying the efficacy, and elegance, of what they accomplish.

The Rolling Stone is an important story for people of colour everywhere. LGBT activism has achieved exceptional advancements in many white communities, but whether in developing or industrialised nations, there is no question that gay liberation has thus far failed many queer people of colour. The abuse and murder of gay and trans people that occur every day, no longer make the Australian news. With the passage of marriage equality, we have convinced ourselves that the work is complete. Even if we do not wish to spare a thought for atrocities overseas, what happens in the neglected enclaves of black and brown Australia must not be ignored.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Away (Bondi Pavilion Theatre)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Jul 4 – 7, 2018
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Nicholas Christo
Cast: Beth Daly, Meg Clarke, Norah George, Veronica Lang, Berynn Schwerdt, David Simes, Will Usic, Elliott Weston, James Wright
Images by Lynn Quiroz

Theatre review
Tom and his family are new immigrants to 1960’s Australia. Unlike many of their aspirational neighbours, they are content with a new residence offering a sense of freedom and egalitarianism, after having worked hard to escape the stifling mores of England. Michael Gow’s Away may not be set in 1788, but it is in some ways a story about white settlement, as we watch three white families trying to make sense of their place on this strange colonised land. They never feel completely at home, and the play urges that we attempt to find ways to explain their unrelenting anxieties and throbbing disquiet.

It is a kind of rootless existence that we witness in Away, about those who have only short histories as inhabitants of this young nation. The play opens and closes with quotations from the works of Shakespeare, as though inspiration can only be derived from old Europe; that inability and aversion to connecting with the authentic here and now, is more than a little revealing. The production however, uses A Midsummer Night’s Dream well, with the presence of Puck and other fairies underscoring much of the action, in costumes by Emma Clark that are very delightful indeed.

Director Nicholas Christo does well to introduce a dimension of ethereality whenever possible, for a magical quality that brings additional drama to the production. Not all actors are obviously suited to their roles, but it is an adequate cast that presents the show, with David Simes proving to be most endearing as both Tom and Puck. The performer is sprightly, with a charming earnestness that accompanies an admirable level of dedication he displays for the stage.

Not every work of art can stand the test of time, but there is no stopping us from new interpretations when we find them starting to wither. There is little joy in reading the same texts, in the same way, year in year out. With every revisit, tiny shifts in our culture allow us to see old things in new light. That which had been written might be characterised by a certain immovability, but the eyes that read them, can never defy the ravages of time.

http://www.waverley.nsw.gov.au/recreation/places_of_interest/bondi_pavilion

Review: Speaking In Tongues (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 29 – Jul 7, 2018
Playwright: Andrew Bovell
Director: Jake Ludlow
Cast: Elsa Cherlin, Dale William Morgan, Simon Thomson, Josie Waller

Theatre review
A woman disappears in Andrew Bovell’s Speaking In Tongues, but it is the relationships surrounding the incident that are its focus. It is an unconventionally structured play about ordinary heterosexual people, and through Bovell’s contorting lens, our every day is made strange to reveal the inconspicuous nature of what takes place beneath the surface. Our dysfunctions as individuals and as couples, are brought to light, refreshing but bleak in their honesty.

A team of young actors play the middle age characters of Speaking In Tongues. A noticeable deficiency in maturity is thus inevitable, but there is certainly no shortage of conviction in what they deliver. Act Two commences with the cast performing a series of monologues, proving themselves particularly engaging when working autonomously. Director Jake Ludlow’s attempts at theatrical embellishment are well-intentioned, but his strengths reside more persuasively in the production’s plainer sequences. It is a raw presentation, with a healthy quotient of promise put on clear display.

There are things we pay little attention to, that quietly engineer the way we experience the world. The personalities in Speaking In Tongues are absorbed in all their immediate concerns, but it is us, watching from the sidelines who are able to decipher the deeper implications of their entanglements. There is a missing person in the play who works as a consolidating device, but in this not unappealing piece of drama about the bourgeois, we see that everyone is lost inside their own discontentment, and come to an understanding of the triviality inherent in so much of our own suffering.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.gradco.studio