Review: Stalking The Bogeyman (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 23, 2018
Playwrights: David Holthouse, Markus Potter (additional writing by Santino Fontana, Shane Stones, Shane Ziegler)
Director: Neil Gooding
Cast: Noel Hodda, Radek Jonak, Deborah Jones, Graeme McRae, Alexander Palacio, Anne Tenney
Images by John Marmaras

Theatre review
David was raped at the age of seven. The damage that follows is unimaginable, and the vigilante action he plans to carry out is understandable, even if some of us will no doubt have misgivings about his intentions to kill. In Stalking The Bogeyman, we are not asked to pass judgement on David’s decisions, but to witness the repercussions of sexual assault, especially as it pertains to the very young. Incidents that take place over several minutes, cause reverberations that last a lifetime. We meet David 25 years after the fateful night, and his struggles are unabated.

With these extraordinary stakes at hand, the play is appropriately enthralling; we are desperate to see how the story concludes. Not only do we want to know, how and if the characters find resolution, it is important that we discover what it is, that our societies would consider to be the right thing to do. In the creation of this play, our values are placed under magnification, and we hope for it to tell us more about ourselves that we may not already know.

It is an engaging production, with Neil Gooding’s restrained direction keeping things concise and clear. Ideas in Stalking The Bogeyman are simple, and powerfully conveyed on this stage. Leading man Graeme McRae’s vulnerability as David is a vital component, that preserves our empathy comprehensively, through every step of the proceedings. The eponymous bogeyman is played by Radek Jonak, whose portrayal of malevolence is as impressive as the electrifying energy he introduces with each appearance.

The play ends on an abrupt, and perhaps anticlimactic note. The drama fizzles out, but as it is “based on a true story” we appreciate the honesty of its divulgements. It is true, that when disaster strikes, we are rarely able to procure redress or compensation that is ever going to be satisfactory. That which cannot be undone, requires that victims find ways, often radical in nature, to make their daily existences bearable. Many even more unfortunate, have suffered annihilating consequences. Another day will dawn, if only for battling the lingering shadows of yesterday.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Obscene Madame D (Theatre Kantanka)

Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), May 23 – 27, 2018
Novelist: Hilda Hilst
Director: Carlos Gomes
Cast: Katia Molino
Images by Heidrun Löhr

Theatre review
Surrounded by death and dereliction, Madame D is plunged into a deep isolation, where she finds herself examining the meaning of her existence, after suffering the recent bereavement of a longtime companion. Still shaken from the sudden loss, her thoughts are incoherent but belligerent, and her behaviour is increasingly erratic. Her neighbours are perturbed, and so are we. Obscene Madame D is unsettling, an avant-garde work that is unafraid of confusion, determined to embrace the strange and difficult, in its exploration of life at its outer peripheries.

The space is charged with a sense of wonderment, as though something esoteric has taken over Madame D’s depressed home and mind. Video projections by Sam James and lights by Fausto Brusamolino create a gloomy but seductive atmosphere; we never feel at ease, but this mysterious intrusion into Madame D’s sanctuary is a hauntingly beautiful experience. Gail Priest’s music and sound are heard through headphones, so that all the secrets are presented with immediacy, and intimacy, although what we are presented with, never seem to be more than clues or deflections.

Directed by Carlos Gomes, who orchestrates something enchantingly unique for his audience, often intriguing with its penchant for rousing curiosity, though its ability to hold our attention is inconsistent. In the absence of a strong narrative, we drift through dream states, not all of which pertain to the show in progress. Performer Katia Molino cuts a glamorous figure, mesmerising even in various states of dishevelment. In the middle of all the tangential statements, Molino’s unflappable presence provides a reliable centre, that our imaginations can retreat into, and interpretations can be formulated.

When we meet Madame D, it is as though she is encountering freedom for the first time. In pain from the shock of a new independence, she now has to define the world for herself. No longer the passive half of a partnership, Madame D must finally grow up, and as an older woman, the process is understandably excruciating. It is an inevitable metamorphosis, one that can only be unpredictable, but that will ultimately be rewarding, if only for the brutal authenticity that it delivers.

www.107.org.au | www.kantanka.com.au

Review: The Walworth Farce (Workhorse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 18 – Jun 9, 2018
Playwright: Enda Walsh
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Rachel Alexander, Laurence Coy, Robin Goldsworthy, Troy Harrison
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Inside a small London apartment, Dinny and his adult sons spend every day acting out a complicated farce, so that the best performer may win a trophy, and that Blake and Sean may remember their early days in Ireland, but only in a way that Dinny permits. It is an account of events that is absurd and dense, designed so that his sons’ memory of their collective biography, is doctored and confused.

Dinny has a lot to hide, and because Blake and Sean are a part of his confections, they are kept under strict control, even if both have well and truly arrived at adulthood. This is a story about parenting, and about the diaspora of cultures that every city experiences. It is about the relationships between countries, and the way individuals are affected by the boundaries we draw in the demarcation of national differences. Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce is unquestionably meaningful, but some of the play’s more culturally specific aspects, can prove impenetrable and tedious.

It is a tenaciously exuberant production, directed by Kim Hardwick who leaves no stone unturned in this complex work. There is a lot that goes on in every moment, and Hardwick’s eye for detail demands that we engage with her show in a way that is complex and nuanced. The very lively cast gives a generous performance, energetic and rich with spirit and inventiveness. Troy Harrison is particularly wonderful as Sean, the older brother on the precipice of discovering a new life. It is a plethora of emotions that emerge from the actor, conflicting yet distinct, allowing us to decipher the fundamental underlying truths that are in operation, amidst the constant vociferous hullabaloo.

As immigrants, we often find ourselves having to create narratives when required to explain how we have come to be. The tales that we weave are seldom the complete story, because the action of moving from one’s hometown, to somewhere entirely new, will always involve layers of intricacies that seem impossible to encapsulate in a convenient way. How we think of the past, is key to how the future looks. When we are unable to be honest about the journey before today, what happens hereafter, can only be fraudulent.

www.workhorsetheatreco.com

Review: Gypsy (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 18 – Jun 30, 2018
Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Richard Carroll
Cast: Blazey Best, Laura Bunting, Anthony Harkin, Mark Hill, Rob Johnson, Matthew Predney, Jessica Vickers, Jane Watt, Sophie Wright
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Probably the most well-known story about a stage mother, Gypsy is a highly-regarded biographical musical, that charts the early years of legendary American burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, with particular focus on her mother Rose’s overzealous efforts at attaining stardom for her two daughters. The show is a fascinating character study, but also thoroughly entertaining, with a structure that seems to include every ingredient necessary for a sure-fire hit.

The production, directed by Richard Carroll, is inviting and warm, especially sensitive in its depiction of family dynamics. The narrative is conveyed with emotion and depth, but some of Gypsy’s theatricality is lost in the realism that it cultivates; both its humour and drama can occasionally feel underplayed, perhaps too understated in approach for a form that honours all things larger than life.

Rose is very convincing here, as the “momager” with good intentions. Played by Blazey Best, her maternal qualities are irrefutable, but parts of the character that are nefarious and abhorrent, are softened as a result, and dramatic tensions never quite reach beyond the adequate. Laura Bunting impresses in Act II, as we watch the performer take little Louise through a breathtaking transformation, into the international sensation that was Gypsy Rose Lee. As the character begins to find her strength and power, we become accordingly captivated, relieved to experience a brighter side to the mournful tale. Supporting actor Jane Watt chews the scenery as Cratchitt and again as Tessie Tura, delivering some truly marvellous moments of joyful laughter, whilst demonstrating extraordinary comic ability and presence, in a very unexpected coupling of roles.

Also memorable is scenic design by Alicia Clements, romantically evocative of auditoriums from the early twentieth century, complete with ornamental proscenium arches and velvet curtains. Scene changes are impeccably executed by a very attentive and efficient team, headed by Cara Woods, the stage manager who rises to the challenge of a very technically involved show.

When successes come to bear, past transgressions tend to turn easily forgiven. It is true that Gypsy’s fame and fortune had come, partially, as a result of Rose’s unconscionable behaviour, but there must be no denying the depravity of her ways. The cliché that “everything happens for a reason” is useful in helping people move forward, and although there is no virtue quite as awe-inspiring as forgiveness, Rose should only be seen as a villain, whether or not one is able to perceive her redeeming features. Parents are simply never allowed to violate the sanctity and responsibility, of nurturing and protecting their offspring, no matter what riches are at stake. Contemporary parallels to the Gypsy story abound, with the Kardashians, Jenners and Hadids currently most conspicuous. It can seem a fine line between love and exploitation, but the matter of parenting has no room for ambiguity.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

Review: The Sugar House (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 5 – Jun 3, 2018
Playwright: Alana Valentine
Director: Sarah Goodes
Cast: Sheridan Harbridge, Sacha Horler, Lex Marinos, Josh McConville, Kris McQuade, Nikki Shiels
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Narelle is the first of her family to go to university. Growing up under her grandmother June’s strict guidance, Narelle carries the hopes of generations of McCreadies, whose existences in Sydney have struggled persistently with poverty and criminality. In Alana Valentine’s The Sugar House, we observe the life story of one Sydneysider and her family, alternating between the years 1966, 1985 and 2007, watching the evolution of Narelle along with this city, forming an understanding of our own growth and gradual gentrification.

Our daily endurance of life in one of the world’s most expensive cities, can often delude us into believing only in its sophistication and varnished veneers. We try hard to forget its past, particularly in relation to invasions and genocide, as well as the deep seated impact of convict and refugee immigration. We imagine ourselves to be worldly and refined, and become precious in our embodiment of this glamoured image. In some ways, this is what June had always wanted for Narelle. Breaking the poverty cycle, might have meant for the matriarch, an end to suffering and injustice, but Narelle and our reality in Sydney today, has serious complications that she probably never foresaw.

The play is unmistakably sentimental, with sounds in its dialogue that are authentic and profoundly beautiful. The plot does meander slightly, but vivid personalities keep us attentive and intrigued. The Sugar House is passionately constructed, by playwright Valentine and director Sarah Goodes, who establish a soulfulness for the production that forms its irresistible allure. It talks about our community, the forgotten and hidden parts of it, with a refreshing honesty that many will find engaging. Narelle’s story is not all our stories, but no Sydneysider can escape the reverberations of her family’s experience.

Actor Sheridan Harbridge is a charming Narelle, persuasive at all ages but especially impressive with her sensitive portrayal of the 8 year-old version, impeccable in her presentation of a child full of intelligence and infectious life. June is played by the very compelling Kris McQuade, whose powerful combination of warmth and austerity, gives anchor, and accuracy, to a play concerned with history and accountability. Sacha Horler delivers a stunning performance in the supporting role of Margo, Narelle’s mother, depicting immense and glorious strength alongside the incessantly cruel torment she tolerates.

The stage is flanked on two sides by tall, mid-century windows (elegantly created by set designer Michael Hankin) demarcating a space that can be read either as glossy and new, or coarse and antiquated, depending on the scenes taking place before them. How we think of our city, should be similarly complex and heterogeneous. Our surface wishes to project a certain ideal, and that represents one truth of Sydney, which has emerged from our earnest aspirations, but layers beneath contain aspects that many have less pride for. Regrettable and shameful pasts make people rewrite histories. Lies can be used to mislead others, but the more that we try to deny ourselves the real stuff that we are made of, the more we will feel the emptiness in its place.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 4 – Jun 16, 2018
Playwright: Brooke Robinson
Director: Marion Potts
Cast: Fayssal Bazzi, Tara Morice, Kelly Paterniti
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Sandra says and does everything right, but ends up failing at every housemate interview, unable to find a place to live. Brooke Robinson’s Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. features a heartbreaking series of scenes depicting Sandra at those interviews, being rejected for no ostensible reason, other than the fact that she is a middle aged woman battling cancer. This is what we, as a people, have come to. The play is a fierce indictment of Sydney, and cities like it, where inhabitants have allowed money, and access to property, turn us into monsters that spend our entire lives trying to devour real estate and accumulate wealth, without any consideration for those among us who have basic needs yet to be fulfilled.

All Sandra needs is a home. Her budget although modest, is reasonable, but we discover, quite literally, that no one wants her. Playwright Robinson has identified something so ugly but so accurate, about modern Australia, and the reflection she offers up through the mirror of her play, is so hideous, it is almost unbearable to watch. We do of course, find ourselves mesmerised by the car crash scenario, a human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes, powerfully directed by Marion Potts who never once lets us off the hook. Potts shows us not only that the system is broken, but the individuals who operate within said system, people like us, are revealed to be the degenerates that we often are; selfish, uncaring and cruel, participants in a rat race that will inevitably deliver more losers than winners.

In the central role is Tara Morice, who retains for Sandra a sense of dignity, whilst telling a compelling story of desperate despondency. It is a splendid performance, rigorously gauged to provoke just the right response from her audience, not only of compassion, but also a more deliberate and contemplative one, involving the way we think about our interactions with the needy in real life, and also to picture what it would be like, should we one day, find the shoe on the other foot. Fayssal Bazzi and Kelly Paterniti play a variety of roles, mostly unsavoury types, to excellent effect. Whether eccentric or plainly despicable, the pair keeps us attentive, always anticipating the worst, but masochistically enjoying the black comedy that inevitably arises. It is a tight trio on this stage, confident and sleek with a presentation that is as entertaining as it is hard-hitting.

The negative byproducts of our capitalism are evident, but it seems we are too far gone, to be able to imagine a radical turn around. It is a system that demands pragmatism, leading us to act only with self-interest and greed. Sandra is not a home owner, maybe by choice or maybe by circumstance, and we watch her being punished for not playing by the rules. We are all required to want the same, and any deviation can mean disaster, yet the competition that we are all meant to participate in, is predicated on the dispossession of many. This is part of a very big debate that has gone on for decades. Words will continue firing from all sides, but efforts to find solutions that will make life better, for the greatest number of people, will also persist. Kindness may no longer cost us nothing, but it is a price we must be willing to pay,

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Yours The Face (Blood Moon Theatre / LZA Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), May 1 – 12, 2018
Playwright: Fleur Kilpatrick
Director: Liz Arday
Cast: Daniela Haddad
Image by Liz Arday

Theatre review
Emmy is a female fashion model, and Peter is a male photographer. They meet on a job in London, both excited to be visiting from abroad, and both finding themselves attracted to one another. We watch nervously, waiting for disaster to strike, predicting the inevitable in this tale of power imbalance, but Fleur Kilpatrick’s Yours The Face refuses to fit into the mould. It is a relief to see Emmy resist being infantilised, that her sexuality and sense of self are presented as valid, even if the structures that she operates within are problematic.

The work challenges us to think about institutionalised sexism, whilst it presents individuals who seem blameless and who look to be acting with agency. It questions our participation in industries that thrive on inequity, making us think about the meaning of responsibility, in situations when acting in accordance with what is considered legal and permissible, are arguably ethically inadequate.

Daniela Haddad plays both roles, and proves herself sufficiently prepared, but the actor’s inexperience is evident in the demanding work. Positioned in front of a screen, with projections accompanying her entire performance, Haddad’s face is often obscured by the imagery, and we find ourselves routinely distracted by competing visual elements. Director Liz Arday’s concepts are strong, and they make for a show that is ultimately thought-provoking and rewarding, but the production is certainly demanding of its audience’s ability to concentrate.

When we are not actively taking down and taking over old systems, our involvement only serves to sustain them. There will be benefits that come with playing by the rules, but hidden costs have to be examined, and measured against what we deem to be genuinely decent. What Emmy and Peter do, are conventional and accepted, in fact they stand to become rich and famous if the stars align, but in Yours The Face, we observe that all is not well. Disease festers and exacerbates, when we choose only to pay attention to all that glitters.

www.lza-theatre.xyz | www.bloodmoontheatre.com