Review: Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony (Montague Basement)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 8 – 19, 2019
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Lucy, Burke, Jeremi Campese, Lulu Howes and Annie Stafford
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
The play is structured around title cards of its 1922 silent film forebear, so Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony is more than a little indebted, not only to that German classic, but also to its legitimate point of origin, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is an update of sorts, but also a kind of demystification of the greatest vampire story ever told, for a 2019 audience. Themes of horror, lust and survival, converge with very contemporary concerns that include xenophobia, the me too movement, capitalism, wealth disparity and property ownership, resulting in a new version stripped of old world romance, revealing a more utilitarian dimension of the supernatural tale.

Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari demonstrates artistic innovation alongside an enthusiastic intellect, for this creative, albeit slightly clinical, reinterpretation. The production is at its most mesmerising when allowed to venture into the bizarre. When proffering the political, its approach has a tendency to be obvious. Detailed work on lighting design by Veronique Benett helps to manufacture a sense of visual dynamism, and Justin Gardam’s music brings excellent atmospheric transformations to each surprising scene change.

A motley crew of characters are played by four engaging actors, including Jeremi Campese whose remarkable conviction as the Count, delivers a realistic portrayal of evil that turns the walking dead into a living, breathing rendition of one of the world’s richest men. Lulu Howes’ intense presence gives complexity to the naive Hutton, cleverly resisting our urge to conveniently underestimate her, as we traditionally do all the women in this story. A very enjoyable flamboyance is introduced by Annie Stafford who excels in the show’s more comical and absurd dimensions, and Lucy Burke is relied upon to provide a warmth to this otherwise entirely inhumane milieu.

There is very little that could be done to hold the extremely rich to account; Dracula and Nosferatu are our 1% and they literally get away with murder. In our fantasies, they can be destroyed with a stake through the heart, a reflection of how we are never able to accept their invincibility. Humans are incurably hopeful, for life is in many ways synonymous with hope, but much of our truth, as is evidenced in the pessimism of Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony is beyond repair. To exist however, requires that we continue searching for answers and solutions, even if we never really get anywhere, it is this motion of endeavouring that makes us virtuous.

www.montaguebasement.com

Review: The Chat (Carriageworks)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 16 – 20, 2019
Creators: J R Brennan, David Woods
Cast: Arthur Bolkas, J R Brennan, Shane Brennan, Ashley Dyer, Nicholas Maltzahn, Ray Morgan, John Tjepkema, Simon Warner, Les Wiggins, David Woods
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
We are informed that some of those performing in The Chat are ex-offenders from the Melbourne area. The work is a collaboration with artists, including creators J R Brennan and David Woods, reenacting performance workshops centred around a role play scenario, in which an ex-offender plays the part of a parole officer. When the show reaches its concluding episode, the audience finds itself in the position of a parole board, and we have to decide if the role player had revealed enough redeeming qualities in order to be set free.

That responsibility bestowed upon us, although fictitious, carries an undeniably enormous weight, making us think about the nature of justice and rehabilitation in our societies, a topic that most of us have the privilege of circumventing. Being in close quarters with characters whose very lives depend on how our rules concerning incarceration are exercised, turns abstract ideas into a palpably distressing process, as we try to make decisions that bear the most serious of consequences on individuals who we have come to know.

Although much of The Chat is, predictably, not performed with a great deal of skill, an invaluable sense of authenticity is introduced by people who have lived through first-hand, these issues we have to wrestle with. Their presence prevents us from engaging the usual intellectual distancing, that makes answering these questions, inappropriately convenient. The production is given polish by Jenny Hector and Steve Hendy’s lighting design, and by Brennan’s sound design, for a presentation that ultimately leaves an impression that is simultaneously simple and sophisticated.

These difficult circumstances, of punishment and banishment, underlie so much of how we operate, yet matters of law and order are rarely interrogated meaningfully by the general populace. We leave them to experts and tradition, trusting that others know better, when in fact, there probably are no concerns more democratic. Those in need of pardon, work hardest for our compassion, but when we have to determine how compassion is being dispensed, people often forget the universality of our fallibility.

www.carriageworks.com.au

Review: Counting & Cracking (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Town Hall (Sydney NSW), Jan 11 – Feb 2, 2019 | Ridley Centre (Adelaide Showgrounds, South Australia) Mar 2 – 9, 2019
Playwright: S. Shakthidharan
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Prakash Belawadi, Nicholas Brown, Jay Emmanuel, Rarriwuy Hick, Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Nadie Kammallaweera, Ahi Karunaharan, Monica Kumar, Gandhi MacIntyre, Shiv Palekar, Monroe Reimers, Hazem Shammas, Nipuni Sharada, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Rajan Velu, Sukania Venugopal
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was 1983 when Radha first came to Australia, escaping persecution in Sri Lanka during the racial riots of Black July. With her husband killed in the midst of unrest, Radha was left with no choice but to flee alone and pregnant, arriving in Sydney to put down new roots in a foreign land. S. Shakthidharan’s Counting & Cracking is a very big play, ambitious and benevolent, rhapsodic in its attempts to uncover the whole truth about a woman, observed as a maternal figure from the playwright’s vantage point. Shakthidharan’s work is warm and witty, generous in its seismic attempts to explain everything, taking us through half a century of untold stories to reach an understanding about the people we are today.

It is often a gripping production, directed by Eamon Flack who renders marvellously the play’s more domestic and romantic scenes. Relationships are beautifully cultivated, between powerful characters, with a convincing sentimentality that encourages the audience to invest deeply, our attention and our emotions, right from the very beginning. Political dimensions are communicated less lucidly, but we are able to gather sufficient information for the narrative drive to maintain interest.

Designer Dale Ferguson’s transformation of Sydney Town Hall’s colonial interior, into a festively radiant Sri Lankan space of congregation and celebration, is a sight to behold. Majestic and monumental, it embraces our bodies and psyches, holding us firmly inside its milieu, to have us luxuriate in all its extravagant expressions. Contrastingly, acoustics are a sore point for the production, with sound engineering unable to overcome the echoey vastness of the old building, thus resulting in occasional dissipation of dialogue. There are however auditory delights to be had, in the form of Stefan Gregory’s score, performed live by a trio of musicians (Kranthi Kiran Mudigonda, Janakan Raj and Venkhatesh Sritharan) whose expert accompaniment provides us with unparalleled sensuality and soulfulness.

Actors Nadie Kammallaweera and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash share the lead role, both captivating and extremely likeable, allowing us to fall under Radha’s spell for the show’s entire duration. Their combined dynamism gives Counting & Cracking complexity and authenticity, and we find ourselves moved by a tale that is at once unique, yet spiritually universal. Sukania Venugopal is memorable as Aacha, the vivacious matriarch who brings colour and effervescence to the stage with every exhilarating entrance. Radha’s son Siddhartha provides the cultural anchor for this Australian story, performed by a very compelling Shiv Palekar, whose luminous confidence proves to be as impressive as it is alluring.

It is always demanded of migrants that we prove our worth. Counting & Cracking is in some ways an exercise in showing the establishment that we contribute at least as much as the others; it makes a statement about our Australianness, arguing against incessant lies about immigration being nothing but a burden on this society. More valuable is the play’s reclamation of identity, in its insistence that the portrayal of Australian lives must include histories and origins that are routinely excluded and denied. As humans, we must always strive for unity, but cohesion must bear the unequivocal acceptance of difference, hard as it may be.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.co-curious.com

Review: Since Ali Died (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 8 – 19, 2019
Playwright: Omar Musa
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Omar Musa (with guest vocalist Sarah Corry)
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Omar Musa imagines himself travelling down a river with Muhammad Ali, both men outsiders, connected by experiences of ostracism. Musa’s Since Ali Died provides insight into how people of colour survive the dogged exclusions of white society. Through poetry, prose and hip hop phraseology, Musa’s extraordinary writing provides access to intense and complex emotions, that relate to a sense of displacement, in an Australia struggling to think of itself as anything other than an illegitimate monolith. It is a work about home, but on how it can disown you, presented in a theatrical context that sees a remarkable talent confront an audience comprising adversaries and allies, all of us relevant and implicated.

As performer, Musa is charisma personified. We are won over effortlessly, by a stage presence naturally confident yet vulnerable, one that showcases an honesty that many will find utterly disarming. Masculinity is portrayed in a delicate light, with director Anthea Williams carefully preventing any sense of alienation that could arise from the motivating fury of Musa’s expressions. It is an exercise in compassion that results, an occasion that welcomes all, one that encourages us to think about the parts we play, as individuals and as collectives, in Musa’s personal stories.

Melancholic and incredibly moving, Since Ali Died is a timely meditation on contemporary Australian life, an undeniable summation of all our unique challenges, whether spiritual, social or political. Black and brown people endure discrimination by white structures that lay fake claim to this land, just as Muslims are relegated impudently, to a status of religious inferiority. Omar Musa’s very body and soul, right before our eyes, is evidence of those injustices that insidiously constitute our harmful way of life. He is thriving, but he suffers. In his music, simultaneously celebratory and indignant, we are able to understand the strength that is required of people like Musa. It is dark but uplifting, refusing to give in to destruction. His energy is ample and indomitable, and although painful to see it expended on coping mechanism, there is plenty left for orchestrating a change.

www.griffintheatre.com.au | www.riversideparramatta.com.au

Review: Ned (Plush Duck Productions)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 18 – 22, 2018
Book: Anna Lyon, Marc McIntyre
Music & Lyrics: Adam Lyon
Director: Miranda Middleton
Cast: Erin Bogart, Denzel Bruhn, Rowan Brunt, Siobhan Clifford, Sinead Cristaudo, Lincoln Elliott, Martin Everett, Jacqui Greenfield, Jodie Harris, Rob Hartley, David Hov, Josh McElroy, Courtney Powell, Marcus Rivera, Georgia Rodgers , Carmel Rodrigues, Cypriana Singh, Guy Webster
Images by Shakira Wilson

Theatre review
For many Australians of European descent, the legend of Ned Kelly is a crucial element in the way identity is imagined. An outlaw with a heart of gold, the anti-authoritarian myth has helped create a notion of selfhood, that persists even in these days of bourgeois ubiquity. In the new musical Ned, old stories are resurrected once again, to reinforce ideals that are at once romantic and subversive, reflecting perhaps a longing for more innocent times, or simply to offer a reminder of the kind of people Australians have, for a long time, prided ourselves to be.

The work is in many ways derivative and predictable, with form and content both proving to be risk averse, for this Broadway-style biographical drama. There might be little that feels inventive, but its ambition is certainly laudable. Peter Rubie’s lighting design provides a sense of grandeur and polish, for captivating imagery that help elevate the simple tale. Conductor Hamish Stening puts passion into the music, keeping proceedings lively and entertaining.

Leading man Joshua McElroy is suitably moody as Ned Kelly, with an imposing physical presence that comfortably seizes the limelight. Jodie Harris is excellent as the hero’s mother Ellen, strong in voice and in personality, for a powerful characterisation of the early migrant woman. The cast is generally well-rehearsed, although choreography has a tendency to be unflattering and therefore distracting.

Ned Kelly keeps returning to our consciousness, because we have a fondness for thinking that he is a good representation of who we are. It is more likely however, that Kelly stands for values we wish to possess, but that we can no longer lay claim to. Over a century has past, and we are a world away from the rough and tumble of Van Diemen’s Land. In today’s highly materialistic existences, rebels are quashed, not by ideological compromises, but by the imperious might of money.

www.plushduckproductions.com.au

Review: The Jungle (Outrage Productions)

Venue: Darlo Drama (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 14 – 18, 2018
Playwright: Louis Nowra
Director: Glen Hamilton
Cast: Gabriela Castillo, Nicole Florio, Gaurav Kharbanda, Jo-Ann Pass, Benjamin Pierce, Timothy Rochford, Hugo Schlanger, Andrew Singh, Romney Stanton, Annelies Tjetjep, Mark Wilson
Images by RMF Photography

Theatre review
A jumble of scenes situated in Sydney, with people that may or may not seem familiar, constitute Louis Nowra’s The Jungle. The stories are from 1995, and sensationalist in a way that was probably trendy for the time. 23 years on, its sleaze and general naughtiness can feel slightly pretentious, but the perspective it provides of an Australian city that is not concerned with the middle class, presents an opportunity to ruminate on the changes we have undergone in just one generation. Not yet nostalgic, but certainly reflective, The Jungle reveals the banal bourgeois values that have, in a relatively short period, taken over our town.

Glen Hamilton’s direction incorporates little in terms of visual design, leaving all of the production’s theatricality to a very hyperbolic ensemble. Their energy is admirable, players such as Nicole Florio and Romney Stanton are particularly animated, and they bring a valuable verve to the stage, but there is an overall lack of nuance that prevents the show from speaking with sufficient depth. Actor Gabriela Castillo does a remarkable job of her roles, turning three hapless girls in a frequently misogynistic piece of writing, into fascinating characters with moments of palpable drama.

It is a relief to see that we are no longer who we once were, for life is change, and stagnation can be dangerous. We might be tempted to say that change does not necessarily represent improvement, but to insist that things were better in the past, is to forget the many deficiencies of yesterday. Sydney may have lost some of its romance and idealism, but for the millions who choose to live here, we choose to believe in its potentials and the bright future that we so faithfully envision. The big clean up bears a momentum that refuses to ever come to a halt, but in our hearts, the memory of a dirty, dingy town still resonates, and the spirit of that old disreputable concrete jungle keeps on pulsating.

www.thejungleplay.com

Review: Crime And Punishment (Secret House)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 12 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Chris Hannan (from the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jane Angharad, Hannah Barlow, Tim Kemp, Philippe Klaus, Beth McMullen, Madeleine Miller, James Smithers, Shan-Ree Tan, Charles Upton, Natasha Vickery
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
When deciding to proceed with his plan for murder and robbery, Raskolvikov thinks of his actions as merely an extension of attempts to participate, in an economy he considers to be entirely utilitarian. If one is to survive the world at all costs, and if cost is always a matter of subjectivity, then the concept of morality holds no currency, in a system determined to reward the self-interested. Chris Hannan explores the implications of what might be termed human conscience in his adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment. The protagonist wrestles with internal conflicts, emotional and intellectual, trying to escape punishment, from society and from himself.

The bleakness of Raskolvikov’s destitute existence is depicted persuasively under Anthony Skuse’s direction, whose own production design accomplishes an elegant evocation of Russia at a time we associate with the end of the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of urbanisation as we know it. Skuse’s sound design too, is an affecting element, if slightly repetitive in its rendering. Lights by Martin Kinnane bring visual interest, helpful in creating a sense of dynamism for the production. Actor James Smithers is convincing in the leading role, able to prevent us from feeling alienated, so that we stay engaged with the murderer’s narrative. Chemistry between performers can be improved for a more focused sense of storytelling, but individual characters are portrayed with good conviction.

The work posits the loss of religion as a possible equivalence to the loss of morality, thereby giving religion a great deal of credit where it may not be due. In the decades that have past since Dostoyevsky’s 1866 publication of Crime And Punishment, atheism has become a movement undeniable in its ubiquity, and secular societies have demonstrated that our capacity for upholding that which is truly righteous, has surpassed dogmatic and draconian structures that had come before.

There is no doubt that many lives have been improved by religion, but it is important that we recognise the evils that it routinely inspires and sanctions. At the end of 2018, Australian politics is abuzz with the prospect of introducing additional protections for religious practices, thereby safeguarding bigoted portions of those beliefs, and in effect, placing human rights beneath archaic doctrines. Raskolvikov killed people, not because of a loss of faith; the fact remains that the murders had taken place, in spite of all the religion being imposed upon him.

www.secrethouse.com.au