Review: Our Blood Runs In The Street (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 21, 2020
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Andrew Fraser, Cassie Hamilton, David Helman, Eddie Orton, Sam Plummer, Ross Walker, Tim Walker
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Violence is an indelible part of LGBTQI history in NSW. In the many years leading up to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and then the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Sydney’s gay men and trans women especially, have suffered physical harm, to the extent of murder, as a result of homophobia and transphobia.

Our Blood Runs In The Street is a work of verbatim theatre, composed of accounts by victims, as well as “family members, witnesses, historians, police officers, journalists and researchers,” presented alongside contemporary dance and physical theatre, for an examination of the prejudice and brutality that has shaped the community.

With stories mainly from the last three decades of the previous century, director Shane Anthony and his team have collated a meaningful text from which we can better understand that past. We are additionally informed that investigations are ongoing, in case new revelations should surface as a result of the show. It is a heavily fragmented work, and although able to convey the severity of incidents, struggles to elicit emotional involvement.

Visually enticing, with imaginative choreography throughout, and lights by Richard Whitehouse bringing constant colour and movement, our eyes are kept entertained. Auditory capacities are attended by composer Damien Lane and sound designer Nate Edmondson, who move us seamless from scene to scene, as they maintain an uncompromising gravity for these harrowing tales.

Seven performers, each one earnest and passionate, deliver testimonials with indisputable conviction. David Helman is particularly impressive with his clever blend of words and movement. Imagery and dialogue in the show do not always work well together, but Helman makes us watch and listen with coherence, without distraction from one or the other. A powerful speech is given by Cassie Hamilton, captivating in her stillness, recounting the serious under-estimation of violence against trans people, as reported by Eloise Brook of The Gender Centre.

The times are slowly changing, but problems for LGBTQI Australians continue, now most notably for ethnic minorities in suburbia. That the stage for Our Blood Runs In The Street is filled with white bodies, is indicative of the disparity that exists between cultures. People of colour have benefited from the work of Western activists, but there remains challenges, specific and nuanced, yet to be addressed. Pride has functioned as an effective war cry for many queers, but it is still a concept that eludes some, for which shame is still the default experience.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Crunch Time (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Feb 14 – Apr 9, 2020
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Diane Craig, Megan Drury, Guy Edmonds, Matt Minto, Emma Palmer, John Wood
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Although a grown man and father of two, Luke is unable to grow out of the shadow of Steve, his own father, whom he perceives to not have been a loving parent. Now that the old man is approaching end of life, things must come to a head or risk being unresolved for many years hereafter.

David Williamson’s Crunch Time is a family drama, but one that struggles to resonate, featuring a collection of unlikable characters in situations that are unconvincing and distant. We recognise the dynamics at play, for we all have experiences relating to problematic kinship, but few of its ingredients feel authentic, and meaningful emotional investment into any part of the story proves elusive.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction capitalises on comical aspects of the writing, always taking care that the humour is conveyed with clarity. Actor Guy Edmonds is effortlessly funny as Luke, and a charming presence, even though a strange casting choice for an entirely charmless role. Daddy Steve is played by an elegant John Wood, whose restrained approach tends to downplay tensions of the piece.

Other parts in Crunch Time are performed well, despite their unfortunate lack of complexity. Matt Minto is appropriately comical as favourite son Jimmy, and Diane Craig brings a degree of self-respect to Helen, the strangely overlooked mother who does little more than orbit around the disputes within her household. Daughters-in-law are played by Megan Drury and Emma Palmer, who retain some integrity for a couple of women burdened by some shockingly unimaginative dialogue.

It is curious that Steve’s family does little to question his decisions pertaining to euthanasia, but Crunch Time is a rare example of how the matter of death, can be dealt with in a less than tragic fashion. Traditionally, we have insisted that people bear with terminal illnesses, no matter how painful and dehumanising. For years, we have debated as a community on how dying can be made dignified, but that journey to legislative change has been at snail pace. It is hard to understand that anyone who has witnessed unimaginable suffering on deathbeds would argue against assisted suicide, but our conservative culture is determined as ever, to keep us in the dark ages.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: War Horse (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 15, 2020
Playwright: Nick Stafford (based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo)
Director: Marianne Elliott, Tom Morris
Images by Brinkhoff Mögenburg, Andrew Tauber

Theatre review
Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse features the life story of a horse named Joey, and his friendship with Albert, the young man with whom he shares an unbreakable bond. Sold off to a cavalry in World War I, Joey spends the wilderness years in hard toil, whilst Albert pines for his mate as he too, struggles in the trenches. Adapted by Nick Stafford, this stage version is cleverly balanced, to deliver both pathos and amusement, allowing a theatrical audience to indulge in an evening of nostalgic escapism.

War Horse is the paragon of immaculate stagecraft. All technical faculties are rendered in extraordinary ways, for a show best described as magical, from start to end. The very prerequisite of bringing to life a lead character that is not human, but a magnificent beast, means that all the tools for make belief, are activated in the most inventive and dynamic ways. The audacious and oversized puppetry involved in telling Joey’s story, is central to the enjoyment of the production, with up to six persons employed to animate one creature, often with multiple horses sharing the stage, for images that will stay with the viewer for years to come.

Although stridently sentimental, the show is not always a moving experience. It is however, endlessly fascinating, with a multitude of mechanical devices employed to tell an emotional story. Some may find themselves swept away with the innocent love portrayed in the piece, but most will be hopelessly captivated by the sheer ambition of the staging. Its scale is overwhelming, and the pleasure of feeling awestruck should never be underestimated.

wwww.warhorseonstage.com.au

Review: The Campaign (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 11 – 28, 2019
Playwright: Campion Decent
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Tim McGarry, Simon Croker, Mathew Lee, Madeline MacRae, Jane Phegan
Images by Jasmine Simmons

Theatre review
Up until 1997, some of the harshest anti-homosexuality laws in the Western world, were found in our very own Tasmania. In Campion Decent’s The Campaign, we witness the rife homophobia in the Australian state, as well as the hard work by rights groups that fought tooth and nail to bring legislative reform. The story begins in 1988 when community leader Rodney Croome was arrested alongside many others of the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group (previously known as the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group), for setting up a stall at Salamanca Market collecting signatures for a petition, towards the decriminalisation of consensual sex between adult males.

A verbatim work featuring first-hand accounts by activists from that critical decade of LGBTQI history, The Campaign feels a thorough and accurate compilation of memories pertaining to that period of incredible dedication by a group of tireless advocates. With focus placed almost entirely on political machinations, the play can suffer from a lack of drama and theatricality, even though director Kim Hardwick’s determination to inject colour and movement into the staging is evident. Her efforts to keep things pacy, helps liven up dialogue that tends to be dry and stoic.

A disarmingly earnest group of five performs a big number of roles, with Mathew Lee memorable for the authentic emotions he brings to the stage, in the role of Croome especially. Jane Phegan too is a genuine and purposeful presence, as is Tim McGarry whose rigour is a joy to watch. Simon Croker and Madeline MacRae are commendable for bringing both gravity and dynamism to their various characters, in an ensemble that proves itself remarkably well rehearsed, and full of magnanimous conviction.

The Campaign is about the heroes of the movement, but occasional glimpses of villains, make us wonder if those vicious sentiments can ever be extinguished. It has taken a very long time to attain legislative protections, but as witnessed in national debates relating to the 2017 same-sex marriage referendum, people’s attitudes can still be extremely malicious and harmful. For many of us, the reasons for that hatred may have to remain a mystery; the incomprehensible need to vilify those whose identities and actions are completely of no consequence to others, is absurd, and unfortunately relentless.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: The Deep Blue Sea (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre at Walsh Bay (Sydney NSW), Feb 4 – Mar 7, 2020
Playwright: Terrence Rattigan
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Fayssal Bazzi, Paul Capsis, Matt Day, Vanessa Downing, Marta Dusseldorp, Charlie Garber, Brandon McClelland, Contessa Treffone
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Hester Collyer is having such a miserable time, that when we first meet her, we catch her in the process of attempting suicide. It is the 50’s in Terrence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, and therefore not surprising to find a woman unfulfilled and depressed. She may have two men vying for her attention, but no amount of romance and love, can mollify her agony. Although a natural artist, having picked up painting at a tender age, she is steered away from her talents, being a clergyman’s daughter, to focus instead on becoming a wife and mother.

We watch our protagonist invest heavily into her lover Freddie, but the relationship is unrewarding no matter how hard each party tries. Her husband William too, works hard for a reconciliation, but Hester is simply unable to find satisfaction in all his acquiescence. Director Paige Rattray understands that Hester has placed all her eggs in the wrong basket, and as we watch the story unfold, it is Rattray’s understanding of events that truly resonate, even as poor Hester herself remains in the dark about her own situation.

Rattray’s feminist intervention is represented by a clever set design by David Fleischer, which gives us alternate views of the same small apartment containing, and constraining, Hester’s tiny world; we are given two perspectives of the narrative, as though a reminder that there are parallel interpretations taking place, feminist and anti-feminist, at each step of the plot trajectory. Other design elements too are noteworthy, with Nick Schlieper’s lights surreptitious but persuasive at all times, and James Brown’s work on sound, restrained but sublime in its dramatic effect.

Actor Marta Dusseldorp gives a thrilling performance in the lead role, endlessly inventive, and courageous with each of her artistic choices. It is a spellbinding depiction of female suffering, powerful in its authenticity, but more importantly, astute with the meanings that she conveys, almost behind Hester’s back. The show is surprisingly comedic, as a result of its modern sensibility. The cast uses Rattigan’s old-fashioned melodrama to put on a show that oscillates between laughter and melancholy, a subtly camp approach that proves highly entertaining.

Paul Capsis is unforgettable as Miller, an uncompromisingly queer presence that functions as a beacon of wisdom, for Hester and for the audience. Fayssal Bazzi and Matt Day are convincing love interests, both helping to make perfect sense of the conundrum at hand. We see that it matters not, whether they are good or bad men, they simply have no bearing on a grown woman’s happiness. Also memorable is Brandon McClelland, whose straightlaced irony as Phillip Welch proves deeply amusing. Confident and perfectly pitched, McClelland delivers some of the show’s best laughs.

The Deep Blue Sea is an excellent example of how the world can destroy a person, when she plays by prescribed rules. At the end of her story, we wonder if Hester is ever going to discard those external expectations, and find a way to carve out a self-determined existence. Women are broken every day, but one wonders how many are able to resist returning to square one, even in the twenty-first century, at each attempt of revival. Bravery is not often found on the well-trodden path, and glory is reserved only for those who dare.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 6 – Mar 8, 2020
Playwright: Steve Rodgers (based on a novella by Peter Goldsworthy)
Director: Darren Yap
Cast: Valerie Bader, Emma Jackson, Mark Lee, Liam Nunan, Grace Truman, Matthew Whittet
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Linda and Rick are a young couple in love, full of hope for the future, and like many who had come before, they decide to have children. In Peter Goldsworthy’s Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam (adapted for the stage by Steve Rodgers), it is that collision of optimism and the inevitable harshness of real life that comes to the fore, when a happy family of four is met with the curse of a terminal illness.

The play is predictably emotional, with Darren Yap’s direction making no apologies for the extremely sentimental tone that his production takes. Death however, may seem a more vacillating topic than the show might suggest. As we watch the Pollards go through turmoil, finding ways to deal with the impending passing of a beloved, Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam exposes the surprisingly disparate attitudes we may hold, for a completely universal experience. It becomes obvious that because we so rarely talk about death, that we almost never have opportunities to create consensus, so it only makes sense that personal beliefs can vary greatly in relation to the topic.

Characters inhabit a relentlessly dark space, and the trauma being presented feels authentic, even if one does not share in the Pollards’ persuasions about the afterlife. The cast is uniformly strong, impressive with the chemistry they harness as an ensemble, able to give a sense of elevation to some very simple personalities. Actors Liam Nunan and Grace Truman are memorable as the children, passionate and intense with their portrayals of interrupted innocence. Emma Jackson and Matthew Whittet are their parents, both full of conviction, and remarkably elegant in their approaches for this unabashedly stirring work. Valerie Bader and Mark Lee take on a range of senior roles, precise and marvellously deliberate with what they bring to the stage.

Also noteworthy is Emma Vine’s set design, offering considerable versatility and easy scene transitions, whilst remaining pleasing to the eye. Verity Hampson’s lights, along with music and sound by Max Lambert and Sean Peter, ensure that the audience is drawn into the tragedy, through tenacious engagement of our senses.

Death can be thought of as more than a mournful occurrence. In fact, some think of it as a welcome end to suffering. In the lightness of romance, Linda and Rick create new life, unafraid of all the hardship that is sure to come. In sickness, one is made to confront mortality, with fear and sadness invariably becoming part of that process. Along with having to say a long goodbye to loved ones, it is perhaps the uncertainty about what happens thereafter, that causes the greatest despair. We may differ in how we regard the nature of death, but the beauty of life that we have all witnessed, does not have to end when the lights are turned off for the last time.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.riversideparramatta.com.au/NTofP

Review: Pomona (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 24 – Feb 8, 2020
Playwright: Alistair McDowell
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jane Angharad, Kevin Batliwala, Amanda McGregor, Lauren Richardson, Monica Sayers, James Smithers, Dorje Swallow
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
A concrete plot of barren land sitting in the middle of the city, can only raise suspicion. It is simply unbelievable that what appears to be prime real estate is left to languish, as though millions of dollars are left unclaimed, right in front of our eyes. In Alistair McDowell’s Pomona, we are taken underground. In the absence of visible buildings, our cynicism goes into overdrive, as we watch the worst of our capitalistic impulses emerge, through a series of horrific criminal scenarios. The play imagines the most nefarious commercial activities taking place in hidden bunkers, behind closed doors. If business dealings dare be depraved in broad daylight, what more the shady dealings that happen in secret.

Pomona‘s drama involves missing persons, snuff films and more. It is not an exploitative work by any means, but that very tendency of ours to exploit, is placed under scrutiny. Director Anthony Skuse prompts questions about nature and nurture, and the origins of corruption, as we observe characters carrying out unspeakable acts. People seem to be either good or bad, but there is no denying the conditions we all have to operate under, that are in most cases, beyond repair. Lighting design by Veronique Benett is suitably gloomy, for the irrevocably pessimistic world being explored. Music by Nate Edmondson, commanding and tenacious, keeps tensions unrelenting for this foreboding representation of our dangerous lives.

The production is an engaging one, with powerful concepts and a cleverly fractured plot, conspiring to hold our attention. Actors Amanda McGregor and James Smithers depict some very big and genuine emotions, both wonderfully mesmerising with the focus they bring to the stage. Also memorable is Lauren Richardson, who has the unenviable task of inhabiting and portraying the unceasing terror of a woman escaping violence. Moments of innocence by the charming Kevin Batilwala are a delightful reprieve, while Jane Angharad, Monica Sayers and Dorje Swallow play some seriously dubious types who make us confront our own sense of morality.

In a dog eat dog world, good guys finish last. In Pomona, we may want to get rid of the baddies, but there is nothing to stop their positions being usurped by more of the same. Evil runs so much of the world, because of the way things are structured. The way we revere money and power, has allowed bad things to happen again and again. We can no longer afford to imagine that simply placing good people in harmful institutions will fix our problems. We have to move emphasis away from undesirable individuals, to a better understanding of the systems that govern our lives, and begin destroying them, as a first step to improving things for all.

www.secrethouse.com.au