Review: In Real Life (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 15 – Oct 15, 2017
Playwright: Julian Larnach
Director: Luke Rogers
Cast: Anni Finsterer, Elizabeth Nabben
Image by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
Although a completely natural state of being, we think of emptiness as a kind of malady. It is that sense of lack, that so often drives us to action. At our best, we are productive and inspired, but at our worst, it is our decisions that can cause unimaginable harm. In Julian Larnach’s In Real Life, we meet Theresa, a highly successful entrepreneur and innovator, whose own emptiness moves her to create two entities that define her life. Her invention Drum is a technological device that has captivated the world and is used by 2 billion people. Eva, her daughter, is the other source of pride.

The play deals with the dichotomy of organic versus synthetic, and the increasing conflation of the two in today’s lives. It explores our fears of technology, as innumerable others have, but provides space for its audience to determine independently, the morality, of its characters and of its narrative, within which we are inexorable participants. Larnach’s work is valuable in its timeliness, as it is vitally important that we discuss phenomena as they occur, but its concepts, although pertinent, are not always presented with sufficient salience, to be effectively engaging.

The two actors however, provide clear commentary on motivations and emotions represented by each character. Anni Finsterer is operatic in approach, telling Theresa’s story with great panache. We recognise all her psychological states, and the plot is made satisfying as a consequence, but it is a relentlessly intense performance that can seem deficient in authenticity. Elizabeth Nabben plays Eva, along with a host of secondary characters, demonstrating excellent focus and versatility. The two-hander is directed by Luke Rogers, who ensures that a sense of theatricality always accompanies the show’s intellectual interests. It is a well designed production, if slightly too literally rendered, with Sian James-Holland’s lights proving memorable in their playful liveliness.

Theresa constantly reaches outside of herself to seek answers for her anxieties. Even though there is no denying the greatness she has achieved, it is the profound sorrow of which she is architect, that remains. That singular desire, arising from an ineffable emptiness, has delivered both the best and worst of her existence. It is true, that our choices are good and bad. Regrettable decisions should be regarded as such, so that errors are not repeated. Regret, and disappointment, are crucial to how a person grows. Perhaps this is also how we can view our relationship with technology. Movement is inevitable, but trajectory and velocity can always be manipulated, in accordance with the lessons we learn.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Kindertransport (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jul 28 – Aug 20, 2017
Playwright: Diane Samuels
Director: Sandra Eldridge
Cast: Camilla Ah Kin, Annie Byron, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Sarah Greenwood, Emma Palmer, Christopher Tomkinson
Image by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
In 1938, an estimated ten thousand Jewish children from families in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, were moved to safety in the United Kingdom, before the commencement of the second World War. Diane Samuels’ Kindertransport is the fictional story of one such child, nine-year-old Eva who finds herself sent away from Hamburg. She ends up in Manchester, north of England, eventually changing her name to Evelyn. Decades later, we discover that she has all but forgotten her life as a Jewish child. To leave the past behind, Evelyn’s survival instincts have created a kind of amnesia, in order that she may make the most out of her present circumstances. The play is about the relationship between yesteryear and today, and how our histories are constantly under threat of obliteration.

There are many theatrical works about Jewish experiences during the Nazi era, and Kindertransport can often feel generic in its approach to telling its story. It is a narrative that has to be reinforced, because there are wounds yet to be healed, and antisemitic threats have yet to disappear. There may be nothing particularly unpredictable about the show, but its capacity for the expression of genuine emotions, is nonetheless valuable, in the ongoing process of catharsis for many who continue to be affected by events of the war.

Sandra Eldridge’s direction introduces a gentle touch, working on the tenderness between characters rather than on exploiting the more sentimental elements of the play. Sections can feel underwhelming, with dramatic tensions kept subdued, but a highlight occurs in a fantasy sequence where Evelyn confronts her mother, both speaking as adults, putting to words their respective struggles. Actors Camilla Ah Kin and Emma Palmer find remarkable chemistry in this moment, and the stage becomes briefly incandescent. Also noteworthy is set design by Imogen Ross, with a backdrop composed of open cardboard boxes, symbolising the movement of peoples and cultures, as well as the human need to bring illumination to our darker inner selves.

There is much to be sad about what Evelyn has had to endure, but it is her ability to emerge strong and flourished that should be celebrated. None of us should hope to reach our graves unscathed by the ravages of mortality, if we are to seek a life well lived. It may be considered unfortunate that some of us have had to abandon religion, tradition and culture in order to find a way forward, but survival is key, and we must attain it however possible.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: I Love You Now (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 9 – Jul 9, 2017
Playwright: Jeanette Cronin
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Jeanette Cronin, Paul Gleeson
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
The stage is disguised as a hotel room, and two actors play out a series of infidelities in short episodes. The fragments are unified by the amorous theme, but how they fit together as a complete entity is the creative, and intriguing, challenge it presents to its audience. Jeanette Cronin’s I Love You Now takes conventional stories and puts them in a poetic structure, so that the telling of an ordinary tale, can lead to the discovery of greater meanings in everyday life.

Things happen, forming chaotic and arbitrary moments, but the human mind has an insatiable need for narratives. We make connections between incidents, and are determined to read into things, as though the urge to understand, is as basic and inexorable as breathing. While we attempt to make coherence of the scenes as they unfold in I Love You Now, we find ourselves beginning to fall in love instead, with transience. Sure, it is possible to formulate a whole of the parts, but it is really the fleeting moments of beauty and genius that gives us nourishment. Our impulse is to dedicate our attention to a big picture, but what is of greater satisfaction, are the minute occurrences that can so easily slip away, if we do not let go of the desire to be master of every situation.

Director Kim Hardwick’s task is to find balance and harmony in the storytelling, so that appropriate weight is assigned to each of the play’s divergent intentions and concerns. The writing presents many possibilities, and Hardwick demonstrates great sensitivity and fortitude, in her ability to mine for resonance in the many unexpected corners of I Love You Now, persuading our minds to find appreciation for the layer upon layer of ideas and observations, that constitute this deeply textured work of art.

A remarkably polished production, with Isabel Hudson’s set design creating a very solid first impression (the hotel room is glamorous and incredibly convincing), and Martin Kinnane’s lights speaking softly but intricately, the visuals are sumptuous but never obtrusive. As though providing accompaniment to singers centre stage, music is performed live, by Max Lambert and Roger Lock, whose instincts compel us to remain engaged with the play, even when it veers off to slightly obtuse places.

Cronin herself takes on the female roles, while Paul Gleeson is the masculine counterpart. Both are fabulously accomplished; impressive with the complexities and elegance they bring to the show, and as a couple, their infallible chemistry is the main drawcard. It is always what happens between them that is captivating, and important. We watch how they treat each other, listen to the way they speak to one another, inside this room of secrets, and through a range of characters and their clandestine intimacies, our own fires of curiosity and passion, are stoked back to life.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Hysteria (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 30, 2017
Playwright: Terry Johnson
Director: Susanna Dowling
Cast: Miranda Daughtry, Michael McStay, Wendy Strehlow, Jo Turner
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Sigmund Freud is near the end of his life, and the past returns to haunt him. We all change our minds, but writers have the burden of their work set in stone. In Terry Johnson’s 1993 play Hysteria, a fictive version of Freud is made to regret his declarations about women’s rape fantasies. It seems that the legendary psychoanalyst had misrepresented experiences of his patients, turning their reality into imagination, so that his work would be better received. Johnson’s piece about the need to redress denials of rape and molestation, is a timely discussion in the current climate of renewed interest in feminism, but Hysteria is a dry, and often inelegant, work that proves to be less than captivating.

The production looks smart enough, with Anna Gardiner’s set and costume design establishing a splendid first impression. Projections of Julian Tynan’s cinematography appear later in the piece, equally delightful with the imagery it presents. It is an accomplished group of actors, each one demonstrating a good sense of presence and conviction, but chemistry is lacking, and the stories they tell never seem to fortify. We are left feeling confused and detached, unable to adequately follow its narrative or to satisfactorily engage in any of its ideas. It is a laborious exercise for the audience, trying to work out the point of the exercise, and when we eventually gain clarity, Hysteria‘s concerns fail to resonate.

Individual elements of the show all look to be at least adequate, but they coalesce to form something that is altogether disappointing. Its characters are not lifeless; Salvador Dali is written in, presumably, to further enhance the quotient of eccentricity in Freud’s colourful world, but there is little in Hysteria that excites. Art does not owe us entertainment, nor does it promise to always be meaningful. In art, there is no right and wrong, but a work can certainly fall short of the standards it sets itself.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood (Japan Foundation)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 22 – 23, 2017
Playwright: Suguru Yamamoto
Director: Suguru Yamamoto
Cast: Wataru Kitao

Theatre review
The neighbourhood in question is Nagai, a small Japanese town, unremarkable and forgotten. The stories we hear are disparate, about individuals associated only by physical proximity, but each with an unmistakable sense of isolation. Suguru Yamamoto’s The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood is about the loneliness of modern life, our increasing introversion as a result of technological advancements and the ever-present tensions rendered by our human need to connect.

It is a script with lots to say, and a long, meandering plot. Small narratives pique our interest, but in the absence of a more conventional approach to manufacturing drama, the 90-minute production struggles to sustain our attention. There are inventive elements to its staging methodology that make the show an artistic success in many ways, but its emotional dimensions, although intensely performed, are less affecting.

Wataru Kitao embodies a large number of characters, including a gorilla and a train, in this ambitious one-man show. A highly accomplished dancer utilising both European and Japanese disciplines, along with versatile vocal abilities, Kitao’s portrayals of all ages and genders with no reliance on costume or makeup changes, is clearly impressive. Brilliantly self-assured, his presence is a confident one that keeps audiences gratified.

The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood shows us the problems of modernity but offers no solutions and does not place blame on anyone explicitly. It is a true representation of our experiences, so we know what it refers to, without requiring it to have everything spelled out. As each generation of trains move us faster and faster, we can only be carried away as the times see fit. Our humanity will offer resistance, but as history shows, people will transform along with the machines we build. The past can tell us so much of what to expect in the future, but the mystery of what is to come, will always prevail.

www.jpf.org.au

Review: The Mystery Of Love & Sex (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 10 – Mar 12, 2017
Playwright: Bathsheba Doran
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Deborah Galanos, Thuso Lekwape, Nicholas Papademetriou, Contessa Treffone
Image by Steven Siewert

Theatre review
We have told many “coming out” stories over the last several decades. The agonising process of revealing one’s own queerness to inevitably heterosexual parents and a correspondingly straight world, is a mainstay of queer art. In Bathsheba Doran’s The Mystery Of Love & Sex however, we are concerned with how individuals come out to themselves.

Charlotte’s parents are open-minded, savvy individuals who are relaxed about homosexuality, yet she finds herself in a state of crisis when discovering that she might be gay. Her closest confidante Jonny, too, is taken by surprise. Even with all the intimacies that they had shared through the years, the assumption of heterosexuality never goes away. Best friends can tell each other everything, but when it comes to any possible deviation of sexual preferences, those remain a deep, dark private secret.

The play is about society’s persistent inability to makes structural adjustments, that will allow our children to grow into adults with sexual idiosyncrasies, without fear of discrimination or persecution. Doran’s approach for this political issue is subtle, very cleverly handled. It is an intriguing plot, with dialogue that amuse, resonate and challenge. Its ideas are not new, but they are presented in a manner that makes us feel only their relevance and urgency.

Directed by Anthony Skuse, the show has an enchanting warmth that appeals to our sentimental selves. These may not be our families and friends who tell their stories on stage, but Skuse makes us feel as though they are part of our lives. The production has a tendency to be overly polite and placid, but all its messages are relayed with clarity and a beautiful deliberateness.

Charlotte is played by Contessa Treffone, effervescent in personality and comic timing, for a central character impossible to dislike. Best friend Jonny is sensitively crafted by Thuso Lekwape who brings wonderful depth and complexity to a young man trapped between tradition and modernity. Nicholas Papademetriou as Howard is a loving father, almost too sweet for several of his more combative scenes, but we believe all the relationships he fosters. The fiery Lucinda is a memorable presence in actor Deborah Galanos who contributes an excellent vitality, and whose artistic instincts are relied upon for much of the staging’s authentic sense of time and space.

It is a real privilege when the greatest obstacle for social acceptance comes from one’s self. Many of us who will see The Mystery Of Love & Sex, live in progressive communities who have learned about our LGBTQ neighbours, and the diverse expressions of love, sex and gender of all peoples, yet many of us struggle to face our personal desires and sexual experiences with honesty, and without shame. The things we are taught as children stick with us tenaciously. Values and beliefs that have long expired can retain their grip on how we think of ourselves. Each of us has to come to a full realisation that these old ideas have outstayed their welcome, and have them banished.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: A Life In The Theatre (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 4 – Dec 4, 2016
Playwright: David Mamet
Director: Helen Dallimore
Cast: Akos Armont, Sunil Chandra, John Gaden

Theatre review
John and Robert work on a lot of plays together and have become more than familiar, but their closeness does not extend beyond the theatre. John is considerably younger, and although respectful of Robert, the generational gap that exists between the two is incontrovertible. The theatre that they practise is an ancient art form, passed down through the years from old to young, and in A Life In The Theatre, we are always conscious of John’s progression towards an inevitable taking over of Robert’s veteran position, in a perpetually reconstituting cycle of life and art, that tends to escape our daily consciousness despite its omnipresence.

David Mamet’s work of comedy is an acerbic yet deeply loving tribute to the people who make theatre, featuring fractured observations of the many absurd moments commonly experienced by those who work the stage, flattering and otherwise, but always meaningful on account of the honesty from which these vignettes are derived. All of human behaviour is funny from the right distance, and Mamet’s faux cynical attitude offers excellent opportunity for a great many laughs.

Director Helen Dallimore steers her production into madcap territory appropriate to the writing style, for a delightful and endearing portrayal of artists at work. The production’s rhythm suffers unfortunately, from frequent disruption due to its many sequences involving the cast going through costume changes on stage, causing energy levels to take a tumble at the end of every scene.

The actors however, provide detailed performances that insist on our attention at every step of the way. Both Akos Armont and John Gaden are resolutely present and thorough in their depiction of a profession fuelled by unbridled passion and ceaseless anxiety. Also noteworthy is Christopher Page’s lighting design, sensitively conceived and boldly executed, adding gloss and dynamism to an otherwise ordinary setting of backstage drabness.

Life is at its most real when the idiosyncrasies of individuals are able to be revealed. The quirky characters in A Life In The Theatre allow us to perceive the universality of our insecurities and irrationality, along with the benevolence and optimism that are fundamental to how we can make sense of existence. We may never come to a complete understanding of life or art, but it is the participation that counts for everything.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com