Review: The Sound Of Waiting (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 22, 2018
Playwright: Mary Anne Butler
Director: Suzanne Pereira
Cast: Reza Momenzada, Gabrielle Scawthorn
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Hamed is stranded at sea with his small daughter, after having lost the rest of their family to explosives in their war-torn home. Escape is the only option, but with no apparent destination, their scurry can only be treacherous and agonising. Mary Anne Butler’s The Sound Of Waiting gives voice to those we term asylum seekers, whose stories are routinely exploited by politicians and media outlets for selfish gain. Here, however, we attempt to hear from the source, a first-person narrator untarnished by intrusions of our prejudice.

Also present is the Angel of Death, a mystical creature and a force of nature, but at times also a human enemy, who pursues Hamed, determined to annihilate. Both are in fierce opposition, but they speak almost in tandem, sharing a rhythm that drives the plot and action. Although in sync, the two characters develop in divergent trajectories, with Death always pulling attention away from our concern for Hamed. It is appropriate that they are not telling a cohesive story, and perhaps revealing, in the way director Suzanne Pereira allows a degree of distraction from the real tragedy.

Pereira’s work is powerful in its treatment of atmospherics. Together with Samuel James’ video projections and Tegan Nicholls’ sound and music, it is a spectacular collaboration that enchants the senses. Also very strong are both performers, Reza Momenzada and Gabrielle Scawthorn, who bring depth and intensity to the production. Momenzada’s ability in conveying authenticity is particularly valuable in this very contemporary tale of loss and hope.

Australia’s reaction to Hamed’s adversity is not explicitly written into The Sound Of Waiting. The audience is given a plain version of facts, so that our mettle is tested. It wants us to rise to the challenge of a compassionate response, which it accomplishes successfully. The consequences of war, as we see here, are undoubtedly bleak, but more significant is the play’s implication that compassion has become a challenge of our times, and although pervasive and banal, our cruelty is deplorable and deeply shameful.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: An Act Of God (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 2 – 25, 2018
Playwright: David Javerbaum
Directors: Mitchell Butel, Richard Carroll
Cast: Mitchell Butel, Alan Flower, Laura Murphy
Image by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
The Christian God comes to deliver a new set of ten commandments in David Javerbaum’s An Act Of God. It is an intriguing proposition, that God would admit to being imperfect. He remains omnipotent, fret not, but this version of the Almighty concedes he had made some very big mistakes, and has decided that it is perhaps time, finally, to rectify two millennium worth of erroneous beliefs.

The play is a fascinating evaluation of religion, and its impact on all of us, regardless of where our faiths reside. It shapes our values, as they stand today, in contrast with outdated precepts that many still insist on upholding. The transformation of God into something closer to a modern day being, as opposed to a purely idealistic creature of fantasy, pushes Javerbaum’s humanist arguments with great efficacy, although the humour of An Act Of God can be inconsistently compelling. Directed by Mitchell Butel and Richard Carroll, the show is relentlessly effervescent, with a flamboyance that sustains our attention confidently, but the writing offers punchlines that seem overly polite within its raucous atmosphere.

Leading man Butel is near faultless in his portrayal of the big man himself, meticulous in approach, with expert timing in his delivery of every line, even when the jokes struggle to meet their comedic objective. Exposed and vulnerable, Butel has nothing to hide behind, in this very immediate staging of God’s presence, and the actor emerges triumphant with a brilliant display of sheer skill and grit. Also noteworthy are the many significant adaptations to the script, in its transposition from America to Australia. Presenting an Aussie version of the Lord above is a shrewd decision, proving so popular, one could hardly imagine any viable alternative.

An Act Of God does not attempt to change our minds about His existence, but it urges us to take responsibility for life on earth regardless. It wants us to give up any notion that the faults of the world are of hallowed design; we have to take charge no matter what we believe about prayer. There may not be any controversial or new ideas in the play, but it provides clarity to secular and religious conceptions of our being, that are often entangled and rarely identified with sufficient veracity. Whatever we wish to happen in the hereafter, our part in the now can never be taken lightly. If humanity is made in God’s image, what we are able to accomplish, must never be underestimated.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Silent Night (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 10 – Dec 10, 2017
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Glynn Nicholas
Cast: Amanda Bishop, Richard Sydenham, Aaron Glenane, Michael Denkha
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It is Christmas in the suburbs of Sydney, and the Lickfolds are freaking out, because of course, there is just so much to be done. In Silent Night by Mary Rachel Brown, we take a look at our behaviour during what is meant to be the most sacred time of the year. We may not be a religiously homogeneous nation, but the silly season of December insists that we all act at a surprising degree of uniformity.

Australians take Christmas seriously, but rarely for the right reasons. In the Lickfold household, an occasion for charity and goodwill is turned into an opportunity for exacerbated narcissism and magnified paranoia. Anne wants at all costs, to win her neighbourhood’s annual competition for the best decorated house and yard. Her husband Bill’s doomsday preparations are at fever pitch, fuelled by the incessant talk of diversity, in politically correct representations of Jesus’ birth on rooftops, and other places. Their son Rodney is determined to get in the way of everything; even at Christmas time, he refuses to share his parents’ attention with anyone, God included.

It is a moralistic tale, predictable in its messaging although imaginatively conceived. Clever ideas abound in Brown’s play, but they are not presented well. Its comedy is relentlessly laboured in the first half, and when things get serious later on, its dialogue turns confusing. Director Glynn Nicholas makes sure that we know when punchlines are delivered, but moments of genuine laughter are few and far between. There is no doubting the grace and spirit that motivate the creation of Silent Night, but intentions on their own are rarely insufficient.

Production design is competently rendered, as are performances from the cast of four. Energy and conviction are delivered in spades; we see the actors work hard, and their determination to keep us engaged is, to some extent, effective. Richard Sydenham impresses as Bill, animated and precise in his approach, able to communicate a hint of complexity that is absent from other characters.

It is true that Christmas makes our ugly sides more pronounced. When we compare our lives to the best of the Bible’s stories, we can only see beings contemptible and profane. All the wasteful decadence and hollow frivolity that inevitably take over our celebrations of that sacred dawn, expose our values to be no more than utterly dismal. We are not bad people, but when we are careless, there is little than can differentiate us from the scum of the earth.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

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