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

Review: Remembering Pirates (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darloVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 16 – Oct 16, 2016
Playwright: Christopher Harley
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Robert Alexander, Fraser Crane, Emma Palmer, Simon London, Stephen Multari
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
The stories we tell can either be fictional or factual, and things that happen in our lives can be real or imagined. These concepts reflect our reliance on dichotomies, and a tendency to think of the world in black and white binary terms. Christopher Harley’s play is certainly not just one thing or another. It might be about dreams, faith or rationality. It could also be about family, childhood and illness. A strange narrative, with a simplicity that allows us to interpret and understand it however we choose. Remembering Pirates is hard to engage with. Its characters are distant, humourless, and with emotions that seem plastic despite their intensity. Without a doubt, fantastic ideas can be detected in all of its dramatic moments, but we react with nonchalance, maybe because its need for mystery causes it to keep too much hidden from us.

There is much to admire in how the production works with both surreal and naturalistic elements, blurring the boundaries between the two, to formulate a world that keeps us guessing. Its dreamlike atmosphere is created well, albeit somewhat monotonously. The play has the potential to grow very ominous and menacing, but its sojourns into darker territory are few and far between. Actor Simon London leads the cast with impressive presence and commitment. His effortless charisma keeps us from becoming too alienated from the peculiar protagonist, successfully retaining our attention through his several mystifying junctures.

Delusions are purely solitary experiences. When two people share the same, it becomes reality. Truth is a shifting entity in Remembering Pirates, and we often find ourselves kept outside of its hallucinatory indulgences. It is not clear if participants in the making of the show are able to find a unified vision for their project, but what they do make accessible needs greater depth and poignancy to accompany the big themes being discussed. Fantasy can always be found at the theatre, but it needs to be more than fanciful, before it can fuel our soul and give us what we truly need from art.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Broken (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jul 29 – Aug 28, 2016
Playwright: Mary Anne Butler
Director: Shannon Murphy
Cast: Ivan Donato, Sarah Enright, Rarriwuy Hick
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Two extremely traumatic events happen in Mary Anne Butler’s Broken. Ash, Ham and Mia are regular people encountering dreadful circumstances, and their agony is positioned within their very ordinariness, compelling us to relate to their hurt with the most immediate intimacy. It is a poetic piece of writing, with characters speaking directly to us, or perhaps to themselves, but only occasionally engaging each other in dialogue. Instead of demonstrating incidents as they occur, we are given recollections, as though in psychotherapy sessions where the subject has to access memories, from which levels of understanding can be reached over time, as the dust begins to settle. The text is experimental, often very powerful in its description of shocking details relating to the horrors being faced and the accompanying emotions, but it is arguable if the words address sufficiently, the essentially spatial nature of a theatrical script.

The staging involves three stationary microphone stands, with a cast restricted by their apparatus. The play features crippled personalities, and what we see are three individuals confined to tight spaces, unable to gain a breakthrough for their struggles. Frustrated, stifled and depressed, they are caged in and try as they might to talk themselves out of darkness, their efforts are futile. The show is appropriately sombre, and although never short of emotional intensity, its dramatic qualities are subdued. Much is made of speech and sounds, including the slightly awkward incorporation of foley techniques, but physical and visual aspects of the production are heavily reduced. Without strong imagery to coincide with its verbal aspects, the production relies heavily on the audience’s imagination, which may not always be an effective means of allowing the story to connect.

Actors are uniformly strong, with impressive cohesion in their presentational style and tone. Thoroughly well-rehearsed and precisely executed, Ivan Donato, Sarah Enright and Rarriwuy Hick’s portrayals are confident and convincing. The harrowing nature of their depictions proves to be of no hindrance to the depth of exploration they are able to provide, and even though opportunities for interaction between players are infrequent, their timing as a group is beautifully polished, and a pleasure to witness.

Accidents can ruin us, and even though life must go on for those who survive, recovery is not always a surety. In Broken, we are subject to an examination of our being during the worst of days, without an opportunity to escape into the promise of a brighter future. Plunged into hopelessness, the play keeps our consciousness inside its pain, before we are able to again take a departure, and let our human resilience wipe it away from memory.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com