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.

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.

5 Questions with Ivan Donato and Rarriwuy Hick

Ivan Donato

Ivan Donato

Rarriwuy Hick: If your character Ham was a rock star what would be his name?
Ivan Donato: ShaHam

What’s your heritage?
I was born in Santiago, Chile and my family and I moved to Australia in 1987 seeking refuge from the military coup.

Why is setting the play in Alice Springs crucial to the story? And to Australian people’s consciousness?
Setting the play in the outskirts of Alice Springs immediately invokes a sense of loneliness and harshness due to the landscape. I’m not sure we would have achieved as intense a degree of isolation had we set it in Sydney or Melbourne. Having said that, and not trying to give too much away about the production, I think all great theatre engages an audience with its ideas and arguments as opposed to its setting.

Did you do any research about the play or your character before rehearsals commenced and what were they?
Obviously read the play first and then broke down all the lines that Ham speaks in the play to get a sense of character journey. One of the most challenging things about the play was learning the lines. The learning process was essentially memorising a series of non sequitur.

What’s your favourite line from the play?
It’s not a specific line in the play but I’m very fond of the section where Ash and Ham are getting to know each other for the first time.

Rarriwuy Hick

Rarriwuy Hick

You work extensively in both film/television and stage, what do you think are the main differences between performing for the stage and performing on film/tv?
The difference would be how big your performance needs to be on stage to how subtle it is for screen.
What’s great about working on Broken with Shannon Murphy is that we’re exploring the idea of making a theatre show slightly cinematic.

What is your heritage?
My Father is from Plymouth, England. My Mother is Yolngu from North-East Arnhem Land.

The play Broken deals with people either following their heart or their brain. Which one would you say you follow and listen to the most?
I definitely follow my heart. I live by that rule.

What do you think is the most challenging thing about being an actor?
Being away from all of my family.

As a young female, what advice would you give other young females considering a career in the arts?
Just be yourself and don’t be afraid to be opinionated. Being intelligent and passionate is admirable.

Ivan Donato and Rarriwuy Hick are appearing in Broken by Mary Anne Butler.
Dates: 29 July – 28 August, 2016
Venue: Eternity Playhouse

Review: A Man With Five Children (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darloVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 3 – 26, 2016
Playwright: Nick Enright
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jemwel Danao, Chenoa Deemal, Charlotte Hazzard, Jody Kennedy, Ildiko Susany, Anthony Taufa, Aaron Tsindos, Jeremy Waters, Taylor Wiese
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Like the “Up Series” from British television, Gerry in Nick Enright’s A Man With Five Children begins documenting the lives of five Australian seven year-olds in 1964 with his camera. Initially revisiting the group once a year, he becomes increasingly embroiled with his subjects, and the films he produces begin to lose their objectivity. The nature of Gerry’s art and his relationships are constantly transforming. We think about his responsibilities as film-maker, the validity of his work, and consequently, our collusion as a public that encourages intrusions of this nature. Enright’s play is highly sophisticated, with a big number of themes running through its stories, all thoughtful and sensitive, but its admirable complexity comes at a sacrifice of dramatic tension and focus. Several plot twists are revealed too abruptly, and its ambition to feature all five children with equal weight creates a narrative structure that our emotions struggle to find suitable empathy for.

The work is directed with excellent ingenuity by Anthony Skuse whose combination of live action and film expresses beautifully the way time and space is intertwined in the text (Christopher Page’s lights and Tim Hope’s AV design work together in perfect harmony for a presentation that will be remembered for its precise and elegant aesthetic iterations). Humanity is at the foreground, and Skuse’s remarkable compassion for every character is clear to see, but the ambiguous interpretation of Gerry’s traits and motives is ultimately too mild for its audience to respond with greater passion. Actor Jeremy Waters’ solid stage presence anchors the show appropriately with Gerry’s experiences, regardless of the character’s dubious attributes. It is a performance with power and sincerity, and although not a likeable role, we cannot help but be impressed by Waters’ professionalism and the obvious refinement of his craft.

The cast of nine forms a cohesive and engrossing ensemble. Every scene is lively and authentic, and every line of dialogue is delivered with wonderful conviction. Jemwel Danao plays the innocence and tragedy of Roger to great effect, creating the most poignant moments on stage with an approach that is unique in its subtlety, but also emotionally rich. He speaks directly to our sentimental sides, bringing us back to the play’s tender heart amidst its complications of ideas and incidents. Similarly heartbreaking is Jody Kennedy as Zoe, the girl who believes herself to be “ordinary”. The actor takes her character through many distinct transformations, each one striking in their accuracy, and is consistently charming with every portrayal. The “five children” perform to us not only in the flesh but also through the camera lens, and it is noteworthy that their work on screen is equally accomplished.

The media has played a major part of our lives for decades, but its increasing ubiquity from year to year cannot be understated. A Man With Five Children first appeared before the era of social media, so its major concerns are dealt with in ways that are perhaps slightly outmoded. Gerry is in a position of power that influences lives, in a way not dissimilar to how our own lives are being manipulated by corporations that seduce and insist on our reliance. On the surface, it is a love-hate relationship, but the play leaves little doubt as to the damage that any media can cause when we invite it into personal realms. Gerry’s children would have escaped his domination if their parents had not volunteered their participation but we can scarcely withdraw from the gaze of the modern world through the prevalence of smartphones and their infinite applications. There was a time before screens, and we all fall into the trap of yearning for those simpler days, but the truth is that humans have never been pure and life has never been easy. We have to identify the challenges of our times and their prevailing evils, and do our best to turn things for the better, even in the knowledge that the next malice is just around the corner.

5 Questions with Chenoa Deemal and Ildiko Susany

Chenoa Deemal

Chenoa Deemal

Ildiko Susany: What is your dream role to play?
Chenoa Deemal: I’m not African or Egyptian, so this dream will probably never come to pass (and I’m completely ok about it because it’s always better if the correct nationality plays a historical role) but Cleopatra has always been my dream role. I really just hope that one day soon we’ll see a woman of colour play her.

What is the most interesting thing about playing Jessie in A Man With Five Children?
Jessie ages throughout the show from 7 to 35, what’s really interesting and challenging is making the subtle shifts between ages. For example, in one scene Jessie is age 14 and the next she’s 15, what’s interesting and exciting is finding the mental and emotional transition between these two scenes, this happens throughout the play and for me, it’s what makes the rehearsal process much more enjoyable.

If a documentary was made about your life, what aspect of it would you want them to focus on? Why?
I grew up on a remote mine site in Far North Queensland called Cape Flattery, I’d love to do a documentary recreating all the fun/silly things we did as kids. I’d like to show the rest of the country a different perspective of growing up in Australia and show that it doesn’t matter where you start in life, as long as you finish where you want to. Narrated by Morgan Freeman of course. Or would the more interesting choice be Dave Chappelle?

What is your relationship to social media?
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I like that you can keep in contact with colleagues, family and old friends but more and more I feel that I prefer to not be on social media at all. To put it simply I feel it’s much better for my peace of mind. I think we’re becoming obsessed with following other peoples lives and projecting what we want other’s to see about our lives.

A Man With Five Children is set before the Facebook/social media phenomenon took over the world but it’s so interesting to look at this play in terms of that obsession. Initially the characters have no control over how they’re perceived by rest of the country but as they get older they realise that they want to change the labels they’ve been placed under. It’s the same with social media, we’re constantly projecting what we think is the best version of ourselves and more and more I’m finding it exhausting and boring.

What is your ideal vision for Australia in ten years time?
Very simply, I hope that Australia evolves into a country that is not controlled by fear of the unknown and more into a society that embraces differences with open ears and open hearts. Easy, isn’t it?

Ildiko Susany

Ildiko Susany

Chenoa Deemal: If you could have one superpower what would it be?
Ildiko Susany: It’s so hard to choose just one! I would love telepathy and telekinesis. Although, flying and invisibility would be really advantageous too… I want to be in a superhero movie! I really want to do my own fight scenes and action sequences!

What do you hope the audience will be thinking about as they drive home after the show?
This play is so epic and expansive. I want audiences to have their own debate about whatever themes rouse them to action and conversation. Personally, I am very interested in the evolution, complexities and unravelling of the constructed relationships within the play; the abuse of power; the pursuit of art and at what cost; the desire to leave a legacy. What also sparks my interest – based on the documentary focus of this play – is how we as a technologically advanced society construct our identity and present it to the rest of the world and how in this globalised community where it is so easy to instantly ‘connect’ with one another, we remain some of the loneliest people on this planet – concealed behind a screen with no true sense of purpose or community. What does it mean to have a tangible, mature and unguarded human connection? What is there to gain? To lose? Are we too terrified to be for others the human being we are deep within – the one unfettered by barriers; truthful, open, exposed?

What do you love about your character Annie?
I love Annie’s strength, resilience and generosity of spirit. She’s a tough woman and she’s down to earth. She’s doing all she can to keep her family together and rise above all of the challenges preventing her from pursuing her own aspirations for herself.

What do you dislike about Annie?
I’m probably defending my character too much – but I love her! I think she makes a poor choice in the play but she’s trapped in a very complex, challenging and heart-wrenching of circumstances. She is really trying to do her best to keep her family together and to keep them (and herself) afloat. She is just keeping her head above water when she’s losing the will to keep treading water. Despite her family, she is ultimately isolated, unsupported and alone.

In a movie about your life, who would play you?
I would really love a postmodern rendering of my life where different actors play me at various points in my life: Ilana Glazer, Idris Elba, Mary Louise Parker, Ray Chong Nee, Mariska Hargitay, Chiaki Kuriyama and maybe a cameo from Amal Clooney (although she’s not an actor)… and perhaps myself even! I would definitely want actors of colour in my biopic – no one is going to whitewash my story!

Chenoa Deemal and Ildiko Susany can be seen in A Man With Five Children by Nick Enright.
Dates: 3 – 26 June, 2016
Venue: Eternity Playhouse

Review: My Name Is Asher Lev (Eternity Playhouse)

asherlev1Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), May 8 – 29, 2016
Playright: Aaron Posner (from the novel by Chaim Potok)
Director: Moira Blumenthal
Cast: Annie Byron, Tim McGarry, John O’Hare
Image by Blumenthal Photography

Theatre review
We meet Asher Lev from the time he discovers a talent for drawing, and follow his journey from prodigy to established artist. It is a short time getting to success, but the lessons he learns are profound, and writers Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok do an excellent job of sharing those wisdoms in the story. The theme is one that we all have to grapple with, some more often than others, but it is nonetheless universal; we must identify a true and authentic self, and live accordingly. Young Lev’s sense of authenticity is frequently at odds with the life his parents had envisioned for him, but it is that negotiation between forces that allows him to thrive as an artist and more significantly, develop into an independent autonomous being.

Direction by Moira Blumenthal is tender and melancholic, with detailed attention placed on family dynamics that are central to Lev’s experience of the world. The characters are believable and we relate to their psyches easily, but the production needs greater dynamism with its rhythm, and a more pronounced sense of humour to achieve variances in mood and tone between scenes. The role of the young artist is played by John O’Hare who although lacks the adolescent energy required, depicts acute emotional accuracy in order that we understand all the nuances of his conflicts and challenges. More compelling is Tim McGarry in a range of paternalistic parts who brings colour and surprising vibrancy to the show. Annie Byron is convincing as Lev’s mother, and chemistry between all three is beautifully forged for a show that makes a poignant statement about the complexities of family, history and individual fulfilment.

Whether we grow up to be copies of our parents, or turn out to only be partially similar to family members, there is no doubt that blood ties have a deep influence on the people that we become. As a child turns into an adult, they should be given choices and importantly, the strength to make them. We wish the best for our offspring, but they must become their own persons, and there comes a time when father no longer knows best. The world evolves, and it develops in directions that may not always be pleasing. When things become unbearable, we can call upon faith, and trust that something bigger than our own minds has great designs in mysterious ways, beyond our ability to currently comprehend.

Review: Savages (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 1 – May 1, 2016
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Tim Roseman
Cast: Josef Ber, Thomas Campbell, Yure Covich, Troy Harrison
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Not all men are arseholes, but the four blokes in Patricia Cornelius’ Savages are certainly frightful specimens of the species. They are close friends on a cruise holiday, intending to escape the daily grind but in fact, are in search of leaving behind civilisation altogether. Cornelius’ portrait of the middle-class Australian is one of privilege, ignorance and entitlement. The play does take care to explore her characters’ vulnerabilities as well, so that they become truthful and believable, but that honesty only serves to make them more repugnant, and their actions despicable. We recognise the challenges they face, for they are in fact commonplace, but cannot forgive their inability to find elevation and become better persons. Machismo is not at all an unusual dramatic subject, but when penned by male authors, bad behaviour is often accompanied by a warped sense of heroism, or at least some magnanimous sense of humour. Even though Cornelius does not create scenes of horror as Chuck Palahniuk, Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino are want to do, her brutality lies in the merciless depiction of our average Joes as the very scum of our earth.

Director Tim Roseman’s approach is a surprisingly tender one. He brings balance to the bawdy goings on by indulging in the men’s private worlds, through earnest and deep portrayals of their suffering. We see that they are in some ways victims of a society that demands too much, but also realise their natural and unquestioned tendencies for mindless conformity. Roseman does excellent work in creating distinct segments out of what could easily be a singular poetic murmur, by providing a captivating plot manufactured with a great variety of tones, moods and emotions. Design elements are intricately dynamic, with Nate Edmondson’s very exhaustive and complex work on sound design playing an integral role in conveying subtexts and psychological undercurrents, and Sian James-Holland’s lights keeping visuals amusing with constant shifts in colour and movement. Also notable is Jeremy Allen’s evocative set design, which provides an intense intimacy to the small cast, and shapes the space in a way that allows acoustics to be perfectly established for every word of dialogue to ring with crystal clarity.

It is a cohesive production, with a very unified and charismatic cast. Their work is completely engrossing, with an outstanding sensitivity to rhythm, not only in speech, but also with their physicality. Each character is specific, but together, they tell an unambiguous and bold story. Yure Covich plays an effective alpha male, vibrant, brash and animalistic and effortlessly magnetic. His work as Craze is authentic to the degree that we are unable to identify the seam that separates actor from character, which in this case, is quite unnerving. In the role of Runt is Thomas Campbell, who brings both melancholy and comedy to what is essentially a context of severe grimness. Campbell plays the underdog with a beautiful sensitivity, but also wisely prevents the audience from placing undue sympathy for Runt’s culpabilities.

The end of Savages arrives abruptly. It is true that we have learned all there is to the four men, but we are deprived of their subsequent punishment. We wish for the lights to return, so that we may witness the atonement that must follow, but we are left to wonder if just desserts had indeed been served. The production is put together with impressive proficiency from all participants, and their talents are to be seen everywhere, but there is no escaping the sensation of overwhelming disgust that follows. Although it provides little pleasure or delight, the show raises important issues that affects us all. We are urged to think about how we practice gender, how we conduct friendships, and most of all, how we raise our children. If we believe that all babies are born innocent, then we must accept that a monster can only be created by the village that raises it.