Review: Hairworm (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 1 – 5, 2019
Playwright: Emma Wright
Director: Jess Davis
Cast: Phoebe Atkinson, Bernadette Fam, Jennifer Hart, Alex King, Rebekah Parsons, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Grace Stamnas, Sophie Strykowski, Laura Wilson
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Emma Wright’s first play Hairworm is about anorexia. It details the experience of an unnamed protagonist, as she suffers that very severe form of mental illness. We watch her go through tremendous anguish, in a writing style that is often clinical, able only to have us regard the condition from an intellectual distance, without having to invest heavily in emotional dimensions of the subject. As a theatrical work, Hairworm does not connect with immediacy, but is valuable in terms of the insight it no doubt provides, into something real and troubling.

Directed by Jess Davis, the production is dynamic and exacting, with Priyanka Martin’s lights and Cecelia Strachan’s sound, conspiring to carefully render a sense of texture for each of its scenes. A disciplined cast brings further polish to the staging, with Rebekah Parsons’ conviction as the afflicted lead character, giving urgency to the show’s pace and rhythm. Alex King plays the sister, memorable for introducing a moment of genuine sentimentality to proceedings.

Theatre does not always have to engage our emotions, but it should find ways to make us care. Conventional narrative structures can seem banal when we have them deciphered and deconstructed, but the way we choose to tell stories, are in direct relation with our very nature, and it seems humans are mostly predictable beings. We see the suffering in Hairworm, just as we see all the suffering in real life, and as is commonplace, our instinct is to respond with an insulating nonchalance that is perhaps inevitable. Art can pierce through that veil of apathy, to get to what one would hope is an essential compassion that unites us. Without art and compassion, hope becomes unimaginable.

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Review: Are You Listening Now? (Five Foot Productions)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 2, 2019
Playwright: Xavier Coy
Director: Ed Wightman
Cast: Martin Bell, Xavier Coy, Fiona Mahl, Emily J Stewart
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Mez and Gaz are intruders in a 6-million-dollar house, with intentions not only to burgle but also to teach the affluent homeowners a lesson. Even though Xavier Coy’s Are You Listening Now? makes its point about wealth distribution with no concern for subtlety, the message is nonetheless an important one. By embedding plenty of comedy and drama, the writer ensures his play to be an amusing one, and laughing about class is certainly a worthwhile activity, at these times of unprecedented prosperity for the top end of town.

Directed by Ed Wightman, the staging is energetic, with a high level of intensity fortifying the hour-long piece. Coy himself performs the role of Gaz, adept at delivering laughs in his portrayal of a surprising innocent. His criminal mentor Mez is played by Fiona Mahl, who in her strongest moments, can prove impressively convincing. Emily J Stewart is riveting as Claudia, one-half of the rich couple under siege, a persuasive presence who brings much needed nuance to the production. Multimillionaire Charles is a predictable personality that Martin Bell is able to make believable, for a familiar portrayal of Sydney-style privilege.

It is sometimes surprising to observe the degree to which Australia has embraced neo-liberalism. For generations we have prided ourselves on our egalitarianism, but it appears that greed is truly indomitable. The moral at the centre of Are You Listening Now? is timeless and pertinent; money is a complex beast that if left unchallenged, will inflict harm and turn us inhumane. Mez’s refusal to obey rules that are designed to subjugate her, is admirable, but without compatriots joining her rebellion, we see that a one-woman movement can amount to nothing more than empty gestures.

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