Review: Splinter (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 6 – Oct 12, 2019
Playwright: Hilary Bell
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Lucy Bell, Simon Gleeson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Five-year-old Laura has just returned home, after a nine-month disappearance. Her parents are understandably traumatised, but relieved to have their nightmare come to an end. In Hilary Bell’s Splinter however, we see that the family’s problems do not vanish quite so easily, as questions arise about this sudden reunion. There are only two actors in Bell’s play, with little Lauren an apparition that we all have to conjure up with imagination, which proves a fascinating device for something that positions itself within the genre of psychological thriller. The ideas in Splinter are engaging, but it is arguable if its dialogue and plot structure are always effective in delivering the tension so crucial to this form of storytelling.

The show begins innocuously, perhaps even drearily, as a conventional family drama that overloads the stage with saccharine sentimentality. It takes a considerable while before director Lee Lewis introduces suspense elements that let the entertainment begin, by which time our boredom with the daytime television style of presentation had almost completely taken hold. At just over an hour long, there is little opportunity for us to settle sufficiently into the real substance of the piece, but the intrigue that does eventually manifest, is admittedly chilling.

The late transformation in atmosphere is cleverly manufactured by creatives including Alyx Dennison, whose sound design confirms the gear switch, giving us necessary cues to swiftly change focus in our interpretation of the narrative. Video projections by Mic Gruchy and lights by Benjamin Brockman become increasingly theatrical, thus guiding our minds into more pronounced spaces of fantasy and delusion.

Lucy Bell and Simon Gleeson perform the piece with extraordinary conviction, both bringing admirable intensity to a tale involving unimaginable suffering. Gleeson has the additional dimension of paranoia to help enrich his character, which he utilises compellingly, for several powerful moments of bloodcurdling dread. Bell is given less extravagant material, but nonetheless offers a reliable, self-possessed counterpoint that prevents Splinter from veering away from its central truthfulness.

Genre is infinitely more prevalent in film, because the form deals almost exclusively in illusion, and is therefore perfect for stories that require drastic alterations to reality. Theatre that venture into those territories must be praised accordingly, for even daring to test the possibilities of the live stage. There is a supernatural quality to Splinter that is almost inevitable, in its depiction of psychological disturbance. In those moments, the audience participates in seeing things that are not present, almost like artists who have the Midas touch, able to make something out of nothing, and in the process, giving to their communities a kind of magic that brings elevation to us all.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: City Of Gold (Griffin Theatre Co / Queensland Theatre Co)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 26 – Aug 31, 2019
Playwright: Meyne Wyatt
Director: Isaac Drandic
Cast: Jeremy Ambrum, Mathew Cooper, Maitland Schnaars, Shari Sebbens, Anthony Standish, Christopher Stollery, Meyne Wyatt
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Upon the death of his father, Breythe walks off the set of a television commercial, and returns to Kalgoorlie to be with family. The medical establishment’s neglectful treatment of his father sparks a reaction that sees Breythe and his siblings wrestle with difficult discussions, about surviving racism as Indigenous Australians. Meyne Wyatt’s City Of Gold moves between city and bush, to examine one young man’s fight on colonised land. It is a story about the deep prejudice, and of surreptitious genocide, that pervade this country, inescapable no matter where Breythe may go.

Wyatt’s writing is passionate and urgent, able to entertain while it gradually builds intensity. The fury that it contains is an invaluable expression, often hidden away from so-called civilised, Western modes of exchange, where the oppressed must communicate with polite subservience, only to be routinely ignored. Directed by Isaac Drandic, the production pulls no punches, to make a powerful statement about the woeful state of race relations all across this land. Notable work on sound design by Tony Brumpton adds richness to the piece, deftly emphasising the complex emotional dimensions that City Of Gold aims to convey.

As leading man, Wyatt is a compelling presence, entirely persuasive with all that he brings to the stage. Charming in humorous sections, but it is in explicit moments of political confrontation that he absolutely devastates. Wyatt’s monologue at the beginning of Act 2 ranks as one of the most important theatrical moments in our stage history. His siblings are played by Shari Sebbens and Mathew Cooper, both actors captivating with their sincere portrayals, able to demonstrate a resolute dignity alongside their characters’ experiences of adversity and injustice. We are moved by the performances of Jeremy Ambrum and Maitaland Schnaars, who share an unexpected delicacy in their divergent depictions of Aboriginal identities. Dramatic flourishes by Anthony Standish and Christopher Stollery help to provide tension, as a series of unsavoury types who exemplify so much of what is wrong with our societies.

It is the most generous of gestures when our Indigenous artists choose to embody the trauma and pain of their communities. They put themselves through a state of virtual torment, using bodies that know little difference between real and make believe, so that a predominantly white audience can understand the harm that is being inflicted upon legitimate owners of this land. City Of Gold is an extraordinarily difficult story, one that its storytellers have seen, heard and lived for generations. It is regrettable that the responsibility falls upon those who suffer, to educate the rest of us, but there is nothing more profound than the lessons being dispensed here.

/www.griffintheatre.com.au | /www.queenslandtheatre.com.au

Review: Glittery Clittery: A Consensual Party (Griffin Theatre Co / The Furies)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 8 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Fringe Wives Club (Victoria Falconer, Rowena Hutson, Tessa Waters)
Director: Clare Bartholomew
Cast: Laura Frew, Rowena Hutson, Tessa Waters
Images by Kate Pardey

Theatre review
It is a rowdy cabaret with three women in sequinned jumpsuits, very excited by feminism, and thrilled at the prospect of preaching to the converted. Christened Glittery Clittery: A Consensual Party, the show is perfectly suited to our current climate of placing centre stage, all things woke and womanly. Devised by Victoria Falconer, Rowena Hutson and Tessa Waters, collectively known as the Fringe Wives Club, the work consists of relentlessly amusing songs, and witty repartee that make for an enjoyable hour. It has a coalescing power, through its comical observations and vivacious representations, that makes us feel like a tribal audience, united in laughter against the patriarchy.

Directed by Clare Bartholomew, the cabaret presentation is intensely energetic, if slightly frenetic and unfocused in parts. Music is one of its indubitable strengths, although sound engineering could be improved to exploit more fully, the rousing pop potentials of the backing tracks. The performers bring a palpable warmth to the space, perhaps too polite in their approach, but all three are earnest personalities who insist on our adoration; Hutson is particularly likeable when temporarily assuming the scintillating part, “Lagoon of Mystery”.

Glittery Clittery is a sweaty, joyous mess; its text accurately expresses the thoughts and experiences of modern women everywhere in the Western world, but more importantly, the bawdy vigour with which its characters conduct themselves, is a marvellous exemplification of a new feminist spirit that we can utilise in conjuring up new feminine identities. This “clitterati” is unlikely to be anything close to what our grandparents had envisioned, and that is a sure sign of the progress that is under way for us all.

/www.facebook.com/fringewivesclub

Review: The Happy Prince (Little Ones Theatre)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 25 – Jul 6, 2019
Director: Stephen Nicolazzo
Cast: Catherine Davies, Janine Watson
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is the perfect symbiotic relationship, when the swallow meets the statue and they see deep into each other, not through some mutually obsessive infatuation, but by a shared fervour for bringing peace unto others. In this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story The Happy Prince, we observe selflessness as the ultimate joy and fulfilment. Independently, each entity can do little, but together, they are able to help people in need, and it is only in bringing happiness to strangers, that they themselves are at their most exultant.

Directed by Stephen Nicolazzo, the show is correspondingly generous. Its messages are earnest, fiercely so, and it stringently disallows any room for our customary cynicism. A profound sense of melancholia works almost as its guiding light, taking us down a journey of meditative reflection, to facilitate an examination of the values we use to navigate this thing called life. The swallow and the statue exist in a concurrent state of joy and pain, and we feel every nuanced articulation of emotion depicted by this extraordinary staging. Poetic, with a sublime beauty that transcends all manner of convention, The Happy Prince speaks its truth with remarkable clarity, to deliver an hour of theatre that is as moving an experience as any fairy tale could wish to be.

Music by Daniel Nixon holds us tight, keeping us firmly in the grasp of a show determined to connect with the best of our humanity. Nixon’s work is tender, tremendously stirring, and we respond only with an attitude of pure benevolence. Katie Sftekidis’ lights have a similar effect, drawing us into a sentimental dreamscape, gently pushing away inhibitions so that our capacities know to welcome all the warmth, and wistfulness, of Wilde’s story.

Catherine Davies and Janine Watson are our players, both enchanting and majestically impassioned, full of soul in their performance of a piece that all our broken hearts need to encounter. Watson is the statue, the eponymous Happy Prince who shows us that glory means nothing when left enshrined and static. The actor communicates powerfully, the best of human nature, with a stylistic restraint that barely contains the urgency of what she wishes to convey. Davies takes flight as the swallow, giving us comedy and pathos in equal potent measure, precise at every point in the illustration of her character’s vacillating transformation, from apathetic to spirited. The robust couple is inventive, with an extraordinary charisma that demands our attention. Their sensuality adds a dimension of eroticism to the work, that operates to enhance the theme of compassion, as the play’s central concern.

It is easy to think of sacrifice in terms of loss. In The Happy Prince however, we are reminded that the purpose of sacrifice is to attain something greater, that more often than not, paying a price will lead us to a reward. We watch the statue and her swallow go through considerable suffering, but we are left without doubt as to the immense satisfaction they experience as a result of their pain. Pleasure does not always involve the sting of its cost, but when one is compelled to give until it hurts, what returns is usually from the realms of the divine.

www.littleonestheatre.com.au

Review: Prima Facie (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 17 – Jun 22, 2019
Playwright: Suzie Miller
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Sheridan Harbridge
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Tessa is proud of her success as a criminal defence barrister, and when we first meet her in Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie, her faith in the legal system seems a matter of course, for a young woman going places in the field of law. When the tables turn however, and Tessa finds herself on the prosecution side as a victim of rape, she discovers severe fallibility in the way we serve justice, especially in cases of sexual assault. Miller’s breathtaking new work is full of passion, propelled by an urgent need to bring change to these deeply problematic processes, that are patently incapable of providing appropriate redress to plaintiffs who are almost exclusively women.

Miller is precise and thorough, in her careful storytelling. She engages our hearts and minds, for a stirring theatrical experience, perfectly suited to our current climate of #MeToo heightened social consciousness. Prima Facie makes its arguments convincingly, and crystal clear, and we leave sharing in the passionate intensity of its perspectives. Actor Sheridan Harbridge holds us captive for the entire 100 minutes, of her spellbinding one-woman show. It is an extraordinary achievement, with Harbridge able to convey authenticity at every stage, whilst keeping us zealously engaged with the issues being presented. She is entertaining, confident, and persuasive, fabulously well-rehearsed in what is clearly an immense challenge for any performer. Her memory seems a freak of nature, but it is her ability to make us care so deeply that is truly marvellous.

It is a meticulously rendered production, by director Lee Lewis who maintains a minimal surface, and then channels all her intelligence and energy into making every subliminal dimension of the show communicate with a tremendous power. Subtle design elements offer inconspicuous manipulations, to ensure that we respond appropriately with the play’s intentions. Renée Mulder’s set and costumes are chic and suitably severe. Trent Suidgeest’s unassuming lighting transformations help us perceive nuances in the text, and Paul Charlier’s music keeps our pulses fluctuating in accordance with the show’s varying emotional states.

Our democracy has failed women on many fronts. We operate within systems created by a powerful few, believing in the promises and lies that it dispenses. We follow its rules, thinking that all are being treated with justice and fairness; we behave ourselves and we work hard, indoctrinated into thinking that doing the right thing will always be rewarded. Tessa finds out the hard way, that without enough women at the top, those of us at the bottom will only ever be violated. It is hard to imagine a hierarchy that works for everyone. As long as there are powerful people, there will be those who are left powerless. Essentially, Prima Facie asks for the patriarchy to be smashed, but what its replacement looks like, is still as yet undecided.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with James Elazzi and Aanisa Vylet

James Elazzi

Aanisa Vylet: What story does Lady Tabouli share with its audience, and who is Lady Tabouli?
James Elazzi: Lady Tabouli is a story about what it means to come to terms with the past, how the past can mould who we are as adults and how every single person we meet plays a part in our journey, right up to today. Lady Tabouli is freedom, within all the characters in my play. It is the protagonist but is also all the people that are related to him. It is a knock on effect. Lady Tabouli is a celebration, it is hope, it is healing the pain of yesterday to finally reaching a state of liberation. To live in our truth, or try our best to live life like that.

What inspired you to create this story?
My inspiration for Lady Tabouli is derived from the people around me. It’s inspired by people that I love and it is my love letter to them. It’s inspired by those trailblazers that did not accept what was expected of them. It’s about standing up for our right to be happy. But with happiness and freedom, there is a price to pay. Are you willing to pay this price? I’m inspired by those who do not live their lives in other people’s shadows. Brave, strong people that have been broken, but have healed and learned from their mistakes.

When did you realize that you were a writer?
I’ve been a writer ever since I knew how to write. I’ve only recently had the courage to share my stories with the world, I hope to allow change through storytelling. I want to represent my community and where I come from in a clearer light. To write about the complexities that exist within my community,

As an artist of colour living in Western Sydney, what would you like to see more of in our greater artistic community?
Different perspectives, different storytelling, migrant stories, stories about women that have broken the mould and persevered. I want to see all types of Australians on the stage.

What is the best advice that you have been given?
Every single rule can be broken. Never fear to have a voice and a to need to be heard. That change is never ending and our journey never ceases until we cease to breathe.

Aanisa Vylet

James Elazzi: Tell me a little about your new play Sauvage.
Aanisa Vylet: Sauvage is a myth that I have created about the patriarchy. The seed for this play began in 2015. I was living in Barcelona and I asked myself… who am I as a storyteller… beyond my religious background, my culture and my socialization? That question led me to create a myth. In doing so, I have found a sense of freedom that I could only imagine, not only as a storyteller, but as a woman. The play has been a joy to create. We look forward to sharing this joy and the many layers of this wild myth with you.

What inspires you to write?
The deep sense to fulfill a “need”.

What would you like to see more of on Australian stages?
More scratch performances and safe, supported spaces for artists to experiment.
A richer landscape of theatrical forms.
More Australian feminist theatre and practitioners.
More focus on the “spirit” of the work.
More Australian plays that do more than to sate our audience’s wants… I want more plays that know how to tap into what we need.
(I could say much more but, I will keep my answer short…)

What type of writers inspire you?
Ones that admit to having their own kind of genius and their own kind of foolery.

Things that you believe are essential in the world of writing.
The right to process. We demand our right to process, a process which allows us and our work to evolve.
Artist dates / processes of silliness and play.
A healthy personal life.
Coffee.

James Elazzi and Aanisa Vylet present new work at Batch Festival, by Griffin Theatre Co.
Dates: 25 Apr – 11 May, 2019
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: Exhale (Black Birds / Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 9 – 13, 2019
Creators & Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Emele Ugavule

Theatre review
They live in Sydney, but they struggle to call it home. Ayeesha Ash is Māori Grenadian, and Emele Ugavule is Tokelauan Fijian. Their work Exhale relates to the sense of displacement that many experience in the metropolis, and the questions inevitably raised about background and origin, when examining notions of belonging. The artists identify in each other, the alienation that results from complex historical and ongoing operations of colonialism. They connect through a yearning for indigeneity, and it is this reclamation of cultural roots, that forms the substance on which, we too, can connect.

A thoughtful compilation of audio recordings and visual projections, help us visualise the women’s longing, but it is their very presence, as individuals and as a pair, that speak most saliently. Ash and Ugavule are compelling performers, both captivating with everything that they bring on stage. Their fifty-minute presentation is enjoyable and though-provoking, but explorations in Exhale have a tendency to feel too polite. The production is gentle, with moments of tenderness that are genuinely beautiful. Its spirit is evident, but it feels contained, perhaps hesitant with what it wishes to reveal.

Ash and Ugavule speak with their elders, who prove to be evasive, intentionally forgetful in their efforts to get on with life. We see in the young women, a frustration and a disquiet perhaps, but we wonder if a more urgent anger, could be helpful in the advancement of their stories. Not many of us are natural soldiers, but there are aggressors who will come to violate those who are peaceful, and when push comes to shove, one has to find the warrior within, even just for a brief theatrical sojourn.

www.black-birds.net