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

Review: Dead Cat Bounce (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 22 – Apr 6, 2019
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Mitchell Butel
Cast: Kate Cheel, Lucia Mastrantone, Johnny Nasser, Josh Quong Tart
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In Mary Rachel Brown’s Dead Cat Bounce, Gabriel is a moderately successful novelist, a middle aged alcoholic, and also it seems, quite the ladykiller. Two women are madly in love with him, in this story of addiction and redemption, but we spend most of the duration trying instead to figure out his appeal, wondering what it is that his current and ex beaus are actually drawn to. This of course, is not a wholly uncommon experience, for those of us who have watched our friends (and ourselves) fall for the wrong people, bewildered by the things a human heart is capable of making us do. In this play however, those dynamics are unconvincing, and worse, neither its narrative nor characters are capable of keeping us meaningfully engaged.

Little of the comedy manages to be truly amusing, and where we hope for poignancy, or at least some valuable depth to its observations of quite serious themes, we find only cliché and banality. People are often stupid, that is unassailable, but our storytelling must bring insightful illumination to our nature, even if it is idiocy that is placed under scrutiny. The production is fortunately, a fairly polished one, with Alexander Berlage’s lights and Nate Edmondson’s music providing a great deal of elevation, even if only on a cosmetic level.

Although lacking in substance, the show is undoubtedly energetic, with director Mitchell Butel maintaining a bold pitch in performances, insisting that we pay attention. Josh Quong Tart is accurate in his portrayal of the unremarkable Gabriel, intentionally unlikable but clearly committed to the part. His young lover Matilda is played by Kate Cheel, who demonstrates great inventiveness in her efforts to find creative dimensions within this unenviable task. Lucia Mastrantone takes every opportunity to bring the drama, for which we are grateful, even if her character Angela’s choices prove to be relentlessly frustrating. Equally intense is Johnny Nasser, whose personal charisma almost compensates for the flimsiness of Tony, a ridiculously whiny and small man, rendered with too much unnecessary kindness.

The women in Dead Cat Bounce are suckers for punishment, but it is not hard to figure out why they stand firm on playing the fool. Girls are taught that they are worthless without children and a husband. Society seems obsessed with instilling a sense of inadequacy in us, always finding ways to say that we are not good enough, and we seem never to be able to entirely escape from these systems of control. Matilda is smart enough to read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but somehow finds herself happily planning to raise a family with a drunk twice her age. Angela is a powerful woman in the publishing business, but is addicted to toxic men and all their unreasonable demands. From our vantage point, we can only conclude that they should simply have walked away, and learned to be unafraid of independence. If one should think that this is easier said than done, then that is indication of where much of the problem lies.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Lucia Mastrantone and Josh Quong Tart

Lucia Mastrantone

Josh Quong Tart: For ‘great’ television, who would you choose as a partner if you were to enter The Amazing Race and why?
Lucia Mastrantone: Valentino Rossi because I’m not a lover of rugged travel nor roughing it whilst I travel. I’d love to fang it around the world with an Italian who’d be very good at getting you to each destination quickly and in time for an aperitif before dinner and face whatever adventure one needs to face after having a beautiful meal.

What was your greatest culinary disaster? Please explain.
Serving a gluten-free and vegetarian meal to a potential Italian mother-in-law. I don’t think that needs an explanation.

If you had all the money in the world what would you bid on at the auction house?
Australian art and furniture.

Re the art of comedy who do see as your funniest female actor?
Madeline Carn.

If you could choose anywhere in the world to tell someone you love something REALLY special where would that be and why?
The island of Ischia off the port of Naples. An unknown proper working Mediterranean village with incredible seafood, views, volcanic springs and nightlife that only Italians and Germans visit or know of, as a holiday resort.

Josh Quong Tart

Lucia Mastrantone: What is your favourite non-touristic destination in NSW?
Josh Quong Tart: Dolphin Point (near Ulladulla). Swimming in crystal clear water fed by the ocean into Burrill Lake. Best time to do it – on the incoming tide just before it peeks. Dive in let the current take you a couple of hundred meters where you can jump out and do it all over again. Amazing.

In what country overseas did you have your most romantic love affair and why was that so?
Innsbruck Austria. Travelling alone a few years back (got off the train by accident) to discover this beautiful place. I’m a big sucker for mountains and centuries-old town squares covered in snow and dripping elegant Christmas decos.

What would be your monster’s ball meal if you were ever on death row?
Spaghetti bol.

Who is your artistic idol?
Barry Humphries is right up there.

If you were a genie, what famous person would you like to find your genie bottle and bring you to life and why?
Jenny Morris singer in the 80’s. Cause she’s kinda fun and thinks big. I’d trust her judgement with her wishes.

Lucia Mastrantone and Josh Quong Tart can be seen in Griffin Theatre’s Dead Cat Bounce by Mary Rachel Brown.
Dates: 22 Feb – 6 Apr, 2019
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: Love And Anger (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 21 – 26, 2019
Creator: Betty Grumble
Cast: Betty Grumble
Images by Ryan Ammon, Liz Ham, Dean Tirkot

Theatre review
The legendary SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas makes several appearances in the show, but Betty Grumble’s Love And Anger does not try to recruit for the Society for Cutting Up Men. It seeks to unify the human race, and all of the planet, by interrogating (and integrating) the matter from which we are composed. Grumble’s work is about flesh and blood, the only things perhaps that we cannot deny of ourselves. We never fail to imagine our identities to be much more grandiose, and in that process, create endless demarcations and conflicts. The artist devotes her entirety to the demolition of those narratives, making us succumb to the admission and the acceptance of our truest and basest selves, in order that we may renounce the countless structures that ultimately seek to create more harm than good.

Grumble insists that our attention is placed on the here and now, and in a theatre space where all our corporeality is congregated, present and irrefutable, she does marvellous things to her body, with her body, inside and onto her body, so that we may reach an image of ourselves, beyond taboo and outrage, that represents a renewed purity. After Grumble removes all of her clothing, she finds ways to take away all the meanings imposed upon her nudity, and because her words are rarely effective in this exercise, the artist’s strongest statements must be made through physical manipulation. Her performance style almost fits into genres of clowning and cabaret, and as is customary in Australia, difficult messages come in the guise of comedy, and Grumble’s extremely bawdy humour is the bridge that leads us to her subversive epiphanies.

The best thing about Love And Anger, is Grumble herself. When we attempt to isolate the text from the artist, it becomes clear that the persona she has evolved, can offer us everything important irrespective of the context in which we locate her. It is the embodiment of culminated meanings that we come into contact with, that is most virtuous in the performance of Grumble. Those virtues are impossible to condense, but chief components of her expressions include beauty, femininity, masculinity, equality, compassion, joy, peace, and above all, love.

When goddesses unravel, we remain goddesses. Betty Grumble’s act explores the notion of ugliness in her efforts to redefine social and anti-social, but it is impossible that she would be perceived in any other way than benevolent and divine, even in the midst of (simulated) excretion. In Love And Anger, we discover that beauty is much more than skin deep. It exists through the skin and beyond it. We receive her beauty because of who she is, but it is probably a greater truth, that we receive her beauty because of who we are.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Since Ali Died (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 8 – 19, 2019
Playwright: Omar Musa
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Omar Musa (with guest vocalist Sarah Corry)
Images by Robert Catto
Theatre review
Omar Musa imagines himself travelling down a river with Muhammad Ali, both men outsiders, connected by experiences of ostracism. Musa’s Since Ali Died provides insight into how people of colour survive the dogged exclusions of white society. Through poetry, prose and hip hop phraseology, Musa’s extraordinary writing provides access to intense and complex emotions, that relate to a sense of displacement, in an Australia struggling to think of itself as anything other than an illegitimate monolith. It is a work about home, but on how it can disown you, presented in a theatrical context that sees a remarkable talent confront an audience comprising adversaries and allies, all of us relevant and implicated.

As performer, Musa is charisma personified. We are won over effortlessly, by a stage presence naturally confident yet vulnerable, one that showcases an honesty that many will find utterly disarming. Masculinity is portrayed in a delicate light, with director Anthea Williams carefully preventing any sense of alienation that could arise from the motivating fury of Musa’s expressions. It is an exercise in compassion that results, an occasion that welcomes all, one that encourages us to think about the parts we play, as individuals and as collectives, in Musa’s personal stories.

Melancholic and incredibly moving, Since Ali Died is a timely meditation on contemporary Australian life, an undeniable summation of all our unique challenges, whether spiritual, social or political. Black and brown people endure discrimination by white structures that lay fake claim to this land, just as Muslims are relegated impudently, to a status of religious inferiority. Omar Musa’s very body and soul, right before our eyes, is evidence of those injustices that insidiously constitute our harmful way of life. He is thriving, but he suffers. In his music, simultaneously celebratory and indignant, we are able to understand the strength that is required of people like Musa. It is dark but uplifting, refusing to give in to destruction. His energy is ample and indomitable, and although painful to see it expended on coping mechanism, there is plenty left for orchestrating a change.

www.griffintheatre.com.au | www.riversideparramatta.com.au