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

Review: The Smallest Hour (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 5 – 15, 2018
Playwrights: Phil Spencer, Susie Youssef
Director: Scarlet McGlynn
Cast: Phil Spencer, Susie Youssef
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In a city just like Sydney, Chris and Shelley cross paths on several occasions. Each is having an eventful, if not entirely enjoyable night, in this immense love story about the metropolis. Phil Spencer and Susie Youssef’s The Smallest Hour may not be grand in scale or indeed vision, but it captures the essence of that relationship between busy cities and its inhabitants, in a deeply beautiful way, for an expression of an intimacy that frequently borders on the obsessive. We are individuals who think of ourselves as distinct entities, separate from other humans and segregated from place; the observation here is that most of us are nothing without our towns, and Spencer and Youssef’s play is a splendid tribute to that sense of belonging.

The Smallest Hour is also a romantic comedy, and director Scarlet McGlynn’s ability to infuse humour into all of its romance, with place and with persons, ensures a production that will thoroughly delight every typical urbanite. Our imagination is cleverly manipulated, as the action moves from one location to the next, by Veronique Benett’s lights and Steve Francis’ music, guiding us surreptitiously through a series of familiar situations. There are no props and no costume changes to be seen on Tyler Hawkins’ simple stage design, but all the imagery that we receive, in our mind’s eye, is consistently vivid. The playwrights perform the work, mainly as narrators, but also as impeccable stand-ins for our protagonists. Both are remarkably endearing, and although not yet word perfect on opening night, they prove themselves consummate raconteurs, utterly and completely mesmerising with the tale they so adroitly weave.

The Smallest Hour reveals a love greater than Chris meets Shelley. It documents the way we navigate this environment, showing us how we have absorbed the physicality of this city, to live out existences so dynamic and spirited. Unlike boyfriends and girlfriends, we never ask that places give us their perfection; we understand better, our responsibilities as components of communities big and small, of collective identities that hold so much more promise than the insularity of our private selves. The lovers fixate on each other at conclusion, forgetting all the roads that lead them to one another. Their audience however, is left with evocations much more inspiring than petty concerns. We are asked to deal with matters of our heart, that relate not to any one, but to the entirety of this region; a very lucky love that must be cherished.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: The Feather In The Web (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 5 – Nov 17, 2018
Playwright: Nick Coyle
Director: Ben Winspear
Cast: Tina Bursill, Gareth Davies, Michelle Lim Davidson, Claire Lovering
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
At one point in the show, the protagonist declares that she has MS, but of what we are able to observe, Kimberly exhibits no symptoms of multiple sclerosis. We are nonetheless, tempted to pathologise her, to interpret all her absurd behaviour as evidence of some kind of mental disorder, to label her crazy. Nick Coyle’s The Feather In The Web is a tale of obsessive love, but one that is grounded in little reality. It is doubtful if audiences in general will be able to find points of meaningful connection with the play’s outlandish situations, but its wild imagination is certainly entertaining.

Director Ben Winspear’s creation is highly sophisticated, marvellously polished, and very funny indeed. It is a thoroughly engrossing production, full of mystery and always bursting with energy, featuring dynamic and seamless collaborations from an excellent design team. Sophie Fletcher and Mic Gruchy work wonders for a series of backdrops and projections that are as whimsical as they are functional. Lights by Trent Suidgeest are versatile and unpredictable, able to traverse mundane and surreal with ease, and sound by Steve Toulmini is bold and humorous, powerful in its control over the audience’s emotional responses.

The magnificent Claire Lovering is dazzling as Kimberly, exceptional in her ability to simultaneously deliver uproarious comedy with a grave solemnity. Brilliantly amusing, she sweeps us away to places that are completely nonsensical, but all the while, keeping us keenly aware of the troubling psyche that underlies her character’s strangeness. Lovering’s own vivacity and strength, represents a valuable female presence that offers balance, to moments where the text comes precariously close to misogyny. We are bewildered and upset by Kimberly’s incapacity for agency and self-determination, but are won over by her resolute attitude. Ultimately, we have to let a woman want what she wants.

Three supporting players take on a range of kooky types, with Gareth Davies particularly memorable for his unrelenting propensity for insisting on our laughter; his work is enjoyable no matter the personality he assumes. Michelle Lim Davidson introduces surprising depth in later sections, urging us to shift focus to something considerably more poignant. Tina Bursill’s nonchalant cruelty as Regina is acerbic and accurate, deliciously biting in one of the show’s more believable roles.

The Feather In The Web is often unsettling, because we cannot help but feel disturbed by the abnormality put on display. It is true however, that we have no right to want Kimberly to transform into someone normal and palatable. She is non-compliant and non-conformist, and much to our chagrin, she can think of nothing else but for her affections to be reciprocated. Her heart’s desire may be objectionable, but when we look at the things she has absolutely no interest in; conventionality, respectability, mediocrity, and other markers of social acceptability, Kimberly turns into someone quite remarkable.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Jessica Bellamy and Kirsty Marillier

Jessica Bellamy

Kirsty Marillier: How does it feel to be staging Shabbat Dinner for the third time?
Jessica Bellamy: It feels very strange to be staging Shabbat Dinner for the third time. It felt strange staging it the other two times, too, though. I’m still getting my head around the idea of autobiographical theatre and the fact that anyone wants to take a night off their Bachelor viewing schedule to see my family story. But then I try to channel the confidence of a universally reviled politician deciding to make a tilt at national leadership. I ask myself: “why not me?” I would like to continually build my professional confidence so it’s akin to that of a mediocre white guy.

To offer a more serious answer to this question, it is quite rare for an Australian playwright to get multiple productions of their play in a five year period. I’m glad this work resonates with people, and I’m also really lucky it was championed and incubated by the much-missed Tamarama Rock Surfers, who supported me becoming a playwright by giving me the opportunity to make shows.

If you could be one character from Broad City for the day, who would you be and why?
Ilana! Everyone wants to be Ilana, right? I’ve actually written an article for Feminartsy journal explaining why I love her so much. I love the way she traverses her city like it was meant for her. Her effervescence, her passion, and her incredible fashion sense. The way she is styled reminds me that it’s OK to have big, frizzy hair, to wear whatever you want, to feel safe (or that you deserve to feel safe) walking the streets of your city at night.

What is your favourite dish to eat at Shabbat?
Bloody borscht, mate! It’s heaven! Anyone with a womb should eat beetroot at least once a month. A traditional Shabbat dinner would involve chicken soup, and when I can be bothered I might whip up a vegan version using vegie stock and alphabet noodles. My own strange version of the real deal.

What advice would you give teenage Jessinka?
Don’t worry so much. No one cares as much as you think they do. There’s no certain thing you have to achieve by a certain time. Say what you think, get angry, demand your rights, and take up space.

What does your family think about the play?
My family have been very generous about this work, especially considering the fact that it is so personal. They have also supported me in my personal growth over its three seasons. I’ve learnt a lot about my own value system through making this show, and I’m making decisions now, in my thirties, that I wouldn’t have had the emotional intelligence to make any earlier. This involves weighing up a cost-benefit analysis of anything autobiographical I write. Asking myself: who benefits from this, and who is challenged, in a way they haven’t asked to be, by me deciding to write something? When a story belongs to more people than just me, these things need to be negotiated and carefully considered.

I will paraphrase another Russian writer, Maria Tumarkin, whose memoir workshop I went to a few years ago. She said that if her work is going to hurt people, she won’t do it. Caring for people is more important to her than whatever art might come out of being provocative.

Ultimately, I value my relationships over anything I’ll make in my career. And I know that I’m a strong enough writer to make excellent work that also prioritises care in every element of its creation. In my first few years of practice, I didn’t really understand the fact that art – this great amorphous thing – could be chopped and changed to abide to your moral code. I used to think the art was the art, and I had to get out of its way. I’m getting better at thinking a little wider now.

Kirsty Marillier

Jessica Bellamy: Did little Kirsty know she wanted to be an actor?
Kirsty Marillier: Yeah she did. It all started from around age 9. In year 3, I was cast in a tiny role as the indigo fairy. During the performance I fell over on stage in front of the entire school and I reckon I made a pact with myself that it would be the last time I would EVER let people laugh at me on stage unless I had told them to. I auditioned for the lead the next year and got it! I also had a wonderful performing arts program at Leeming Senior High School and some really inspired teachers. I think I owe a lot of my drive and confidence to them.

What’s a family recipe as significant to you as some of the food we serve in Shabbat Dinner?
My GiGi’s Magwinyas. Magwinyas are deep fried savoury doughnuts that you break apart and shove curry inside. They are not for the faint hearted; oily as and have zero nutritional value but are insanely good and give you that combined sweet/savoury dopamine hit. Yum. They are really hard get to right because you need to make sure you knead them with “gentle hands”. So they have enough air. It’s an art form and my Gig is going to give me lessons on them next time I’m in Perth.

How do you get those curls so stunning, girl?
Girl, it’s called Shea Moisture and Priceline have 20% off as we speak. I also started making my own aloe vera gel. You need fresh aloe vera and an entire Sunday to do it but it’s worth it. I also sleep with my hair in a pineapple and wrap it in a silk scarf, it’s a process.

What are the ways you connect to a play about Jewish ritual and Torah stories?
This play centres around tradition, women and food. How we inherit tradition from those who came before us, and the intergenerational effects of migration. I’m a coloured South African woman. I moved to Australia at age 10, have religious parents and 7 South African aunties scattered around Australia. It would be pretty hard for me not to connect with this play.

I said to someone a few of weeks ago that this show (in 2015) was my first encounter with intersectional feminism. It was the first time I’d said that out loud, but it’s totally true! I’ve learnt a lot about my own culture and feminist practice doing this show. How one can re-appropriate culturally specific beauty regimes to suit their own life, how perspective and clarity on your gender and identity can be found by unpacking your past, and how the women in our lives have influenced us more than we know. They hold power in their rituals and it’s something to celebrate! (I feel like I’ve gone on a tangent but I thought it would be an interesting thing to add.)

I connect with this show by thinking about the women in my life, past and present. How much they have made me who I am and how I carry their stories with me.

What do you want to be doing artistically in 5 years’ time?
I want to be writing. I’d love to have a play or two under my belt. I also want to more involved in the telling of culturally diverse stories. I want to see more people of colour on stages; I’d like to help push that process along in any way possible.

Jessica Bellamy and Kristy Marillier are appearing in Shabbat Dinner, by Jessica Bellamy.
Dates: 10 – 15 September, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre