Review: Sunset Strip (The Uncertainty Principle / Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 14 – Jul 1, 2017
Playwright: Suzie Miller
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Emma Jackson, Simon Lyndon, Lex Marinos, Georgina Symes
Image by Patrick Boland

Theatre review
Phoebe has lost custody of her children, due to a history of illicit drug use. Her sister Caroline has been battling cancer, while dealing with a relationship breakup. Their father Ray is suffering dementia. Life is hard, as we well know, but it is not all doom and gloom with these sisters. They are determined to get on with it, making the best of the cards they were dealt.

In Sunset Strip, playwright Suzie Miller brings a family together at a time when they are in desperate need of each other’s support. None of them realises this kindred reliance of course, for it is easy to take these relationships for granted, and like many of us, Phoebe and Caroline have resentments, jealousies and unresolved issues from the past, so their reunion was always going to be precarious.

Miller’s detailing of that delicate balance, between joy and pain in how they love, is full of tenderness, subtle but powerful. Their interchanges are nuanced, splendidly complex, and always with a gentle, familiar ring that will remind us of our own homes. When families talk, it is what we say between the lines that matters most, and Sunset Strip‘s sensitive explication of those dynamics, is what makes it feel like every person’s story.

Director Anthony Skuse’s quiet approach to storytelling is a perfect fit for the play. In this intimate venue, the drama envelopes as it unfolds, and we fall deeper and deeper into its emotional grip. Skuse’s work for Sunset Strip transcends the need for a dominant narrative, getting us to the heart of its characters by simply presenting four individuals who are so thoroughly authentic and vulnerable, that finding a meaningful connection with them is inevitable. This is theatre at its most moving (sans manipulative show tunes and fantastical storylines), made even more affecting by audience members sobbing uncontrollably in neighbouring seats.

Emma Jackson and Georgina Symes play the siblings, both laid bare spectacularly, allowing us to peer right into their fractured souls. The part of their ailing father is performed by Lex Marinos, who has us transfixed in the precision of his approach, and heartbroken by his depiction of a parent who can no longer provide guidance and care. Simon Lyndon is the love interest who offers much more than meets the eye, with an ability to introduce disarming and devastating poignancy, when you least expect it. These actors are truly wonderful.

No amount of love, can prevent people from growing apart, but it is in the capacity to make sacrifices, that the depths of love is revealed. Love is not about holding tight, in fact, it is more often about letting go, but there will come moments where people are required to sit together, maybe to laugh, or maybe to fight, so that love can do its job. When life turns too hard, loneliness will only add fuel to fire. Not every problem will have solutions, but a warm embrace makes everything, miraculously, easier.

www.griffintheatre.com,au

Review: The Ham Funeral (Siren Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 17 – Jun 10, 2017
Playwright: Patrick White
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Andy Dexterity, Eliza Logan, Carmen Lysiak, Johnny Nasser, Jane Phegan, Sebastian Robinson, Jenny Wu
Image by Lucy Parakhina

Theatre review
At the centre of The Ham Funeral is a Young Man without the certainty of a name. Unsure of his own identity, interpretations of what goes on around him is correspondingly ambiguous. Patrick White’s surrealist work is not one to rely on for narrative pleasure, but as a platform for theatrical delight, it swells with possibilities.

Director Kate Gaul identifies the extremities in the play, whether they be comedic, dramatic, grotesque or celestial, and turns them into sequences of sheer and intense pleasure. There is a cohesive whole, but the primary enjoyment of this staging is in the savouring of all its deeply fascinating moments. A vague logic does exist, but our senses, beyond those that comprise the rational mind, are fired up and called upon to engage, in a visceral way that can only happen within a live setting.

It is a waking dream in which we find ourselves immersed. Nothing looks real, but we know that everything points to something authentic. We are gripped by its mystery, and the hypnotic ambience so expertly manufactured by its team of daring creatives. Hartley T A Kemp lights the space so that everything seems to float in an abyss of subconsciousness, and Nate Edmondson’s sensational sounds of ringing and rumbling take over our nervous system, directly manipulating our moods and responses.

Gleefully infectious, the wonderful cast looks and feels to be made up of all those voted most likely to run off and join the circus. Idiosyncratic and profoundly eccentric, we are persuaded to relate to the show in a manner that is perhaps unusual for many. Eliza Logan is the magnificent leading lady, completely enthralling as Alma Lusty; wild, depraved and primal, yet impressively precise with the design and execution of all her choices. Intelligent and inventive, Logan’s performance in the flamboyant, mad world of The Ham Funeral is truly unforgettable. The nameless Young Man is played by Sebastian Robinson with a physical proficiency that adds exceptional beauty to the production’s visual emphasis. Also remarkable is Johnny Nasser, deliciously exaggerated while maintaining a measured sensitivity, in both of his contrasting roles.

A century has past since the dawn of Dada, and all things surreal or absurd may no longer be thought of as immediately relevant, but art must never shy away from conversations that exist at the outer limits of rationality and reason. If we talk only about the things we know, the chance of us meaningfully expanding consciousness is meagre. To break free from incessantly repetitious dialogue that has become a habit of modern living, it can only be beneficial to indulge in something radically new, especially when getting to the point, is not the point of it.

www.sirentheatreco.com

Review: Smurf In Wanderland (National Theatre Of Parramatta / Griffin Theatre Company)

>Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 2 – 13, 2017
Playwright: David Williams
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: David Williams
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Life means little without passion. David Williams loves football, and he is here to tell us all about it, whether we like it or not. Smurf In Wanderland offers us more than a glimpse into the world of a football tragic, and while it may often be tedious for those of us who are sport-averse, Williams’ more general observations about Sydney life are truly valuable. He talks about modern city tribes, and all the silly things we do to feel belonged. There are attempts at explaining desire, the most potent yet bewildering of human qualities, looking at why we do the things we do, and the bizarreness of us all as a species.

There are moments of poignancy, fleeting yet memorable, including a sequence about the discontentment of those in Western Sydney, and our habitual postcode bias against those perceived to be less metropolitan. We delve into the fundamental masochism involved in rooting for teams when games will always insist on having losers. There is a lot to relish about Smurf In Wanderland, but it all lies beneath the surface. We are given an opportunity to understand our community better, but it is not always an enjoyable process. Sifting through Williams’ obsessive detailing of soccer fandom is fun for some, but exasperating for others. It is a story about us and them, told in a way that makes the ostracism it is concerned about, feel very genuine indeed.

As performer, Williams is charismatic and engaging., with a determination that forbids our attention from straying. His enthusiasm for the Sydney Football Club is a propulsive force that fills the stage with energy, and we must respond with anything but ambivalence. At the end of the piece, there will be individuals who experience fulfilment, and those who will feel worse for wear, but it is likely that all will share a fondness for the personality we had met.

The presentation breaks through the superficial walls we erect between one another. We imagine people to be different, as a way to validate our own existences, but we all exist in undeniable parallels. Our values may be different, but the lenses through which we view the world do not alter the world as it is. If art and sport are in opposition, then Smurf In Wanderland forces us out of our echo chambers and disrupts the silo effect, at least for one night. To love thy neighbour is easier said than done, but few things are as worthwhile an exercise.

www.riversideparramatta.com.au/NTofP | www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: The Homosexuals, Or Faggots (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 17 – Apr 29, 2017
Playwright: Declan Greene
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Mama Alto, Simon Burke, Simon Corfield, Genevieve Lemon, Lincoln Younes
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Faggots are a kind of meatball dish, but the word is not usually used for that particular meaning. Like the n-word and the c-word, we have learned that some language has to be curbed, due to the power it exerts over the disenfranchised, who have to be protected from the cruelty that linguistic ammunition can brandish.

In Declan Greene’s important and ultra-modern work, The Homosexuals, Or Faggots, we investigate the nature of this constraint, not only in how we speak, but also in the lived experience of how we negotiate with each other’s positions in society. It is a discussion about the levels of privilege different groups of people are perceived to be inhabiting, and the layers of truth and illusion within those differentials. We think of each other as being certain types of people who exist on various hierarchical levels, but these can be misconstrued.

Warren and Kim are an inner-Sydney gay couple, both white and cis-male*. Having emerged from the systematic prejudice of homosexuals in earlier decades, they are now a part of the establishment; wealthy and entitled. Being the first generation of gays who live openly and free from persecution, their lives are self-imagined, with no prior examples to emulate. Their values have to be invented, and what constitutes a good life becomes a confusing ordeal. New to being top dog of Australian society, they are expected to be compassionate and altruistic, having tolerated insistent subjugation in previous years, but the couple is engrossed in their newfound prosperity, unable to behave in accordance with the responsibilities required of them, or are perhaps simply oblivious to their own elitism.

It is a highly intellectual exercise, dressed up in a lot of low-brow theatricality. Inspired by classic European farce, the show is rowdy, rude and ridiculous, but each of its uproarious manoeuvres is meticulously informed by the progressive politics that burns at its core. The audience relates to the work with a demanding complexity, laughing at every antic but engaging intimately with its cutting edge ideas. The action happens very quickly, and our minds are in a frenzy trying to decide right from wrong, real from false. Director Lee Lewis leaves us no room to breathe, insisting that we are swept up in the anxiety-fuelled mania, of her timely and accurate portrait of life in Sydney, 2017.

The hysterical and sweaty ensemble gives us everything. Simon Burke’s portrayal of middle-aged hedonism is as frantic as the cocaine that cushions his luxuriant existence, and although the production provides little room for nuance, his Warren is a character many of us will find familiar, convincing and unexpectedly sympathetic. His husband, Kim is preoccupied with all things academic, but much as he thinks intently about the world, he too lives on the surface. Simon Corfield’s exquisite performance of that duality is perfectly tuned, and incredible to watch. Also memorable is Genevieve Lemon as Diana, the only person on stage with a real soul. Confidently comedic, yet persuasively moving, Lemon makes us laugh and cry as she wills.

Political correctness may seem to be outmoded, but it remains a necessary protection against ignorance, wilful or otherwise. When we see idiots get voted into government, it is clear that hate is a form of currency that never stops working. The harmful things that people say, do in fact benefit those who trade in fear and stupidity. It is understandable then, that those same people would want to expand the parameters of concepts around freedom of speech. This week, our Caucasian Prime Minister is trying to make it permissible that we use racial differences to offend, insult and humiliate each other. We should never be surprised when the powerful wish to extend their dominance in the world, but when those who have benefited from the fruit of arduous social movements refuse to give back after their ascendancy, the disgust is intolerable.

*Read about cisgender at Wikipedia.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: The Bleeding Tree (Wharf 1 Theatre)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Mar 9 – Apr 8, 2017
Playwright: Angus Cerini
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Paula Arundell, Airlie Dodds, Shari Sebbens
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
A man has been killed by his wife and two daughters, shot deliberately in cold blood and left to die. It is rural Australia, so there is no hiding the disappearance of a person, or the circumstances surrounding the savage incident. Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree confronts the rules of society, exposing the inadequacies of how we live as communities and how we forsake the weak. The dead man had been violently abusive, but the women in his home were never offered sufficient help to escape his brutality. As neighbours begin to discover their actions, we are surprised to see their acceptance of the episode.

Cerini’s writing is dangerous, deep and devastatingly beautiful. It operates at the precipice of morality, for a play that uses the audience’s imagination and reasoning, to deliver remarkable thrills, on levels that are emotional as well as intellectual. It is a story that rarely gets told. Family violence is commonplace, and is slowly being removed from secrecy, but we are are still learning how to talk about it. The Bleeding Tree is a new kind of parable that admonishes the guilty so that repugnant behaviour is seen unequivocally as such. The death of the patriarch does not occur in grey areas, and we are challenged to look at the remains of the monster and consider what is right and wrong, in a reality that does not allow time to be reversed. We do not exist in coulda, shoulda, woulda, and in The Bleeding Tree, we cannot have our cake and eat it too, if justice is to be served.

It is an extraordinarily sophisticated production, directed by Lee Lewis whose take on the Australian Gothic is as refreshing as it is visceral. Exquisitely designed to transport us to its nightmarish parabolic outback, the theatrical space is consummately considered. Renée Mulder’s set, Verity Hampson’s lights and Steve Toulmin’s music, all conspire to bring us into their psychological wilderness, where good and bad have swapped places, and we must shift our beliefs accordingly. The trio of actors deliver an astonishing performance, with a cohesion in energy, style and objective, giving polish and confidence to a production that delivers gripping drama and convincing proclamations. Paula Arundell is exceptional as Mother, with a complexity in her presence that conveys both vulnerability and strength, helping us understand the precariousness, along with the inevitability of what happens. It is a quiet approach, but the power that we connect with is fabulously palpable.

Women are often trapped in systems that fail us, and we are taught to tolerate the denial of what should only be just and fair. The women in The Bleeding Tree were caught within a familial patriarchy, as well as a greater social one, that required of them their prolonged and painful subservience. When it eventually became clear that sitting around and waiting for situations to improve was a fruitless exercise, they found the only way out was to take radical action. Every day everywhere, people are kept down by power structures that benefit from their oppression, but when those at the bottom realise the truth of their condition, their compliance will be seen in a new light, and change can begin to take place.

www.griffintheatre.com.auwww.sydneytheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Declan Greene

Declan Greene

I’ve admired Declan Greene’s writing for a while now. A distinctive sense of irreverence and adventure means that his shows are always unsettling, unpredictable and brilliantly controversial. Greene’s modernly queer perspective of our world generates a kind of outsider art that speaks to anyone who feels a little bit excluded, and I would suggest that that is all of us. For this special edition of 5 Questions, I attempt to find out how he ticks.

Suzy Wrong: I’d like to ask your age to put some context around your experience of growing up within a particular point of gay activism history, but don’t answer if you don’t wish to, ‘cos I sure as hell ain’t telling anyone my age.
I’m 32, and I grew up in rural Victoria with a lot of deep set homophobia at school, which I really internalised. Like, I was very visible screaming queen, so was called a fag a lot – and then I turned mean and vicious and started calling other kids fags – anyone who was smaller or weaker than me… So… Yeah. After high school I still really wrestled with identifying as ‘gay’ for a long time – even after I started sleeping with men – because I still thought gay culture was lame and embarrassing, all just Priscilla and Queer As Folk and fake tanner etc. Meeting Ash Flanders when I was twenty sort of changed my life, because he really showed me that being gay was this very customisable sort of thing – I could love punk and DIY and drag queens and super camp divas all at the same time, and actually there was a subset of queer culture that cherished all that dirty, faggy shit. That’s where my political identity was sort of formed.

Do you often use the terms “gay” and “queer” (or others) to describe yourself? Do they point to different parts of you, and how you relate to the world?
I have definitely used the term ‘queer’ to describe myself, but I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with it. I guess to me ‘queer’ is sort of like ‘punk’ – it’s not a fixed category, it’s a type of resistance. It exists in a state of constant flux, in opposition to whatever bad stuff is happening in the mainstream at the time. What’s queer now isn’t what was queer five years ago. And at the moment I feel like to be queer means to demolish binary thinking, and to embody fluidity, intersection, and inbetween-ness as a form of resistance. All of which I really believe in, politically speaking, but it doesn’t describe me socially… I sleep with men exclusively, and my gender is cis male… so maybe in 2017 I’m too binary to be queer? I don’t know. I guess I could say that I’m politically queer and socially gay – but I also probably wouldn’t say that, because the amount of energy consumed in that sort of elaborate navel-gazing self-identification makes me really anxious sometimes, in an era of Trump and Le Pen and Pauline Hanson!

Do you think all that insight and self-understanding is central to the purpose of your practise? What would you say the nature of your art is?
I tend to interrogate my position in relation to my subject matter quite a lot, because I’m often drawn to stories that centre on some kind of social oppression, but I exist in a space of relative privilege – as a white cis guy with a decent quality of life… so I always want to make sure that my interest in this material isn’t patronising or paternalistic or blah-blah-blah. It’s funny: I was brought up Catholic and sometimes I think that influences my work more than I’m conscious of… like, this deep sense of guilt about the stuff I’ve been lucky about. My only big struggles have been with my sexuality and money/class, so maybe my practice is about atoning for that on some level…? I don’t know, it’s complex too, because the artists and thinkers I admire are people like Jean Genet and John Waters and Joan Rivers and Camille Paglia and Nina Simone: genuine iconoclasts, who never gave a fuck what people thought of them, who never felt guilty or apologetic or beholden to the opinions of others. So that’s the push and pull in my art always: like, trying to muster up the bravery to say what I really think or feel, while trying to minimise harm to people who might be more vulnerable than me.

How do you imagine your audience? What do they look like in your ahead? Do you write for a particular type of person?
I try not to imagine the audience as one big organism, because it’s obviously full of many varied people, all coming at the work from an incredible diversity of perspectives and lived experiences. With something like The Homosexuals, Or Faggots, which is located in a very specific part of the LGBTIQA+, there’s always the temptation to take shortcuts and assume that the audience will have a common understanding of the political terrain you’re addressing – but I always try to imagine the audience is coming to these issues totally fresh, and write a fair bit of context into the play.

Are you consciously political or subversive in your process? I suppose I’m asking, if it all needs to make a point? Is it a burden?
The politics in my shows are definitely conscious, but it’s not really a burden to include them because in a lot of ways they’re actually my starting point. There has to be some sort of formal challenge, plus a line of political enquiry I’ve got a burning desire to follow – something big and furious enough that it that can sustain me over the year or more it takes to conceive and write and redraft a new play. With The Homosexuals, Or Faggots I’d had this idea in the back of my mind for a long time that I’d like to try writing a farce, but I didn’t really know why yet – there was no impetus to begin. Then I read a weird semi-mocking article about a Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume on a big gay news website – like Gaily Grind or something – which threw up a bunch of questions for me about privilege, freedom of speech, political correctness, allyship, and the responsibilities white gay cis men have to the wider LGBTIQA+ community. And the two notions just sort of clicked together: a farce set in the world of queer identity politics.

The Sydney season of Declan Greene’s The Homosexuals, Or Faggots, is presented by Griffin Theatre Co.
Dates: 17 March – 29 April, 2017
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: A Strategic Plan (Griffin Theatre Company)

griffinVenue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 27 – Mar 11, 2017
Playwright: Ross Mueller
Director: Chris Mead
Cast: Briallen Clark, Matt Day, Justin Smith, Emele Ugavule
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Andrew works at a nonprofit organisation that brings new music to the young. On the surface are noble intentions, but bureaucracy and ulterior motives threaten its existence every day. Andrew finds himself in a sink or swim position, trying to protect his job, along with his sanity. Ross Mueller’s A Strategic Plan is an angry play for our angry times, a diatribe that pits integrity against exploitation, art against money, with little nuance in between.

Its characters are familiar well-worn stereotypes, some with a heart of gold, and others simply despicable. We never warm up to any of them or to their stories, but the actors who play these roles are certainly dedicated. There is a lot of screaming and shouting, presumably to stop our attention straying away from the predictable and lacklustre plot. Justin Smith and Matt Day play their parts with a lot of conviction, and not much else, as the writing provides little that would allow their personalities any complexity. There is a good level of professionalism in all production aspects, that keeps us sticking around until the end, but the resulting aftertaste is regrettably bland.

There is much to hate in how our corporations operate, and in government bodies that disappoint us repeatedly. It is admirable that A Strategic Plan looks into these failings, but it has a hard time getting us to share in its anger. Malfeasance and injustice occur often, and we have become increasingly disillusioned. We should expect more of community, but the state of the world overwhelms us with all its deficiencies, and to resist a descent into bitter apathy is a challenge we have to face.

www.griffintheatre.com.au