Review: Alice In Slasherland (Last One Standing Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 18 – May 11, 2019
Playwright: Qui Nguyen
Director: Rachel Kerry
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Jack Angwin, Josh McElroy, Bardiya McKinnon, Mia Morrissey, Laura Murphy, Stella Ye
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Lewis is a regular American teenager, who finds his town suddenly overwhelmed by Lucifer and other spirits of the underworld. With people being slaughtered everywhere, Lewis and his friends have to fight their way to survival. Qui Nguyen’s Alice In Slasherland bears all the hallmarks of a B-grade horror flick; an outlandish storyline, predictable characters and lots of blood and gore, along with a very healthy dose of kitsch and bad taste humour that makes the show more than a little tongue-in-cheek in its references to genre.

The production is messy, but also intentionally trashy. Like every low-budget movie ever made, we can identify all the flaws in this staging of Alice In Slasherland, but its imperfections do not preclude us from enjoying the silly fun that it so passionately delivers. Director Rachel Kerry’s vision for the staging is wonderfully vivid, but her ideas are almost never executed to perfection. The cast is remarkable for being able to embrace the clumsiness of their show, to convey a sense of humour that quite miraculously, works with, or perhaps against, the many technical improficiencies. Alice In Slasherland‘s horror aspects do almost nothing for us, but its comedy is certainly a joy.

Actor Bardiya McKinnonis is a spirited Lewis, appropriately over-the-top with the terror that he depicts. The eponymous Alice is played by Stella Ye, who meets the physical demands of the supernatural being, with a persuasive and dynamic athleticism. Lucifer is a vampy creature, as interpreted by Laura Murphy, whose capacity for camp seems to know no bounds. Her musical theatre abilities prove refreshing in a show that cares little about polish. Justin Amankwah is puppeteer for Edgar the bear, barely two feet tall, but huge in personality, thanks to Amankwah’s beautiful animation and extraordinary voice work.

Depending on one’s own tastes, there is a kind of self-deprecating humour to Alice In Slasherland that can be highly amusing. We vacillate between laughing at it, and laughing with it, trusting that none is expected to take any of this seriously. Over the coming weeks, the production will no doubt lose some of its raw edge, but as long as we can all be encouraged to remain playful for the duration, it would mean a job well done.

www.lastonestandingtheatreco.com | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Horror (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 29 – Sep 2, 2018
Artistic Director: Jakop Ahlbom
Cast: Andrea Buegger, Sofieke De Kater, Yannick Greweldinger, Silke Hundertmark, Gwen Langenberg, Reinier Schimmel, Luc Van Esch, Thomas Van Ouwerkerk
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
The action takes place in a haunted house. No words are spoken, but we know exactly what happens in each moment, mainly because we have seen everything before at the cinema. The horror film genre relies on special effects and creative editing, both technical features unavailable to the live format. In Jakop Ahlbom’s Horror, however, capacities of the stage are pushed to their limit, to achieve something that is best described as a tribute to the great classics of fear and revulsion. The show aims to frighten, and like the vast majority of scary pictures, it is only occasionally successful in that regard, although there is no denying the production’s very persistent entertainment value.

Cleverly designed on all fronts, from set and lights, to hair and makeup, and of course the obligatory cacophony of jolting sounds, Horror is an innovative tapestry of creative imagination. A skilful cast portrays a range of supernatural beings, performing unearthly acts that have us amused and fascinated. It is a well-oiled operation, every moment executed with impressive precision. Some of its gimmicks can feel underwhelming, but the show is ultimately a satisfying one, memorable more for its hits than for its misses.

We are afraid of ghosts, because we understand the mistreatment that people suffer when alive. These beings return from the dead, with nothing to lose, and their vengeance is both justifiable and boundless. To see them, is to think of ourselves at our angriest, except completely unrestrained. Our biggest fear perhaps, is when people believe that they can act without consequence. Ghosts, and so many of our intangible creations, teach us to be good whilst being keenly aware of our capacity to be bad, and telling ghost stories is as though to put a curse on the evil, when they are hiding in plain sight.

www.horrortheshow.com | www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: Business Unfinished (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 27 – 29, 2017
Creator: Tom Christophersen
Director: James Dalton
Cast: Tom Christophersen, Tim Kemp
Image by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
Tom Christophersen has a fascination for the paranormal, and in Business Unfinished, we gather around him as though around a campfire, listening to ghost stories that he has amassed. A collector of metaphysical tales, the idiosyncratic obsession that Christophersen presents, is something we relate to, for what he does in the show, is to question a reality of which everyone is implicated.

Believable or not, depending on each of our own constitutions, episodes in Business Unfinished are an inviting exploration into the nature of time and space, as well as an examination of the human tendency to create relationships with the supernatural, religious or otherwise. It then extends into the idea of sanity, and that sense of coherence necessary for the world to exist as an understandable, rational whole. An acceptance of incoherence would suggest that phenomena is beyond all human control, and therefore devastating.

Christophersen’s work on soundtrack is outstanding; blending firsthand accounts with an imaginative selection of music and a broad assortment of effects and clips, what we hear is deeply evocative, and a thorough expression of the creator’s unbridled fascination for the subject. Sound design however, is underwhelming, with two basic speakers behind the stage unable to manufacture appropriate sensations that would trigger our more visceral responses. Christophersen performs a substantial portion of the show as a lip-sync act, mouthing to recordings of various personalities, with astonishing accuracy. Stage manager Patrick Howard’s precision in dispensing cues is noteworthy in this regard.

Lighting design by Alexander Berlage is charming and playful, offering a good level of visual excitement to the piece. The space is problematic, being right next door to a rowdy watering hole, and the production insufficiently compensates for noise, leaving atmosphere severely compromised, in a work that is all about things creepy and ominous. Nonetheless, it is unequivocal that what its innovative director James Dalton delivers, is a rich and artful theatre, one that is as interested in its subject matter as it is in the characteristics of theatre itself.

Live performances comprise both the concrete and the esoteric. We go to them in search of magic, trusting that although the flesh and matter we encounter are essentially ordinary, something beyond the mundane will be experienced. If ghosts can be created on stage, we can make them appear in other places, voluntarily or involuntarily. As with gods, we can only prove their non-existence, but their presence is resolutely persistent, and ultimately ineludible.

www.bondifeast.com.au

Review: Ghost Stories (Sydney Opera House)

ghoststories1Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jul 8 – Aug 15, 2015
Playwright: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Director: Peter J. Snee
Cast: Tim Franklin, John Gregg, Lynden Jones, Aleks Mikić, Ben Wood

Theatre review
Horror movies have existed since the dawn of film technology in the 1890’s. It is a genre of storytelling that has always existed, and as such, should be thought of as integral to the way we communicate as a species, yet live theatre does not seem to have embraced that particular mode of presentation. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories adopts for an assembled crowd, the tradition of telling scary tales of the paranormal, with the intention of fascinating our senses and entertaining us. The work aims simply to frighten and thrill, so the script is tailored precisely for that purpose. It does not add much else to the experience, but its unpretentious simplicity helps it achieve an unusual show format that is refreshing and often very scary indeed.

Peter J. Snee’s direction cleverly manipulates all audio and visual cues in the venue to create the familiar sensations one derives from the horror genre. Unlike film though, we seem to require less extreme stimuli to respond with fear in live theatre. Thankfully, Snee does not push our limits too much, and the experience he provides never becomes unbearable. His design team (comprising Phil Shearer on production design, Christopher Page on lights, and Lana Kristensen on sound) does an excellent job of fulfilling its brief of creating a relentless air of skin-crawling foreboding that keeps tensions high, and when appropriate, shock us with powerful effects that literally make us jump.

There is a glaring lack of gender and ethnic diversity in the piece, but its all male cast is an accomplished one, with Lynden Jones’ performance as Professor Goodman providing the show with an inviting and dynamic energy. The actor is charmingly compelling, with an ability to turn the outlandish contexts believable, and a warmth that engages us for the entire duration, even when the plot starts to lose its resonance in its final moments.

Ghost Stories is a rare form of entertainment in the live arena, but it certainly does what it says on the bottle. The scares diminish with time, perhaps because of our acclimation to the production’s provocations, but on the occasions that it is effective, few things are quite as electrifying. There are many ways to have frivolous fun at the theatre, but choosing a night of horror over yet another musical is more than a novel option.

www.sydneyoperahouse.com