Review: The Split (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 3 – 14, 2019
Playwright: Sarah Hamilton
Director: Charley Sanders
Cast: Amy Victoria Brooks, Max Garcia-Underwood

Theatre review
We are with Jules and Tom are on a small boat, where for several days and nights, they have isolated themselves to sort out an unspeakable problem. It must be a difficult one because we see them evading the issue, indulging instead in a lot of mundane chat and frivolous activity, leaving their purpose ignored in the background.

Sarah Hamilton’s The Split demonstrates what it is like, when things are too hard to deal with, especially if they relate to matters of the heart. The work is keenly observed, although its unrelenting sense of wistfulness can prove a challenge for the 90-minute duration. The couple is in a state of fragility, and we watch them unable to access anything that might fracture their emotional equilibrium, resulting in a play that stays too much in a delicate space, refusing to deliver a more obvious drama, or comedy, that would sustain our interest.

Performers in The Split are beautifully focused, very confident and precise with their respective portrayals. Amy Victoria Brooks and Max Garcia-Underwood may not deliver convincing sizzle as lovers, but both actors bring a valuable depth to their characters, able to convey authenticity for every scene. Director Charley Sanders’ storytelling is honest, but the production is too subdued in approach, and as a consequence, insufficiently engaging. Lights and video projections by Kobe Donaldson contribute some visual appeal to the staging, although atmosphere could be further enhanced to complement the writing’s sensual melancholy.

Life is hard; all we can do is to give it our best shot. As we watch Jules and Tom fail at what they had set out to achieve, we examine the way people deal with painful situations, in the understanding that it is the very nature of pain, that makes us run away from what we acknowledge needs to be addressed. The two take it slow, waiting for the ache to subside, so that they can finally arrive at a moment of confrontation that both know to be necessary. Not everything can be ripped off like a band aid. We learn that some things deserve the luxury of time, even if everything in this moment, does feel like a real state of emergency.

Review: Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. (House Of Sand)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 2 – 19, 2018
Playwright: Alice Birch
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Violette Ayad, Anna Cheney, Enya Daly, Richard Hilliar, Moreblessing Maturure, Eliza Sanders
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
The play begins as though a manual providing instruction on becoming a radical feminist, offering steps of revolutionary action to attain some kind of ideal state of being. For those who understand their subjugation, the idea of taking down the powerful is always appealing, but the truth remains, that vacuums are nonviable and breaking something down requires the installation of something new. Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is a thrilling ride for anyone with a taste for rebellion. Its militant spirit is seductive, with powerful declarations that will excite those similarly inclined. The piece evolves unexpectedly, introducing in later portions, complexities that confront its own passionate proclamations of earlier scenes. Birch wants us mobilised, but in a smart way. Activism cannot thrive only on impulse. Long term strategies must accompany courses of action, or we risk ending up at a place worse than before.

The show speaks resonantly, with director Charles Sanders’ intellect a fortifying authority that establishes clarity for all its arguments. The politics in Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. are made compelling by Sanders’ palpable enthusiasm for the subject matter, and their insistence that we hear its messages, translates into excellent drama. Design style is fairly simple for the production, with Joanne Joy’s visual projections particularly effective in helping to assert some of the highly provocative concepts.

All six performers for the piece are impressive, each one given ample opportunity to put on display their individual talents, as well as a unifying and admirable conviction pertaining to the material at hand. Eliza Sanders imbues her lines with authenticity and precision, delivering a delightful acerbity with every utterance, and equally memorable for her disciplined physical expressions. The imposing figure of Moreblessing Maturure is accompanied with a tender vulnerability, especially convincing in a maternal role, conveying unassailable qualities of our humanity with beautiful restraint and confidence. The lone thorn among the roses is Richard Hilliar, whose comedy hits all the right notes, whether understated, madcap or frighteningly bombastic. Violette Ayad and Enya Daly bring emotion when we least expect it, creating additional dimensions to an already rich work, and Anna Cheney’s ability to oscillate between realism and the flamboyantly bizarre, has us fascinated and entertained.

Anarchy may not be the answer we need, but the power of resistance must never be underestimated. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is full of inspiration, for those of us who recognise the concerns that it raises. Revolutions must start somewhere, and the personal can be the site on which we begin positioning the battleground. Warriors have the capacity for long, hard slogs, and they understand that to suffer the pains of combat, far surpasses the unbearable torment of injustice. Fights are best undertaken when there is light at the end of tunnel. In the business of social activism, soldiers will get beaten down every day, but a resilient optimism is the key conspirator, to the ability to know right from wrong.

5 Questions with Anna Cheney and Eliza Sanders

Anna Cheney

Eliza Sanders: What’s the first show you ever saw?
Anna Cheney: Romeo And Juliette the ballet… oh no it wasn’t, it was 7 Little Australians. I felt really privileged to be taken to the theatre as child, because it has shaped me and I bloody love live theatre because it is visceral, it causes you to think and ask questions of life and humans and I think it can change lives.

What was your first acting experience?
I used to do magic shows. I used to learn magic tricks from a book and then create a show and then take them into primary school and perform them in front of the class. Then when my classmates learned how to do the tricks they teased me.

What did you do then?
I cried all night then went back the next day and did it again, but better. Fuck you school kids!

Why are you passionate about this show?
I’ve never read a play that is quite as radical and unusual as this play and this theatre company is the perfect company to take it on. The director has a very clear vision regarding his desire for both equality and great theatre. House of Sand has brought together a diverse range of professionals to undertake this ‘everistic’ task (is that a word?… climbing theatrical mountains) Now, a week away from opening I can see even more how much of a genius Alice Birch is because we have a kick ass production from what seamed like a very strange conglomeration of words on a page, vignettes and abstract provocations regarding women and language. I don’t know how this writer has done it, but fuck, she’s amazing.

What’s your favourite female body part?
This bit (gestures to place above belly button below breast. It’s got a name but I can’t think what it’s called. Solar plexus? It’s soft and smooth and close to your heart. On my body, my hands, but not aesthetically, just what I can do with them.

Why do we need feminism?
A million thoughts rage in my head! Feminism has a long way to go but, fuck, it’s important. If we didn’t have it, the world would be in a worse place. True equality or the aim for true equality is something that I believe would help every person on the planet.

Eliza Sanders

Anna Cheney: What is the answer to the patriarchy?
Eliza Sanders: Fuck knows.

AC: What do you think about shows that use sexy women to sell them?
ES: Depends if that has anything to do with the content on the show. I don’t think it is bad to use women’s bodies for marketing if it is justified and consensual. But I think men’s bodies should be used more often for marketing, but maybe that just because I personally love the look of men’s bodies.

As a professional dancer, what is it like acting in a play?
Not as physical. Haha. It is more different than I thought it would be. The communication around language is much more considered which makes for a different pace in the rehearsal room which has taken some adjusting. It’s slower in the moment but somehow the whole work seems to come together much quicker. There is also more work that you have to do outside of the studio like learning lines and investigating character choices, and less rolling all over your collaborators.

How is Sydney going to respond to this play?
That is something I really can’t predict, Sydney audiences are not particularly familiar to me. I think they will be amused and entertained primarily and hopefully it will cause then to question and reassess their perspectives on feminism and language.

How is live theatre relevant in a world of screens?
It’s about building communities and bringing people together in physical space. Giving people a reason to leave the house and socialise and interact with ideas without being able to press pause whenever they want. There is a different energetic charge in a live room that you don’t get from a screen. The reason I do it is because it affects your body in a physical way and that allows intellectual and emotional understanding to be gained in a different capacity. Primarily it is about sharing. You can’t do it on your own.

Anna Cheney and Eliza Sanders are appearing in Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. by Alice Birch.
Dates: 2 – 19 May, 2018
Venue: The Old 505 Theatre

Review: Pedal & Castles (House Of Sand)

houseofsandVenue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 20 – 24, 2016
Creator: Eliza Sanders
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Eliza Sanders

Theatre review
Pedal and Castles are a pairing of individual pieces that demonstrate the genius talent of Eliza Sanders, whose boundless exploration into performance and theatre creation that deliver experiences that are full of joy, surprise and wonder. Amalgamating the clichéd triple threat of singing, dancing and acting, Sanders redefines the stage artist into a singular agent with capacities limited only by imagination. Her multi-disciplinary skills are showcased perfectly in both works, along with the most inventive approach to writing and choreography for a style of show that is striking for its effortless originality and distinctive sense of beauty.

These are not simply stories, but abstract expressions that find a purpose in time without the reliance on logic and narrative. In tandem with brother Charles Sanders’ direction, the siblings’ ability to move us, to cease our attention and connect with our emotions, without the use of anything remotely formulaic or conventional, is evidence that a purity of intention and an instinctive acuity are at play here.

Eliza Sanders’ physical presence is that of a dancer’s, all discipline and agility, but her personality refuses to be subservient, the combination of which results in a powerful state of being that puts on stage, the very vibrancy of life itself. Without the distraction of reason, we are in direct contact with a living, breathing and in this case, enthralling, organism, whose various representations of our complex existence, draw us into a state of sharing, listening and acknowledgement, that seems to make life that much more meaningful. Observing Sanders is to be at one with nature, and the resonance she provides, is akin to the excitement one receives when enraptured in the vision of early spring’s blossoming flowers.

Where there is no need to ask why, we abandon the past and the future, to stay firmly in the now. Eliza and Charles Sanders are important artists who give us an alternate view of the world. Knowledge and experience are limitless, and in art, we can find catalysts to help us grow. The language in Pedal and Castles is not a translatable version of the familiar, but a different course of communication for arriving at somewhere new. The danger of becoming small and narrow is ever-present, but when art does its job well, we are shown the way to emancipation, and we must take every step that leads us there.