Review: Life Without Me (Illuminate Educate)

illuminateeducateVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 9 – 16, 2016
Playwright: Daniel Keene
Director: Cathy Hunt
Cast: Martin Broome, Annie Byron, Laurence Coy, Drew Fairley, Brendan Donoghue, Julie Hudspeth, Anne Wilson
Image by Stephen Reinhardt

Theatre review
The action takes place in a hotel, mostly in its lobby. The transient nature of this setting prompts us to look at the way we move through life; how we travel in relation to time, the people we encounter, and the meaning of ephemerality itself in personal existences that often deceive us with a feeling of permanence. Daniel Keene’s script has a surreal edge that helps skew our perspective, providing an alternative to the linearity that informs many of our understanding of the universe. The play has more than a few quirky facets, but its scenes are firmly attached to everyday concerns in a way that allow us to relate with all its characters no matter how colourful each scenario becomes.

Direction by Cathy Hunt achieves good clarity with plot trajectories and her active use of space helps keep our senses engaged, but the show is surprisingly muted. Keene’s text provides potential for a more adventurous approach, yet the production often seems to lack a greater sense of extravagance that would befit its very imaginative dialogue. Its actors tend to be restrained and polite, even though the concepts introduced veer towards something much wilder. Memorable personalities include Mrs Spence, performed by the very animated Annie Byron whose precision is a joy to watch. Her passionate demeanour and confident comic timing brings a valuable liveliness to a stage that is often too staid in tone. Also delightful is Laurence Coy as Roy who injects a convincing spontaneity to proceedings, along with a sensitive balance of consternation and optimism that we identify with.

Life Without Me is about living in purgatory, suspended in a state of limbo excluded from where the real action is. We wish for the characters to discover that the point of life is to live, to participate and to commit. We fear for their aimlessness and their indecisiveness, and we observe their passivity through the passage of time as if waiting for nothing but the arrival of certain death. At the hotel, people are always going somewhere, but they forget that they are already here.

Review: Neighbourhood Watch (Illuminate Educate)

illuminateVenue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), May 28 – Jun 6, 2015
Playwright: Lally Katz
Director: Susanna Dowling
Cast: Skyler Ellis, Gertraud Ingeborg, Steven Kreamer, Odile Le Clezio, Andrew Lindqvist, Linden Wilkinson, Anne Wilson

Theatre review
In Lally Katz’s Neighbourhood Watch, two women find a special but unexpected connection, and their bond helps them grow into individually stronger persons. The relationship gives their lives greater meaning, and their story is a reminder that the social aspects of our being is crucial to the way we evolve and progress. Ana and Catherine are women who have needed time to find independence and self-worth, and Katz’s writing makes no bones about using them to inspire girls and women. We often define ourselves in relation to men, in fiction as well as in reality, and the play brings focus to how we let that transpire, and then how we can find emancipation.

Direction of the work by Susanna Dowling is very polite. There is a quietness to the production that hinders the wit of the writing, but although energy levels are low, its main characters are vivid enough for the audience to absorb all that the show wishes to impart. The play is set in many different locations, so scene changes are tricky, and not always handled with enough elegance. Spacial use requires greater inventiveness to prevent distractions and plot confusion. On a brighter note, music is beautifully utilised in the production, with composer Steven Kreamer’s work adding a sophisticated and emotional dimension to proceedings

Lead characters are performed well, although disappointingly restrained. The story is about intimacy, but there is insufficient vivacity between personalities, and they never feel close enough for the narrative to become poignant. Ana is played by Gertraud Ingebors, whose dry sense of humour charms the audience. Her work is convincing and evocative, but the actor seems to have trouble finding enough chemistry with colleagues. Anne Wilson is a likeable Catherine, with a warm and tender presence, but some of her depictions of heavier emotions call for greater authenticity. Like Wilson, Skyler Ellis is immediately endearing in the supporting role of Ken. The part is considerably lightweight by comparison, but Ellis steps up to the mark at every opportunity to showcase his excellent comedic abilities.

The characters in the story connect, but the production feels distant. There is enough lucidity for everything to make sense, but in a cool and slightly detached manner. The shattered dreams and broken hearts in Neighbourhood Watch do not translate with great passion and urgency. Although we hear the message, we want also to understand how it feels to be the people on stage. The live medium of theatre bears the right circumstances to affect its captive audience like no other art form can, and it needs to use that rare and uniquely exciting proximity to spark something visceral, so that its revelations can impress even deeper.