Review: Visiting Hours (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 7 – 17, 2018
Playwrights: John Harrison, Constantine Costi, Michael Costi
Directors: John Harrison, Michael Dean
Cast: Keiren Brereton, Tara Clark, Rose Costi, Laura Djanegara, Sarah Evans, Cheyne Fynn, Jasper Garner Gore, Richard Hilliar, Derbail Kinsella, Sheila Kumar, Yannick Lawry, Kianah Marlena, Suz Mawer, Tom McCracken, Jim McCrudden, Joshua McElroy, Rebecca Claire Moret, Mansoor Noor, Heather Prowse, Monica Sayers, Katherine Shearer, Emma White, Elijah Williams, Nicole Wineberg, Arisa Yura
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The people who work in hospitals are among some of the best human beings we have, but the experience of visiting medical institutions is often harrowing. We are at our most vulnerable, quite literally putting our lives in the hands of others. The immersive theatre production Visiting Hours, written by John Harrison, Constantine Costi and Michael Costi, investigates that very notion of having to submit to health experts and authorities, of being in a situation where one’s mortality is constantly under threat and question. We venture through ten or so spaces, guided by strange or menacing personalities, never knowing what is to come.

The experience is often terrifying, but in a humorous, often childlike way, where we engage in the sensation of fear, understanding that no real danger is ever present. The spaces are marvellously designed to deliver a sense of nightmarish foreboding, whilst stimulating all our senses in a range of unexpectedly pleasurable ways. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are almost inappropriately sexy, in their many spectacular evocations of tension and anxiety. Production design by Anna Gardiner offers spatial configurations that constantly surprise and amuse. Tegan Nicholls’ sounds are powerfully hypnotic, in how they coax us into strange realms of fantasy.

Visiting Hours is a thrilling show, and its demands of us as active participants in the story, are rich enough to elicit genuinely complex reactions, without ever crossing any lines. The first half involves a high level of interactivity, delivering intensely fascinating sequences that captivate all our senses and intellect. As it progresses however, we are released into more conventional and passive modes of audienceship, and even though we continue to be gripped by its continual atmospheric fluctuations, our minds struggle to focus on the show’s sudden reliance on spoken text. Our minds and bodies remain preoccupied with the multidimensional appeal of spaces, and can only listen sporadically to the words being said. Nonetheless, there is no question that the work is beautifully performed, by a huge cast of 26 actors, all convincing, charming and playfully provocative with their individual roles.

We all have to live inside power structures that keep us subjugated. Being at the bottom of the pile is sometimes involuntary, sometimes complicit. Visiting Hours challenges us to think about compliance and choice, and to examine the meaning of free will, when society seems to have a persistent appetite for deception and oppression. False gods in white coats can often appear to be all we have, but the ability to think for oneself and the courage to obey one’s own intuition, are always on hand.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: Tonsils And Tweezers (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 12 – 27, 2018
Playwright: Will O’Mahony
Director: Michael Abercromby
Cast: Travis Jeffery, James Sweeny, Megan Wilding, Hoa Xuande
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Will O’Mahony’s black comedy Tonsils And Tweezers centres itself on two young men, who share not only a very close relationship, but also the unyielding malaise of modern masculinity. We see them bond as outsiders in school, and witness how that relationship shapes the adults that they try to become.

The narrative might be fairly simple, but the plot is a deliberately beguiling one that ends up delivering more confusion than it intends. We sense an emotional crescendo being constructed thoughtfully as each scene progresses, but its inability to have us sufficiently identify with either Tonsils or Tweezers, takes us to a conclusion that never manages to be more than lukewarm.

The actors however, are full of conviction and reliably entertaining. Travis Jeffery and Hoa Xuande are the leads, both authentically present and impressive with the gravity they bring to the stage at crucial junctures of drama. Even more appealing, are supporting players James Sweeny and Megan Wilding, memorable with the scintillating humour they are able to introduce throughout the piece. None of these characters are particularly likeable, but it is a cast that we are glad to have spent time with.

Director Michael Abercromby takes us through the play’s many blunt atmospheric shifts with admirable elegance and efficiency. Lights by Liam O’Keefe and sound by James Yeremeyev have a tendency to work slightly too literally, but are highly effective with the way time, place and mood are calibrated for our subliminal comprehension. Patrick Howe does remarkable well as set designer, creating a space beautifully sleek in its minimalism, whilst portraying a cold brutality that is consistent with emotions relevant to the text.

In Tonsils And Tweezers, the Australian man’s problem with self-expression is, characteristically, looked at, but not looked into. The inability of our boys and men, to articulate and to understand their own feelings is, as the play points out vigorously, clearly detrimental, but how all this transpires, is all but neglected. We know the effects of toxic masculinity, but are yet to examine it in a way that can bring us satisfactory solutions. The dismantlement of old structures that we continue to live within, is necessary but strenuous. Some have begun work on that process, but more will have to come on board, if we wish to truly progress.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: A Christmas Carol (Lies, Lies And Propaganda)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 14 – 24, 2017
Playwright: Melissa Lee Speyer (from the Charles Dickens novel)
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Aslam Abdus-Samad, Dymphna Carew, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jacqueline Marriott, Monica Sayers, Bishanyia Vincent, Michael Yore
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review
The famous Mr. Scrooge is resurrected, in Melissa Lee Speyer’s retelling of A Christmas Carol. The notorious characteristics remain, but his story is updated for our times, with new resonances for the Trump era. This new Scrooge belongs to the tribe that believes in the “trickle-down effect” of conservative politics; the kind of man who tells his employees that they have to work harder, whilst he dreams up new ways to cut their wages. Scrooge’s sin is not that he has an aversion to Christmas, but that he is selfish and unkind. On that one day his workers are away, and he is unable to scheme and torture, ghosts come to haunt him as he faces his own desperate loneliness. On Christmas Day, money proves ineffectual, and he has no recourse but to confront the man in the mirror.

It is a strong adaptation, poignant and accurate with its melancholic observations of contemporary life. Michael Dean’s direction of the piece turns A Christmas Carol into a pantomime for grown-ups, silly in parts, but impressively enthusiastic in the way its message is communicated. Music by Miles Elkington brings a quirky edge, and although not always calibrated to perfection, its function as guide for our emotional responses from scene to scene, is indispensable. The cast is adorable, and very sprightly, with Bobbie-Jean Henning as a captivating, if not entirely convincing, Scrooge. Michael Yore is memorable as the Ghost of Christmas Past, with splendid comic timing and an endearing sense of mischief. Similarly noteworthy is Bishanyia Vincent, especially in the role of Mrs. Cratchit for the production’s most moving sequence, with a contribution surprising in nuance, proving to be remarkably powerful.

When Scrooge is shown the error of his ways, we are reminded of tyrants everywhere who refuse to acknowledge the damage they do, even when presented with incontrovertible evidence. Our cynicism in the age of “fake news” has taught us to expect the worst from men in power, who will deny all their crimes, no matter how plain the truth that is laid out before their eyes. We cannot afford to do nothing and wait for bad men to come to their senses, but their dominance in our world means that we have little at our disposal, in terms of remedy or retribution. It is idealistic, indeed fairytale-like, to wait for the miraculous return of kindness in today’s climate, but on the darkest days, it does seem to be the only thing left. It is perhaps pertinent at Christmas time to remember that Jesus Christ had said, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

www.liesliesandpropaganda.com

Review: Night Slows Down (Don’t Look Away Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 9, 2017
Playwright: Phillip James Rouse
Director: Phillip James Rouse
Cast: Andre de Vanny, Danielle King, Johnny Nasser
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
It is no secret that something very sinister is happening to our politics. For a variety of reasons, Australians have gradually become more extreme in our views, increasingly unable to tolerate differences, of opinions, lifestyles and backgrounds. In Phillip James Rouse’s Night Slows Down, a disastrous scenario presents itself, and the dark fantasy of those we call the alt-right or neo-Nazis, becomes reality.

The fascists have taken over, and they run the country by unleashing all the menacing impulses that have hitherto been forbidden. It is a regime based purely on unexamined emotion, where logic and level heads mean little. This is not the first time that we see a Nazi government, but unlike stories from the previous century, Night Slows Down is immediate, urgent and real. We recognise the people and places, and are unable to relegate these atrocities to a hazy past, a distant history that we tell ourselves is all but vanquished. Rouse’s stunning play is about a very near future, when we have taken one too many missteps, and the last straw finally breaks the camel’s back.

It is a fierce indictment of whiteness in cultures like ours; an ethnic majority that continually feels the need to exert its dominance. Even as it retains power, it never stops imagining a demise, and its imperialistic drive seems unable to be tamed. Their war cry in the play is “For The Future” through which enemies are constantly identified, for the now is never enough.

Fascism is not an idealistic state of being, but a never-ending project that discriminates and destroys. It has no meaning unto itself, except as an apparatus of ceaseless segregation and eradication. It pretends to be protecting something pure, but in fact its only true objective is to annihilate. The meaning of white is never stable, and those who seek preservation through its identification, are wholly responsible for their own anxiety.

Actor Andre de Vanny is outstanding as Seth, the racist bigot with no talent except for divisive politics. Like all the idiots in government we know who operate in the same way, it is a pointless exercise trying to reach a satisfactory understanding of their psychology, yet de Vanny has us entirely convinced of the villain’s whys and wherefores. His powerful portrayal of a simpleton overcome with hate, is as thrilling as it is distressing.

Also remarkable is leading lady Danielle King, who has us entranced with a profound capacity for depth and nuance. The emotional and intellectual scope she brings to the role of Sharon, allows us to interpret the story beyond the surfaces of good and bad. We are inspired to investigate the resonance she delivers, to discover for ourselves, what it is that consumes us as a society today, and whether we are able to offer effective resistance to corrupting forces. Johnny Nasser is a quieter presence, but no less affecting a performer, leaving an excellent impression, with a dignified emphasis on delivering authenticity to the role of Martin and his shocking persecution.

Lighting design by Sian James-Holland adds dynamism to proceedings, with a creative intricacy that sets a precise tone for each scene. The set is imagined with appropriate restraint, and cleverly executed by production designers Anna Gardiner and Martelle Hunt, to facilitate optimum showmanship by the very compelling cast. Night Slows Down is a tightly orchestrated work, brilliantly helmed by Phillip James Rouse as writer and director, to tell us something irrefutable and pertinent.

It is a discussion shaped by the most pressing issues of today. So much that is conceptual, buzzing in the ether, is consolidated here, for a catastrophic manifestation of our worst nightmares. It functions as warning and premonition. The drama captivates because it speaks our truth so loudly, even though the circumstances it describes, are grandiose in its fictiveness. We are terrified, because we know that the worst is only a hair away.

http://www.kingsxtheatre.com | www.facebook.com/DLATheatre

Review: She Rode Horses Like The Stock Exchange (Rocket Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 20 – Nov 11, 2017
Playwright: Amelia Roper
Director: Nell Ranney
Cast: Nikki Britton, Tom Anson Mesker, Matilda Ridgway, Dorje Swallow
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
A couple attempts to have a pleasant Sunday picnic, but investment banker Amy’s mind is preoccupied with work. She obsesses about money and power, unable to enjoy her day in the park, even as she is immersed in the glorious sunshine, with her beau Henry by her side.

Amelia Roper’s She Rode Horses Like The Stock Exchange examines our propensity to dwell on materialism and narcissistic conceptions of success, whilst ignoring the better things in life. Its characters pursue hollow dreams, making big sacrifices that amount to nothing. For all of us who participate in societies defined by commodification and consumption, that inability to find fulfilment and happiness can only ring true.

For all its pessimism, the play is humorously written, in a style that charms with its idiosyncrasy. Speech patterns are a delight in Roper’s piece. The production, helmed by director Nell Ranney, is correspondingly quirky, made memorable by Isabel Hudson’s attractive set and costume design. Early moments struggle to resonate, but the show recovers wonderfully when a second couple joins the stage.

Nikki Britton and Dorje Swallow are a vivacious pair, bringing necessary acerbity to the black comedy being performed. Their housewife and executive stereotypes are personalities we want to laugh at, and the actors allow us that opportunity by presenting those roles in a crisp, uncomplicated manner.

Tom Anson Mesker and Matilda Ridgway have more complex concerns, and although less funny with their interpretations, what they bring to the table is equally meaningful. Ridgway is especially effective in moments when we deal directly with issues of professional sexism, cuttingly salient with what she wishes to impart.

Amy and Sara may have diverse strategies in surviving patriarchy, but both are serving and preserving its dominance. The career woman plays by every rule at work, but finds herself discarded. The wife does all that is expected of her at home, then loses everything. They wager all that they have, on systems designed to fail them, and remain oblivious to the quandary that has them confined. We are taught to be good, and we spend years of our lives behaving appropriately, until a day comes when we realise our own freedom to establish a personal sovereignty.

http://www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: Puntila Matti (MKA Theatre / Doppelgangster)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 25 – Oct 14, 2017
Playwright: Tobias Manderson-Galvin (after Bertolt Brecht and Hella Wuolijoki)
Director: Tobias Manderson Galvin
Cast: Antoniette Barboutis, Grace Lauer, Tobias Manderson-Galvin
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
We are told that the show’s departure point is Brecht’s 1940 script Mr Puntila And His Man Matti, but not much else can be certain in anyone’s reading of Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s Puntila Matti. Its deliberately bewildering enactment of a chaotic aesthetic, places us in a theatre that is less about stories, and more about experience and experiment, with time as a foregrounded instrument of its artistic practice. We look at a juxtaposition of bodies within time (and space) to garner meaning from any work of theatre, and in the case of Puntila Matti, we are challenged to find a way to appreciate and to comprehend all the riotous action, when its creators intentions seem to be to obfuscate the original narratives on which the show is built.

Manderson-Galvin acknowledges the European history so intimately entangled in the Western art of Australia. If Bertolt Brecht is present in every official form of theatre education disseminated on our land, then this relationship we endure, with a distant past from a faraway region, has to be interrogated. We can try to ignore old Europe’s stifling domination, and pretend to create new voices that are transparently offshoots of that heritage, or we can examine it with irreverence and subversion, as is done in Puntila Matti. Manderson-Galvin reframes Brecht in his own words, then makes them distorted and unintelligible, almost Dadaist in style. This is not a play about dependable dialogue and consistent characters. It is about the establishment, and how we can confront it.

The centrepiece is Manderson-Galvin himself, an imposing figure, wildly energetic and disarmingly intuitive as live performer. A fearlessness in his approach provides assurance of a man in charge, but it also keeps us on our toes, compelled and vigilant in the absence of the fourth wall convention. Grace Lauer provides a sense of anchor to proceedings, a necessary counterbalance that gives texture and dynamism to the presentation. Antoinette Barboutis is on the periphery, playing disoriented narrator with remarkable comedy, consistently, and delightfully, stealing the show from under the key performers.

When we come to recognise the bad in our inheritance, the brave will seek reparation. If our art is broken, it only makes sense that the most innovative of us, will attempt to find solutions. Reacting to the racist, sexist, homophobic, classist (you get the drift) systems in which we have to operate, requires that all participants, practitioners as well as audiences, must learn to face up to the new. It will be awkward, perplexing, even distressing, but those are sensations inherent in any true and radical emancipation. We may never be able to entirely abandon the past, but in rejecting the familiar and the comforting, we know that a genuine progression is in process.

www.mka.org.auwww.doppelgangster.com

Review: American Beauty Shop (Some Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 25 – Sep 16, 2017
Playwright: Dana Lynn Formby
Director: Anna McGrath
Cast: Charmaine Bingwa, Caitlin Burley, Amanda Stephens Lee, Jill McKay, Janine Watson
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The times might be a-changin’, but the American Dream goes on strong. Sue is a hairdresser who runs a small business in the town of Cortez in Colorado, and although she lives hand to mouth, her dreams of escaping poverty never fade. Dana Lynn Formby’s American Beauty Shop is about an underclass of the USA, that believes in hard work as deliverance. They may or may not understand the systematic oppression that they suffer under, but they focus only on labour and enterprise, without any attention placed on political action. Sue accepts her place in society, and plays by the rules, thinking that a commitment to drudgery is her only way out.

Amanda Stephens Lee is an affable presence as Sue. We understand her struggles, and wish the best for her, but let down by lacklustre direction, the women’s stories in American Beauty Shop fail to move us. The production feels under-rehearsed, and although most of the cast is able to demonstrate a good grasp of their individual roles, we are kept waiting for sparks that never fly. The stakes are high for the characters, but dramatic tension is sorely missing from this stage. Conflict and altercations are rarely convincing, as though we sense that all will be good in the end. It is a false sense of security, and the desperation of the Cortez poor, remains an abstract, and distant, concept.

The system is broken, but it was always designed to fail the vast majority. It is an illusion that all who have wealth are deserving of it, implying that those without, are wholly responsible for their own misfortune. The women in American Beauty Shop have ambition and the appropriate fortitude to push for better days, but the cards are stacked firmly against them. They know only to participate in a game that gives them miserably poor odds, and as we watch their fates unfold, it is the lack of fairness in our increasingly capitalist worlds that must leave an impression.

www.facebook.com/somecompanyproductions