Review: Coram Boy (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 7, 2019
Playwright: Helen Edmundson (adapted from the novel by Jamila Gavin)
Directors: Michael Dean, John Harrison
Cast: Rebecca Abdel-Messih, Lloyd Allison-Young, Violette Ayad, Andrew Den, Ryan Hodson, Joshua McElroy, Tinashe Mangwana, Suz Mawer, Emma O’Sullivan, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Ariadne Sgouros, Annie Stafford, Amanda Stephens-Lee, Petronella Van Tienen, Joshua Wiseman
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The story revolves around the “Coram Hospital for Deserted Children” in 18th century London. Babies are abandoned, with some subsequently rescued and many others allowed to die, in Jamila Gavin’s novel Coram Boy, adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson. The epic features unfeeling landowners, ruthless criminals, desperate mothers, music prodigies and George Frideric Handel, all woven into a very big play with narratives that all concern themselves with the welfare of children.

Wonderfully imaginative and often very touching, Coram Boy is written almost like a screenplay, with short scenes taking place in a myriad different places. Directors Michael Dean and John Harrison orchestrate the action marvellously, adventurous in their efforts to help us suspend disbelief inside a small black auditorium, allowing us to see in our mind’s eye, old streets, stately homes and the deep blue ocean. Lighting design by Benjamin Brockman is instrumental in manufacturing these impossible visions, extravagant and evocative with everything he presents. Similarly rhapsodic is Nate Edmondson’s sound design, an unbelievably rich aspect of the show, thoroughly assembled to cover all bases for a luscious rendering of this period drama.

Fifteen passionate members of cast bring soulful life to a huge roster of personalities, all of them imbued a sense of authenticity under the strict supervision of Dean and Harrison. The powerful Lloyd Allison-Young is captivating with the flamboyance he brings to the baddie Otis Gardiner, as is Gideon Payen-Griffiths who plays Handel, and other roles, with a delicious sense of theatrical ostentation. Annie Stafford takes care to introduce valuable nuance to the ingenue Melissa Milcote, while Joshua Wiseman impresses with musical talents that measure up beautifully to his considerable acting abilities.

Ariadne Sgouros is unforgettable with the emotional intensity she provides Mrs Lynch, a complex character with severely conflicting qualities that the actor makes truthful. Equally genuine in presence is Violette Ayad as Isobel Ashbrook, whose subtleties never fail to catch our attention, even in a sea of persistent cacophony. The noteworthy Emma O’Sullivan takes on a range of smaller parts with gusto, remarkably persuasive with all of them.

The greatest inspiration one would take from Coram Boy relates to the immense ambition on display. A grander project could not be envisioned for a smaller space, yet all three hours of the experience is entrancing, satisfying and fruitful. The rich people in the story have every resource to do good, but they do only bad. It may not be true that money will only bring forth evil, but it is clear that on this occasion, necessity has become the mother of invention. Endless shows have been put on costing more, but have delivered far less. When we feel as though in the gutter, looking at starry affairs of the wealthy, it is important to remember that the problems that money can solve for our individual lives, are not often as exhaustive as they seem to promise. When a lot is done with very little, is when we know that something truly great has been achieved.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: Rudy & Cuthbert Too (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 17 – 21, 2019
Playwrights: Toby Blome, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin
Director: Jo Turner
Cast: Toby Blome, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Rudy and Cuthbert are throwing a party. They consult a listicle on the internet, for ten sure-fire ways to make it a success, but it appears that information on the world wide web is not always reliable. In accordance with the top tips they had discovered, the young men work hard to make fun. Performers Toby Blome and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin, on the other hand, are effortless in their approach, for a whimsical comedy based on mime and clowning principles.

There is an unmistakable innocence in the characters, that sets the tone for the show. Having presented themselves to be devoid of agenda, other than the simple intention of having a party for their friends, we watch circumstances evolve, and observe the way things begin to happen to Rudy and Cuthbert, to arrive at an understanding that life has its way of taking you by surprise.

Directed by Jo Turner, the show is perfectly paced, to offer an experience that is deeply amusing and consistently delightful. The escalation in stakes and therefore tension, gives Rudy & Cuthbert Too an emotional dimension that is perhaps surprising for a presentation of this form. Although eccentric in style, Blome and Cressey-Gladwin have energetic presences that always maintain a firm grip over their audience. The boys make it a point to look like they are fooling around, but their irrefutable proficiency would suggest that they mean business.

Click-baits are deceptive by nature, and they take without giving anything satisfying in return. Theatre is quite the opposite. It allows us to sit in what is usually a state of passivity, while extraordinary attempts at deciphering the universe’s meanings are being offered up in earnest. Whether entertaining, informative, inspiring, or exasperating, these gifts from artists everywhere are immense, and a crucial element in determining how our civilisation does or does not flourish. There is no question that most of Australia’s art is devalued. If we could only give it as much as we do the endless pointless clicks on our phones, our extinction might just become avertible.

www.facebook.com/rudycuthbert

Review: Good Dog (Green Door Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 1 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Arinzé Kene
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Justin Amankwah
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Good Dog by Arinzé Kene, details the life of a young black man in working class England. We watch him from childhood, an innocent boy like any other who dreams of owning a bicycle, but who learns instead, the harsh realities of poverty. It is a story about race and class, and how people can be depleted of patience and naivety, in the face of unremitting injustice. Years of deprivation sets our unnamed protagonist on a course of rebellion, that the play appropriately depicts as a valid response to systematic failures of modern economies.

Kene’s writing is intriguing, in a linguistic style faithful to the cultural contexts from which it emerges. Directed by Rachel Chant, the production is sensitive, and dignified, in its portrayals of prejudice and disparity in a foreign land. Sound design by Melanie Herbert is particularly subtle in how it conveys psychological shifts for the one-man show. Kelsey Lee’s lights are an elegant feature, and a set by Maya Keys provides just enough visual cues to spark our imagination. Actor Justin Amankwah is extraordinarily charismatic, but insufficiently inventive and overly naturalistic in the role. Good Dog requires a more expository approach to speak to an Australian audience, and at over two hours long, a stronger sense of theatricality is necessary to sustain our interest.

The power of white supremacist capitalism lies in the way it is able to subjugate so many, for so long. Those of us who are oppressed, not only buy into their myths about hard work and meritocracy, we further sympathise with their prescriptions of politeness and civility. They keep us asking for better, over generations, knowing that their continual denials are only met with perpetual compliance. Once in a blue moon however, a revolution will arise, with people tired of waiting, finally pressed to claim back their due by force. How and when this is going to happen, is as always, anyone’s guess.

www.greendoortheatreco.com

Review: Rosaline (Little Trojan Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 11 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Joanna Erskine
Director: Sophie Kelly
Cast: Alex Beauman, Jeremi Campese, David Lynch, Aanisa Vylet
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Shakespeare never let us see Rosaline, when he wrote about her in Romeo & Juliet. We knew her to be Juliet’s cousin, the girl who had rejected Romeo’s advances, before the famous lovers’ fateful meeting at the Capulet ball. Joanna Erskine’s Rosaline takes what is ostensibly a stock character, and makes her the central figure of an alternate teenage love story. We are reminded that it was only Rosaline’s efforts at chastity that stood in the way, and discover that she too, was completely enamoured, just as Juliet had been head over heels in love with Romeo. Erskine’s play represents justice not only for a silenced woman, but asserts female perspectives in a culture that is too accepting of the Bard’s persistent and pervasive misogyny.

The work is however, only marginally radical with its revisions of the legendary saga. It concerns itself mainly with supplementing the original tale, rather than daring to argue for a completely different, wholly more palatable version of events. Directed by Sophie Kelly, the show can tend to feel excessively earnest, and therefore needlessly reverential toward Shakespeare’s old creation. The production is nonetheless a good-looking one, made lustrous and polished by Martin Kinnane’s lighting design.

Actor Aanisa Vylet is an alluring leading lady, with an easy confidence that makes believable Rosaline’s new-found existence. When given the opportunity, Vylet demonstrates herself to be a remarkably spirited performer, as does Jeremi Campese, who brings a valuable vibrancy to the piece. Romeo is played by Alex Beauman, passionate and appropriately naive in his portrayal of the juvenile romantic, and David Lynch surprises with the intricacies he is able to locate for his interpretation of the Friar.

It is certainly a valid choice to create a lovelorn Rosaline, but some would find it disheartening that centuries later, the young woman is still being defined so resolutely against a man who loves another. Even though we had come to know Rosaline through Romeo, there is certainly no need to remain within his doomed narrative. We are all bit parts in someone’s story, playing minuscule roles for people we could very well have forgotten. At the centre of each personal universe, is an undeniable responsibility to create a rich life, and to ensure a meaningful existence. Rosaline’s story might have begun with Romeo, but where she went thereafter, is still anyone’s guess.

www.facebook.com/littletrojantheatre

Review: A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) (Futura Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 20 – Oct 5, 2019
Playwright: Lulu Raczka
Director: Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Michelle Ny, Caitlin Burley
Images by Jarryd Dobson, Indiana Kwong

Theatre review
The city has been experiencing frequent blackouts, during which women and girls would disappear, many of whom would be subsequently found murdered. 16-year-old Steph is out looking for her best friend who has gone missing. She is certain that Bell, a young woman working in a bar, is withholding valuable information. Lulu Raczka’s A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) sees those two characters imagining the fate of a vanished girl. They play out scenarios by pretending to be male perpetrators of violence, thereby revealing the dangers that women know themselves to be subject to.

In the many blackouts that occur during the course of the production, the audience is repeatedly thrust into a state of anxiety, made even more unnerving by Hannah Goodwin’s very taut direction. Fear is always in the air, with the audience positioned to confront the constant threat that defines daily reality for most women. It is that sensation of when we walk into a bar, and our awareness of being looked upon as a piece of meat, is instantly heightened. The show is incredibly well designed, with Sophie Pilcher’s lights and Jessica Dunn’s sound wonderfully precise in manipulating our visceral responses for this gritty journey. Ella Butler’s work on set and costumes too, is highly accomplished. There is a sharpness to the aesthetic of A Girl In School Uniform that translates as a certain brutal coldness in how the world can be, even for young girls.

Actor Michelle Ny brings sass as well as dramatic intensity to the part of Bell, demonstrating impressive versatility in a role that requires of its performer, a wide range of attitudes and emotions. Steph is brought to life by the strong stage presence of Caitlin Burley, marvellous in conveying both innocence and fortitude for the role. The pair is exceptionally well rehearsed. Their chemistry and timing for this extremely technical two-hander has us agape in amazement, leaving us firmly persuaded by all that they present.

In the play we observe the dark to be infinitely more harrowing for women, but the incessant power failure is allowed to become a new status quo, exposing the ease with which society disregards our safety. We are comfortable with the idea that there is a weaker sex, and continue to foster behaviour and beliefs to reinforce that repugnant imbalance. We make things harder for women, often through the disinformation that women are naturally more challenged, usually due to bogus notions of biology or religion. The system will insist that we accept our fate, that we must respond to blatant injustice with resignation. Realising that acquiescence is almost always a choice, is how we can begin to address these issues of gender.

www.futurafilms.co

Review: U.B.U: A Cautionary Tale Of Catastrophe (Tooth And Sinew)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 10 – 21, 2019
Playwright: Richard Hilliar
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Tristan Black, Lib Campbell, Rachael Colquhoun-Fairweather, Emily Elise, Sam Glissan, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Shane Russon, Idam Sondhi, Nicole Wineberg
Images by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
The prime minister has a secret plan to depose the king, and have him replaced by a civilian best described as a lazy idiot, in Richard Hilliar’s U.B.U: A Cautionary Tale Of Catastrophe. PM Fuller Bjullshitt owns mines, and wants to make sure that his personal interests are protected by laws of the land that continue to be neglectful of environmental concerns. Given the preposterous state of politics today, the play’s premise is entirely within the realm of possibility, but written in an absurdist style, we are confronted with the lines between fiction and truth, except there is no hiding the fact that many of the worst things being depicted are no different from the news that we are subjected to in real life.

Hilliar’s exuberant consolidation of current affairs and contemporary ideals, is a pertinent representation of Australian culture as it stands, turned satirical by its colourful wit, base but clever, in appropriate alignment with popular notions of our national identity. Having brought his own considerable skills as director to U.B.U, Hilliar’s show is rambunctious, fun-filled and campy, a highly entertaining work that facilitates discussions about doing the right thing, beyond left and right conceptions of politics. Costumes by Tanya Woodland, along with Ash Bell’s hair and makeup design, are a visual feast, powerfully enhanced by Ryan McDonald’s imaginative lights.

Extraordinary passion from all nine of its ensemble cast, makes it an occasion to remember. Sam Glissan and Emily Elise are as mad as each other, playing Pa and Ma Ubu with an incredible wildness that creates a grotesque quality, so reflective of what we feel to be happening right now all over the world. Lib Campbell and Idam Sondhi are another formidable couple, with exquisite timing and chemistry, making us laugh at all the ugliness that we know ourselves to be capable of. Tristan Black’s incisiveness and precision as Bjullshitt ensures that we are attentive to both the meanings and hilarity of U.B.U; his “Mr. Segue’s Song” is an unequivocal highlight.

The show ends with a heavy-handed, earnest call to action. An uncontainable need to appeal to the body politic disrupts the entertainment, as the urgency to make its point finally exceeds its commitment to theatrical magic. Resignation is perhaps too easy, and U.B.U wants to help us avoid it. As we sit and watch everything crumble, the urge to submit to that seemingly inevitable extinction of our kind, can indeed feel irresistible. Humans however will always be defined by our activity and conduct, and for as long as we are here doing something, there is always the inescapable decision between good and bad.

www.toothandsinew.com

Review: Betty Breaks Out (Life After Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 27 – Sep 7, 2019
Playwright: Liz Hobart (after Maurice G. Kiddy)
Director: Ellen Wiltshire
Cast: Tommy Misa, Annie Stafford
Image by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Betty and Fred are kidnapped, locked up in adjoining rooms to ponder their fate. Both are actors, trying to take control of a situation in which there is little hope of autonomy. Set in 1919 England, when moving pictures were silent, and damsels were always in distress, Liz Hobart’s Betty Breaks Out is a quaint piece that gives voice to characters that were previously one dimensional and mute. Whimsical and experimental, it resists clear narrative structures in favour of something offbeat and playful.

Directed by Ellen Wiltshire, the show is an effervescent, if slightly puzzling, exercise in theatre making. Without a straightforward plot, it is perhaps surprising that the staging takes a naturalistic approach, instead of a more abstract mode of expression, especially with a writing style that seems intent on creating a poetic experience. It is noteworthy however, that music by Alexander Lee-Rekers is an enjoyable aspect of the production, able to enhance mood and rhythm to keep us engaged. The performing duo too, brings a gratifying charm. Tommy Misa and Annie Stafford are delightful presences, even if they do seem somewhat restrained by a presentation that feels insufficiently adventurous.

It is true that much of how we face the public, can be described as performative. We all have to operate within structures that do not always make room for what our individual beings might think to be authentic. We are urged to play along with the game, to adopt pre-determined codes and languages, so that a semblance of harmony can be attained. We rarely feel at liberty to deviate, as ostracism is a threat that few can bear to endure. When it becomes clear that the notion of a greater good, is almost certain to only benefit communities disproportionately, our commitment to obedience must then be questioned. There will always be people who want us to stay in our narrow lanes, but the second that we begin to identify our own complicity in this oppression, is the moment that we begin to set the self free.

www.lifeafterproductions.com