Review: Yen (New Ghosts Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 27 – Oct 13, 2018
Playwright: Anna Jordan
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Jeremi Campese, Meg Clarke, Ryan Hodson, Hayley Pearl
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Brothers Bobbie and Hench are young teenagers, left to fend for themselves with only media screens and addicts as role models. Maggie is their desperately incompetent single mother, having lost both her sons’ fathers to early deaths, in this world of substance abuse and poverty. A neighbour Jennifer enters their life as a ray of hope, but in Anna Jordan’s Yen, our capacity for optimism is put to the test, as we interrogate the nature of social change and its delusory qualities, in this hyperrealist depiction of inter-generational disadvantage.

Situated in the dingiest corners of an English council estate, where the boys disintegrate in the most spectacular fashion, we observe their loss of innocence, and in its place, all the evidence of imminent wasted lives. Jordan’s writing is undeniably moving, but also marvellously thrilling. Yen is a showcase that consolidates the many deficiencies of our communities, with pointed critiques that never feel excessively didactic.

It is very gripping drama, and under the astute direction of Lucy Clements, entertaining and immensely involving. Clements has us breathless for the show’s two-hour entirety, as the story takes us through universal themes of family, love, sex, violence and redemption. Visually compelling, the production is meticulously designed by Ester Karuso-Thurn (set and costumes) and Louise Mason (lights) who deliver a surprising range of spatial transformations within restrictive confines of the stifling context. Sound by Chrysoulla Markoulli is impressively exacting, in all its manipulations of atmosphere. There is remarkable sensitivity from all disciplines, that allows its audience to engage at exceptional depth.

The staging features four fantastic actors, each one convincing and enthralling in their respective parts. 14-year-old Bobbie is played by the very industrious Jeremi Campese, whose extremely detailed approach offers up an interminably fascinating study of troubling juvenility. His extraordinary vitality insists on our compassion, even when the going gets tough. Hayley Pearl’s portrayal of the neglectful mother, has us angered and heartbroken. It is a controversial character uncompromisingly presented, by a very sharp and daring performer. Meg Clarke and Ryan Hodson are the not-so-sweet sixteens, both authentic, and tremendously revelatory of the adolescent experience, through their beautifully naturalistic renderings of Jennifer and Hench. The coupling of vulnerability and aggression in all these interpretations, are a joy to behold, as well as being meaningfully confronting.

In Yen, we see our structural failures take place within spaces that are personal and isolated. We come to an understanding that the only way for individual lives to flourish, is for the environments in which they exist to actively promote that betterment. Little can be achieved, when we leave the needy to their own devices. We chastise and condemn those who suffer, unwilling to see our complicity in people’s inability to grow, choosing only to attribute blame to their otherness. Good lives cannot exist in isolation; it takes a village to raise a child, and to lavish care on most everything else.

www.newghoststheatre.com

Review: Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Kings Cross Hotel (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Sam Donvito
Director: Christopher Bond
Cast: Sam Donvito, Ellen Graham

Theatre review
The goddess of all things beautiful and fecund, Aphrodite arrives in Sydney, and even she is no match for the misogyny that rules this town. Guided by unbridled desire, Aphrodite finds herself vulnerable and exposed to the pervasive commodification of everything that relates to femininity and sex. From chocolate and selfies, to beauty pageants and cosmetic surgery, Aphrodite’s attempts at experiencing life as an earthling in Sydney, all involve attempts to degrade and humiliate her, and in Sam Donvito’s Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods, we watch the very thing we consider to be normal everyday life, determined to put the goddess through a relentless process of self-loathing.

It is an exuberant presentation, featuring two spirited performers, Donvito and Ellen Graham on a bare stage, with only their bodies occupying our gaze. Their communication style is admirably bold, for the urgent and unequivocal message that they wish to convey. As Aphrodite, Donvito is seductive and mischievous, and as Paige Burn beauty pageant cum reality show host, Graham is beguilingly malicious. Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods may not be a subtle work, but what it has to say, is substantial and pertinently consequential.

Men have always sought to control our bodies and our very existence. Industrialisation has channelled that ancient chauvinism into the creation of endless superfluous wants that have overwhelmed and contaminated our lives, by selling to us, an interminable sense of inadequacy. We respond by living in a constant state of commercial consumption, acquiescing to the every demand of capitalism as shaped by its sexist foundations. We spend money to feel better about ourselves, but that money circulates and returns as a further haunting that tells us, we are as yet incomplete. When the goddess concedes her power, a vacuum is formed that nefarious parties will seek to fill. Most of us however, can reclaim that magic at any time, and make ourselves whole again.

www.samdonvito.com.au

Review: Ironbound (An Assorted Few)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 31 – Sep 15, 2018
Playwright: Martyna Majok
Director: Alastair Clark
Cast: Abe Mitchell, Ryan Morgan, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Benedict Wall
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
We see Darja at different periods of her life, but whether she is in her twenties, thirties or forties, poverty remains the central defining feature of her misfortunes. Scenes in Martyna Majok’s Ironbound take place at a New Jersey bus stop, where Darja is always hoping to go somewhere, but never does. Between working two jobs, and relying on a series of men for help, her situation refuses to improve, no matter how much she tries.

Majok’s play presents the American Dream as a lie, arguing against the notion that hard work alone is the key to salvation. Darja is a female Polish immigrant, thoroughly disadvantaged, and seen by society to be no more than a worker ant. She has only her hopes and dreams to cling to, unaware that those who have sold her those aspirations, are also the very ones who stand to benefit greatest from her destitution. All she does is work for the man, and all the man wants, is to keep things unchanged.

Even though socially pertinent, Ironbound is not necessarily a story with universal appeal. It dispenses valuable information, but is also inevitably dreary. Director Alastair Clark has the unenviable task of making entertainment from experiences of poverty, which is difficult as well as being morally precarious, but he negotiates those lines well, for an engaging show that always has its heart in the right place.

Leading a very strong cast is Gabrielle Scawthorn, immensely authentic in the role of Darja, with a portrayal of desperation that is deeply thought-provoking. We do respond to her story with a level of pity, but it is ultimately the wider questions being raised that stay with us thereafter. Benedict Wall brings a surprising complexity to love interest Tommy, facilitating profound contemplation about the meaning of love, in this age of advanced capitalism. Darja’s first husband Maks is played by Abe Mitchell, an endearing presence with a wonderfully dynamic approach, signalling the end of innocence in the Western world. The young and privileged Vic is brought to exuberant life by Ryan Morgan, charming and humorous, in his depictions of our systemic injustices.

We want Darja’s suffering to end, but Ironbound refuses to sugar-coat any of its truths. She fights tooth and nail for a good life, but the world is determined to keep her down. It is a story about people who never stood a chance, and the lies we are fed to sustain the inhumane status quo of our calamitous inequities. Education and knowledge, and therefore art, can help set us free, that is true, but it is unlikely that the likes of Darja will ever get to see a work of theatre like this.

www.facebook.com/anassortedfew

Review: You Got Older (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 13 – Aug 4, 2018
Playwright: Clare Barron
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Alex Beauman, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Ainslie McGlynn, Sarah Meacham, Gareth Rickards, Steve Rodgers, Cody Ross
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Mae has come home, to care for her father as he undergoes cancer treatment. Clare Barron’s You Got Older is a look at that moment, of suddenly becoming keenly aware of one’s parents’ mortality. In every process of healing, of trying to make someone better, is the salient reminder that life is fragile. Mae is strong for her father, but in the privacy of her own thoughts, anxiety and grief manifest in fantasies of sexual masochism. Role playing is after all, how we are able to get through most of our days.

The subject matter may be heavy, but like the resilience of our human spirit, the show is determined to keep buoyant and optimistic. Director Claudia Barrie brings excellent humour to the production. Although not exactly lighthearted, we are surprised by the delight and joy that the play brings, through its very enjoyable and richly authentic explorations of love and family dynamics. There is no angsty drama here, only a father and his beloved children grappling with the pain of inevitable separation.

A very solid cast takes us through this universal tale. Harriet Gordon-Anderson is entirely convincing as Mae, with all her contradictions and vulnerabilities, but the actor is particularly successful at conveying a strength that is neither heroic nor exceptional, but that is nonetheless profound in its representation of the good that we are capable of. The paternal character is played by a confidently understated Steve Rodgers, who introduces just enough pathos to have us engaged, leaving us grateful that no emotional blackmailing takes place in this presentation. Contributing to the somewhat unexpected elegance of You Got Older are its supporting actors, each one charming and funny, and as a group, perfectly timed and wonderfully captivating.

When someone close is suffering ill health, those on the sidelines might be left feeling helpless, but we also understand that fundamental to the patient’s well-being, is the spiritual care and support we are required to provide. In times of hardship, fear can easily overwhelm, but courage often appears, allowing love to do its job.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

Review: Dresden (Bakehouse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 15 – 30, 2018
Playwright: Justin Fleming
Director: Suzanne Millar
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Renee Lim, Yalin Ozucelik, Dorje Swallow, Jeremy Waters, Ben Wood
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Wagner’s first success was Rienzi, an opera about the rise and fall of a medieval Italian populist leader. Hitler fell in love with the work, years after Wagner’s death, and in Justin Fleming Dresden we see the unexpected and formidable ways in which art can inspire behaviour, good and bad. It also looks at Hitler as a failed artist, and proffers a chicken and egg scenario; questioning the relationship between that infamous abominable nature and his own deficiencies at artistic creation. Even though information about contemporary fascistic regimes seem to remain prominent in our consciousness, the play does not feel immediately relevant, but Fleming’s writing exceeds the story he tells. Against a backdrop monumental and historic, his words sing with an enchanting beauty, imparting observations that are succinctly constructed and very wise indeed.

Opera and a world war, give the play a sensibility that is unavailingly grand, but the small auditorium is ambitiously converted by set designer Patrick Howe to convey the sophistication associated with Wagner’s discipline, as well as the aesthetic severity of Hitler’s Germany. Benjamin Brockman’s lights are relentlessly theatrical, with incessant transformations that move us through dimensions, from miscellaneous days of yore, to those that are even more ephemeral and fantastical. Director Suzanne Millar very deftly negotiates the weaving realms of the play, taking us from real to imaginary, across terrains and timelines, for an impressively lucid telling of tales.

Yalin Ozucelik and Jeremy Waters are the leading men, both enthralling with their respective stage presences, and splendid with the dialogue that they are master of. As Wagner, Waters is spirited yet delicate, and as Hitler, Ozucelik’s depiction of cruel imbecility strikes a perfectly balanced act of dramedy. Also memorable are Dorje Swallow and Thomas Campbell, each supporting player demonstrating excellent versatility, proving themselves to be eminently watchable in any guise.

We often hear, that all publicity is good publicity. If all Hitler had wanted from his extreme brutality, was to be remembered, then the confounding actions of people in power everywhere, can begin to make sense. Most of us wish to leave behind some semblance of a legacy, no matter how minute, so that our time on earth can be seen to be of some value. Some want their names to last, but others prefer that what they had tried to generate in their own lifetime, is able to make permanent improvements into the future. Bad people exist, and as we negotiate existence around them, we must try to stop ourselves from fighting fire with fire. Good can turn into evil in the blink of an eye, when we let our guard down and start to emulate those who wish to trespass against us.

www.bakehousetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: The Walworth Farce (Workhorse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 18 – Jun 9, 2018
Playwright: Enda Walsh
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Rachel Alexander, Laurence Coy, Robin Goldsworthy, Troy Harrison
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Inside a small London apartment, Dinny and his adult sons spend every day acting out a complicated farce, so that the best performer may win a trophy, and that Blake and Sean may remember their early days in Ireland, but only in a way that Dinny permits. It is an account of events that is absurd and dense, designed so that his sons’ memory of their collective biography, is doctored and confused.

Dinny has a lot to hide, and because Blake and Sean are a part of his confections, they are kept under strict control, even if both have well and truly arrived at adulthood. This is a story about parenting, and about the diaspora of cultures that every city experiences. It is about the relationships between countries, and the way individuals are affected by the boundaries we draw in the demarcation of national differences. Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce is unquestionably meaningful, but some of the play’s more culturally specific aspects, can prove impenetrable and tedious.

It is a tenaciously exuberant production, directed by Kim Hardwick who leaves no stone unturned in this complex work. There is a lot that goes on in every moment, and Hardwick’s eye for detail demands that we engage with her show in a way that is complex and nuanced. The very lively cast gives a generous performance, energetic and rich with spirit and inventiveness. Troy Harrison is particularly wonderful as Sean, the older brother on the precipice of discovering a new life. It is a plethora of emotions that emerge from the actor, conflicting yet distinct, allowing us to decipher the fundamental underlying truths that are in operation, amidst the constant vociferous hullabaloo.

As immigrants, we often find ourselves having to create narratives when required to explain how we have come to be. The tales that we weave are seldom the complete story, because the action of moving from one’s hometown, to somewhere entirely new, will always involve layers of intricacies that seem impossible to encapsulate in a convenient way. How we think of the past, is key to how the future looks. When we are unable to be honest about the journey before today, what happens hereafter, can only be fraudulent.

www.workhorsetheatreco.com

Review: Youth And Destination (Manifesto Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 27 – May 12, 2018
Playwright: James Raggatt
Director: James Raggatt
Cast: Jack Angwin, Georgia Blizzard, Gloria Bose, Julia Christensen, Maree Cole, Skyler Ellis, Alex Malone, Bardiya McKinnon, Nikita Waldron, Ross Walker
Images by Emily Havea

Theatre review
There is no conventional narrative in James Raggatt’s Youth And Destination, only a series of short sequences that offer insight into his young mind. The brevity of scenes allows the playwright to touch on a broad range of topics over the course of an hour, but the format prevents sufficient depth from being reached, aside from occasional dialogue that might inspire a sense of intrigue that encourages us to see beyond the mundane.

There is much to admire in the young; they are often inquisitive, passionate and fearless. Wisdom, although never restricted to the mature, can however be elusive. On this occasion, thoughts expressed are honest and very earnest, but the lack of life experience is evident, and Raggatt’s attempts at circumspection will not be able to satisfy every member of audience. Some nonetheless, will see themselves accurately reflected, in this work by young people, for young people.

An exceedingly pleasant group of actors prove themselves accomplished, with no fiction to perform but instead, putting on stage a convincing semblance of the self. In the absence of more complex story lines, their task is to make compelling, snippets of modernity, whether banal or extraordinary. Star of the show is not an actor, but lighting designer Martin Kinnane, whose aesthetic inventiveness and technical excellence, bring to the production a necessary polish, along with rigorous calibrations of mood, from scene to scene.

The young can tell us so much about the world, but pinning down the meaning of life, is not usually their strongest suit. Youth And Destination is a sensitive work, slightly overcautious with how it wishes to be perceived. Whether young or old, we all have to grapple with how others look upon us; we are so fundamentally social. It is incumbent on the artist however, to be courageous, and to always be revealing of their own truth, especially that which is unique and idiosyncratic in quality. Few can claim to speak for communities, but when we return to the individual in an exhaustive and meticulous way, what we say about the personal can become unimaginably significant.

www.kingsxtheatre.com.au