Review: White Rabbit Red Rabbit (Freefall Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 4 – 15, 2017
Playwright: Nassim Soleimanpour
Cast: Ylaria Rogers
Image by

Theatre review
The play requires that its actor comes to the performance “blind”, not knowing anything about what lies on the pages of the playbook. It is a complete mystery to the person on stage, and also to those in the audience who are seeing Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit for the first time. It is significant that the 2010 work was created when its 29-year-old author was forbidden from leaving his country Iran. The autocratic regime that he had to endure is not directly denounced in Soleimanpour’s writing, but its presence and influence on the piece, are clear.

We are made to consider how a police state operates, especially in terms of the complicity and compliance of citizens that allow inhumanity to thrive. The play shifts attention away from the way authorities intrude upon private lives, and looks instead at how the everyday person monitors and subjugates one another unconsciously, especially in cultures where freedoms are severely restricted. We are urged to think about the deficiencies in free will, and how easy it is for society to manipulate our empathy and deprive us of compassion. It wants us to see the tragedy that exists in our exploitable susceptibility to mistreating each other, and our readiness at forming habits of intolerance, hate and violence. It is to the writer’s credit that these grave and important issues are not only communicated powerfully in spite of its need to be cryptic, White Rabbit Red Rabbit is surprisingly humorous and entertaining.

Like Soleimanpour at the time of writing this script, actor Ylaria Rogers is in a position of vulnerability as she moves through the lines and instructions of every page. She submits to the text that she holds in her hands, but like those of us who have gathered to witness this unusual theatrical moment, our volition is constantly called to question. Ylaria’s obedience, and ours, come into examination, leading us to confront the nature of authority, and how it is constructed. Authority is often imagined, but even when it is real and life-threatening, the power of the masses can overthrow any dictator that sits atop. The conundrum is in our inability to perceive that collective force, and our failure to understand that the fear we experience is shared and can only manifest if we allow it to.

www.freefallproductions.com.au

Review: The Laden Table (Bakehouse Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 10 – 25, 2017
Playwrights: Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan, Ruth Kliman, Yvonne Perczuk
Director: Suzanne Millar
Cast: Alex Chalwell, Doron Chester, Suz Mawer, Sarah Meacham, Mansoor Noor, Jessica Paterson, Abi Rayment, Monroe Reimers, Gigi Sawires, Geoff Sirmai, Donald Sword, Justina Ward
Image by Natasha Narula

Theatre review
A resplendent, but homely, dining table awaits, with twelve empty chairs anticipating two families and their stories about cultural displacement and historical discord. The Laden Table features Jewish and Muslim Australians, and the baggage they continue to carry after centuries of religious hostility. Their lives are in Sydney, but they exist beyond the here and now. What had happened in the past and what is yet to come, are crucial to how they act and think today.

It is a magnificent piece of writing, that interrogates, with unyielding severity, the nature of prejudice and more specifically, the way good people make enemies of each other through their religious affiliations. The Laden Table offers insight into how the layperson of the Jewish and Muslim faiths conceives of their own oppression, and how that manifests into hateful beliefs and behaviour. Structurally intricate, but with a vivid and coherent plot line, the play addresses issues of great profundity in a manner that is both elucidative and deeply affecting. It teaches some of the biggest lessons any individual could wish to learn.

The production is arresting in its poignancy, and thoroughly captivating. Director Suzanne Millar does a marvellous job of creating a work full of texture and nuance, with regular shifts in dramatic tone that secure our attention for the show’s entirety. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman provides instinctual logic to every one of The Laden Table‘s startling scene changes, and amplifies emotional impact throughout its narrative, whether subtle or sensational. Will Newnham’s sound design adds to the carefully calibrated atmosphere, moving us between unpredictable spaces, and leaving a remarkable impression with a special moment that fuses prayers of both faiths in surprising harmony.

Stakes are high in the story, and the ensemble overwhelms us with an authentic gravitas. War is happening elsewhere but in these two Australian households, we feel the reverberations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the sense of mortal danger faced by millions is more than a bleep on the nightly news. Gigi Sawires and Geoff Sirmai are the elders, both flamboyantly engaging and unconventionally colourful with what they bring to the table. Jessica Paterson and Monroe Reimers introduce convincing depth to their characters’suffering, and Suz Mawer is a powerful presence as a modern Muslim woman, constantly having to negotiate past and future, spirituality and logic. The vulnerable complexity that Mawer portrays so well, is embodiment of what the play represents; and to expect easy answers is impracticable.

Religion does a lot of good, but the harm it causes cannot be denied. Atheists will say that the eradication of religion will solve many of the world’s problems, but that utopia will never come, even within the next few lifetimes. The way our faith is ingrained, has a tenacious permanency that endures over generations. It shapes many minds and guides many deeds, but it is never beyond reproach or provocation. God will always be there, but how we relate to them changes, and how we want them reflected in our lives, is up to us.

www.bakehousetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Blink (Stories Like These)

storiesliketheseVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 9 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Phil Porter
Director: Luke Rogers
Cast: James Raggatt, Charlotte Hazzard
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is a love story between a simple man and a complicated woman. Phil Porter’s Blink is a work of fantasy that magnifies the experience of infatuation, to sometimes inappropriate levels of obsession. We can choose to see Jonah as a creepy stalker, even though the play tries to show him only as naive and sweet. His actions are clearly harmless, but that of course, is what most men will say about their fixations. Sophie is made mastermind of Jonah’s actions, and although there is something gratifying in having a woman orchestrate her own experience of romance, the reprehensible fact that Jonah is a Peeping Tom who follows her everywhere, thinking that the object of his desire is completely oblivious, cannot be discounted.

Ultimately though, the characters do develop mutual feelings, and what the play does with their relationship is wistful, and very whimsical. Anna Gardiner’s set design corresponds with the quirkiness of the text, for a performance space imaginatively conceived to provide an enchanting sense of innocent wonder. Director Luke Rogers brings good coherence to a piece of unfettered mosaic-like writing, and his ability to balance upbeat energy with a daydream quality, gives the production its charming, and distinct style. In the role of Jonah is James Raggatt, awfully adorable and convincingly wide-eyed in his Tim Burton-esque interpretation of a young man smitten. His gentle but animated approach almost makes you believe his trespasses to be no more than a little innocuous skylarking. Sophie is a much more complex character, played by Charlotte Hazzard who portrays a woman’s need to be seen, with vital delicate care.

We all want to be acknowledged, for to be invisible is intolerable, but we are not always ready to pay the price for a bit of attention. Sophie wants to be on Jonah’s mind, but is unwilling to offer anything in return. Relationships do not always fit definitions or expectations. People can connect in unexpected ways, but convention can be agonising, and if we let it, can pull us apart. What a happy ending looks like, is familiar to everyone, but when destiny takes us in different directions, we may have to modify our beliefs, and see an alternate image of fulfilment.

www.storieslikethese.com

Review: Osama The Hero (Tooth And Sinew Theatre)

toothandsinewVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 21 – Feb 4, 2017
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Lynden Jones, Poppy Lynch, Joshua McElroy, Nicole Wineberg
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
Just slightly beneath the skin of every human existence lies the barely contained need for violence, but like every propensity that we try to suppress, it finds expression in unexpected ways. Dennis Kelly’s Osama The Hero discusses our thirst for blood, looking at where that appetite comes from, and how it manifests. We find ourselves in an English housing estate, observing a group of neighbours inflicting cruel harm on one of their own.

It is a tale about scapegoating, and the habitual transference of our evil desires onto easy targets. In the case of Kelly’s play, young Gary, and his innocence, become the object of the group’s brutality, and in the process of his persecution, revelations are made about our oft-unexplained and neglected violent selves.

Director Richard Hilliar goes to great pains for every one of the play’s savage moments to occur with great power. The transgressions are hideous, and they are presented as such. A cultural gap exists between us and the working classes of England located at the centre of the drama, and it is arguable if the production’s interest in that specificity of experience has been made to translate effectively. As we are kept dazzled by the uniqueness of a cultural other, we often lose sight of the universality that can allow the work to resonate more intimately.

The ensemble of five is unquestionably energetic and committed, but the challenge posed by Kelly’s language and its accompanying encumbrance of dialects, can be a cause for distraction. Our attention alternates between hearing meanings, and observing the unsatisfying labour put into achieving what is ultimately a cosmetic accuracy. At their best however, the actors provide masochistic delight in an atmosphere of terrifying menace, the kind of which one would hope to encounter only at the theatre. Nicole Wineberg is particularly memorable in a scene involving her character Louise’s obsession over a video showing a man being killed. She brings the show to an intense peak, with the palpable depiction of a woman lost in evil and dread.

Bad people are almost always other people. If Osama The Hero succeeds, we should see ourselves in its characters, and gain a better understanding of the way we operate, as individuals and collectives, in these post-9/11 times of terror and fear. There is perhaps no solution to our unyielding need to make enemies out of fellow human beings, but knowing how that process works is essential if our evolution is to be progressive. When Osama bin Laden was executed, we never really expected the world to suddenly become a better place, but it certainly quenched the thirst of our carnivorous vengeance, if only for a moment.

www.toothandsinew.com

Review: #Lads (Kings Cross Theatre)

kxtVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 13 – 14, 2017
Director: Danny Ball
Cast: Callan Colley, Ryan Morgan, Ben Schumann, Ross Walker

Theatre review
Presented early in its developmental stages, #Lads is unpolished and unresolved, but like any work of art fuelled by conviction, it is ready to be interacted with. Longstanding ideas about masculinity and youth are framed within contemporary, and trendy, concepts of entitlement and privilege, for a slightly updated look at the perennial problem of manhood, as seen through social distinctions of money, race, gender and sexuality.

The show sets up contexts that are perhaps too familiar, but the questions it inspires are nonetheless potent. We are always worried about the young, because their mistakes are always spectacularly glaring. The team is thankfully very conscious of its generation’s failures, and spends the entirety of the presentation expressing all that is undesired. There is no hint however, at what a better life would look like. The rebel without a cause, it seems, is here to stay.

A more refreshing perspective that #Lads touches on, is the dysfunction friendship that exists between the four boys. We want to know what keeps them together, and what they require of each other, to satisfy their individual twenty-first century narcissisms. We are interested to know how each of their impairments differ, and the extent to which they are isolated within their fragile facade of unity.

As Australians become increasingly wealthy, the problems and difficulties of bring up our children take on new dimensions. As our lives become more liberated and autonomous, our middle-classes are able to decide to procreate only when we become confident in our ability to provide, but offspring that have never witnessed poverty and other forms of struggle, cannot be expected to understand easily, the nature of hardship, and its accompanying qualities of humility and compassion. The millennials, like everyone else, will come into their own, and as always, time is the only one who holds the key to that revelation.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: Tiny Remarkable Bramble (Kings Cross Theatre)

impendingroomVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 6 – 25, 2016
Playwright: Jessica Tuckwell
Director: Cathy Hunt
Cast: Thomas Campbell, Lucy Suze Taylor, Catherine Terracini, Contessa Treffone, Geraldine Viswanathan, Michael Whalley
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Joy is the emotion that manifests as protagonist in the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out, which explores emotions as separate entities in a human child. Jessica Tuckwell’s Tiny Remarkable Bramble can be seen to be similar in approach, with the quality of melancholy instead taking centre stage. The play is cryptic, and surreal in style, allowing the viewer a certain amount of freedom for the creation of meanings that could lead to personal interpretations that resonate with power, or could simply be an absurdist comedy that proves itself inconsequential, depending on the viewer’s tastes.

Smart, snappy dialogue is inventively formulated for the creation of six very quirky characters. There is considerable profundity in Tuckwell’s writing, in spite of a less than gripping plot line that leads us to a predictable end. Cathy Hunt’s direction of the piece is vibrant, playful and energetic in its thorough excavation of erudite gems, submerged in the densely fertile text. The show is fun-filled, featuring a group of actors that seem to be in a state of complete merriment, thrilled to be delivering ripples of laughter in a series of brilliantly humorous sequences.

Central figure Alice is played by Geraldine Viswanathan, appropriately apathetic for a sarcastic depiction of dispassionate and hopeless lethargy. Thomas Campbell steals the show as the belligerent Brigadier, fantastic in all his flamboyant flourishes, with a deeply charming presence that has us mesmerised and wanting more. Equally endearing is the memorable Contessa Treffone, desperately adorable as Pipkin, fragile and literally bubble-wrapped, representing a part of ourselves that can be too delicate and overprotected. The cast’s excellent chemistry and confident timing are the production’s strongest features, responsible for a night of theatre simultaneously challenging and entertaining.

Much of life involves wrestling with negativity. Personal insecurities, fear and despondency are constant threats that prevent the development of each of our own potentials. Many of us find it difficult to participate in society because pessimism is crippling, and always just a membrane away from stifling our creative energies. In privileged societies, we have everything that we could possibly need, but our materialism forms the basis of many constraints that we so frequently encounter. We think we have so much to lose, until we remember the transience of being, and start to appreciate the possibilities that can only come before death.

www.facebook.com/theimpendingroom

Review: The Angelica Complex (Kings Cross Theatre)

siren1Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 5 – 27, 2016
Playwright: Sunny Grace
Director: Priscilla Jackman
Cast: Naomi Livingstone, Lucia May, Kym Vercoe
Image by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Angelica is under tremendous pressure, having recently given birth to her first baby. The responsibilities of caring for a newborn, and the accompanying social expectations of being a perfect mother, are more than she can bear. Sunny Grace’s The Angelica Complex is about a woman’s painful struggle to cope with the idea of perfection, derived from the prevalence of social media and unrealistic parenting advice. We witness Angelica trying hard to get things under control, but she thinks herself a failure, putting blame on herself, her baby, and society. The entire play has her working through a process of internalised guilt and anger, while ignoring the fact that her husband is almost completely omitted from the narrative.

Angelica blames herself for believing in the myth that “women can have it all” but strangely, and frustratingly, forgets to take the baby’s father to task. While he is out doing whatever that is more important than taking care of his family, absolving himself of paternal duties, Angelica absorbs everything at home, drowning under self-hate and paranoia. She spends her time resenting the yummy mummies on Instagram who make things look a breeze, but accepts her spouse’s abandonment.

Angelica is played by Kym Vercoe, an actor full of energy, magnetism and acuity. Under Priscilla Jackman’s direction, Vercoe delivers an astonishing performance rich with insight and emotion, giving us the opportunity to understand and to feel, what it is like to be in those circumstances. The show’s rhythms shift dynamically and beautifully through the duration, even though the character’s state of mind remains fairly static. Sophisticated video projections by Velinda Wardell are introduced judiciously to add texture, and to inspire our imaginations. It is an involving production that speaks carefully and clearly to its audience, although its arguments are not always poignant.

Angelica does not tell us why she had wanted to have a baby in the first place. It is of course, much too late for her to change her mind, now that she discovers that the truth of parenthood is too overwhelming to cope on her own. The Angelica Complex asks several questions but one of its most potent, is the often unexplained desire to bring new life to the universe. The root of Angelica’s problems may well be the misogynistic manner in which women are told how they should look and act, but the play’s inability to address a rational person’s need to give birth is symptomatic of how our society can take the issue too lightly. Whenever the answer is “just because” or “it’s always been this way”, an opportunity for radical investigation emerges.

www.sirentheatreco.com