Review: Sensitive Guys (Cross Pollinate Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 30 – May 11, 2019
Playwright: MJ Kaufman
Director: Blazey Best
Cast: Natasha Cheng, Nancy Denis, Alex Malone, Shell McKenzie, Samm Ward
Images by Clare Hawley
Theatre review
We meet two small groups of students at an American college. One is a Men’s Peer Education Group, and the other a Survivor Support Group comprised of women victims of sexual assault. MJ Kaufman’s 2018 play Sensitive Guys looks at young men grappling with sexual politics, at a time when boundaries seem to be shifting, as the traditionally subjugated learn to push back against injustices of many kinds. In the story are what we might term woke men, but we discover that thoughts and actions do not necessarily correspond, for those who claim to know better. There is excellent humour in Kaufman’s writing, and although didactic in nature, its clarity of intention makes for a political work that feels immediate and digestible.

It is a passionate production, cohesively designed by an efficacious team of creatives, to facilitate a simple depiction of contemporary concerns. Directed by Blazey Best, the show offers an accurate representation of our hopes and anxieties as they stand today, in relation to the development of discussions around sexual misconduct. The show is a consolidation and reiteration of recent ideas from the Twitterverse, no longer fresh but still pertinent. An excellent ensemble of five actors deliver a well-rehearsed performance, earnest but also comical, able to keep us amused as they take on the responsibility of expounding some valuable lessons.

The young men in Sensitive Guys have much to unlearn; their understanding of sex and gender is revealed to be more damaging than they had ever imagined. There is a pleasure in watching bad boys flagellate themselves on stage. We want to see them punished, as well as see them become better people. The moral of this story is incredibly basic, but the truth is that we keep imparting to our children, old values that are harmful to many and beneficial to few. How we teach masculinity and femininity must come under scrutiny, as do our reasons for insisting on those binaries.

www.crosspollinate.com.au

Review: A Little Piece Of Ash (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 16 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Megan Wilding
Director: Megan Wilding
Cast: Toby Blome, Luke Fewster, Alex Malone, Moreblessing Maturure, Stephanie Somerville, Megan Wilding
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Lily has just moved on to the next realm of existence, or in Indigenous terms, the Dreaming. Her presence in A Little Piece Of Ash, could be termed spiritual, a ghost perhaps, depending on one’s cultural proclivities. She sits in her comfortable armchair at home, like an angel watching over her daughter Jedda, as though little has changed. Megan Wilding’s play depicts death, of the human body, as a transitional extension of life that we must learn to endure, involving excruciating pain but is nonetheless and ultimately sublime. Jedda is unable to see or hear her mother, but in some ways knows that Lily is still here.

As we watch the grieving process take place, we understand it to be a journey toward enlightenment, trusting in an eventual peace that young Jedda will arrive at. Wilding’s writing is sentimental, occasionally humorous, a concentrated examination on the days immediately following Lily’s passing, honest in its inability to see beyond its all-consuming sorrow. Although somewhat repetitive in its expressions, A Little Piece Of Ash‘s sincerity is undeniable. Wilding is also director and actor (as Lily) in the piece, and it is her exceptional charm that really lights up the stage; one would be hard-pressed to conjure a performer more likeable.

Stephanie Somerville plays Jedda, memorable for the intensity that she sustains for the entire ninety-minute duration. It is a powerful portrayal of loss, effective in communicating the young woman’s state of trauma. A strong support cast is on hand to offer some texture to the show, with Alex Malone particularly authentic with the emotions she displays in the role of Ned, who had regarded Lily a mother figure. Design elements of the presentation are rich although not always executed with elegance. There is a raw quality to A Little Piece Of Ash that can at times seem unintentional, but its overall impact is more than adequate.

No matter what we believe happens after a person dies, it is how we as the living, manage deaths, that truly matters. How we honour those who pass, determines the people we are in the here and now. How we remember the deceased, informs the way we conceive of our future. The more we are able to recognise that the past is inextricable from the future, the greater respect we will be able to muster for all that surrounds us. When we imagine the dead to simply cease to exist, or that they progress onto completely disconnected dimensions, we run the risk of causing interminable damage to the present. The soul is eternal, whether or not we are kind to it.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Jackrabbit Theatre / Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 2 – 13, 2019
Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Mathew Lee, Nicholas Papademetriou, Nicole Pingon, Callan Purcell, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Mike Ugo, Laura Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The theatrical action takes place in a rectangular sandpit, with nine people in disciplined formations, illustrating the 1798 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Romanticist’s words are turned tangible, as we watch his ship’s adventures unfold, from an optimistic start, into a journey that becomes increasingly perilous. The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is parsed through the bodies of performers, for a transformation that takes the storytelling from one artistic form to another, and in the process, bending time to create a channel in which the past can visit the palpable present.

Directed by Julia Robertson, the production is whimsical, resolutely so, but it is insufficiently engaging, due mainly to the traverse arrangement of seating, which disallows the visual dimensions of the show to truly fulfil their intentions. Without an adequate backdrop, and without a raised stage, our eyes become restricted in what they are able to absorb and discern. The ensemble is focused, exquisitely cohesive with their offering. It is a spirited effort, especially inventive with the music and sounds that they generate, and along with composer Oliver Shermacher, auditory pleasures are a principal accomplishment of this work.

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner may not connect as potently as it should, but it bears an integrity that is reassuring. There is a purity to its approach that feels artistically uncompromising and, therefore, admirable. In what we term “independent theatre”, nobody pays your bills but yourself. The sacrifices involved in undertaking this often thankless work are mammoth, and artists should not placate or ingratiate, in the hope of some imaginary professional advancement that will result. Their only responsibility is to the truth, and that is what we are here for, wherever we find ourselves to be.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com | www.facebook.com/littleeggscollective

Review: Leopardskin (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 26 – Apr 6, 2019
Playwright: Michael McStay
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Nick Gell, Travis Jeffery, Zoe Jensen, Emma Kew, Guy O’Grady, Ella Watson-Russell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Luka and Val are petty thieves trying to make the big leagues. They hear of an Italian billionaire philanthropist giving away his priceless antique clock, and make a beeline for an opportunity to nab the prize. Michael McStay’s play is a farce in the classic vein, reminiscent of Molière, Fo and Brecht, complete with bumbling cops, mixed identities and love triangles. Witty and wild, extremely quirky and downright silly, the work is almost astonishing in its ability to steer clear of anything that could be classed deep and meaningful. Amusement is of course, one of the main reasons we go to the theatre, and Leopardskin delivers it in spades.

Samantha Young directs a wonderfully flamboyant show, very loud and very mad, quite the counter-cultural statement in what feels to be a terribly conservative milieu. With just enough attention placed on making sense of the frankly perfunctory narrative, Young puts her energy into making every second count, so that the audience’s synapses are firing, all of us tickled and fascinated, from beginning to end. When not laughing out loud, we find ourselves grinning from ear to ear, in deep enjoyment of this peculiar beast of an unapologetic, outlandish comedy.

Six very excitable performers can be seen luxuriating on stage, in full throttle madcap mode. Luka is played by Guy O’Grady, sarcastic in his unexpectedly pompous rendition of the small-time crook. Zoe Jensen is vibrant as Val, the rookie pickpocket who defies underestimation. The idiosyncratic tycoon Giuseppe Monterverdi is made an effervescent joy by Travis Jeffery, who brings surprising texture to his performance. Nick Gell takes all four of his characters to high camp territory, unforgettably gregarious with his vaudeville style. Also very effective in multiple roles is Emma Kew, whose timing is surpassed only by her effortless comedic presence. Senator Olive Darling is depicted with precision and a lot of exaggeration, by Ella Watson-Russell who contributes to the exceptional mischievousness of the production.

In accordance with its title, the show features costume pieces in all manner of leopard spots, that perennial symbol of bad taste in Anglo-Saxon societies. Indeed, in Leopardskin‘s embrace of all things brash and obnoxious, we encounter an anti-conformist aesthetic that tells so much about what constitutes normal and respectable, in our art and in our lives. When we scrutinise each other, to police an idea of tastefulness in the way we look and behave, we reveal a set of values determined to separate people into classes. When we dare to disrupt those codes, bad traditions can begin to be dispelled, and more than that, a shitload of fun will be had.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: Wrath (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 8 – 22, 2019
Playwright: Liam Maguire
Director: Liam Maguire
Cast: Madeleine Vizard, Adam Sollis, Jonny Hawkins, Elle Mickel, Amy Hack and Emma Harvie
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It all kicks off when the CEO spots a pubic hair in the boardroom. Liam Maguire’s Wrath is an absurd and very grotesque look at corporate culture, that dog-eat-dog world in which some of the most brutal of human behaviour can be found. Disguised behind a pretence of uncompromising suit-and-tie civility, with the notion of profit maximisation as guiding principle, these people are entrenched in a system that is profoundly immoral and surreptitiously harmful. The play amplifies all that is wrong about a segment of our lives that has grown substantial and ineludible.

There is semblance of a narrative, but it only serves as conduit for comedic sequences that attack and satirise out institutions of greed. Maguire’s exaggerated approach to humour makes for a flamboyant presentation; Wrath is often hilarious, with a wild spirit that persuades us to luxuriate in its artistic risks. Sound by Sam Maguire and lights by John Collopy, are valuable in creating the show’s faux display of overwrought melodrama, but design schemes eventually turn repetitive, and their efficacy markedly fades in later segments.

An eccentric cast keeps us amused from start to finish. Madeleine Vizard’s extravagant interpretation of CEO Stockwood is brilliant, in its unrelenting incisiveness for a scornful embodiment of the ruthless and power mad. It is a deliciously camp performance, satisfying with the textures she is able to provide in spite of all the exaggerated embellishment. There is a lot of big acting in the piece, and Elle Mickel is chief offender, in the best possible sense. As Daphne, she does not hold back, and we go along with where she dares to tread. Emma Harvie executes perfect timing for the mousy January, a secretary of few words, but all uttered with sublime precision.

These monsters of industry are pervasively and deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, and to wish to have them completely extricated is a pipe dream. We can however, restrict our individual participation in their dominion. We can find ways to retreat from them, to identify their competitors and adversaries, and work to boost those who will bring a greater sense of balance to how power is distributed in our economies. We need to resist the allure of the shiny seductive exteriors, of corporations that can never live up to what they promise. If we can take down the big guys, then those of us who are small can flourish.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: Art V Garbage (Dumpster Divas / Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 26 – Mar 1, 2019
Creators and Cast: Salem Barrett-Brown, Danni Paradiso, Rory Nolan
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The Dumpster Divas have a very passionate social conscience. Like many of their generation, these young Australians have a certitude about what is right, the people we need to become, and how things should be run. They are idealistic, and in their 45-minute production, convincing with their perspective of the world that we share. Comprised of short sketches, Art V Garbage is variously themed, but each segment is united by a distinct queer sensibility, all flamboyantly conceptualised and slightly anarchic in approach.

The exuberant humour of Art V Garbage is thoroughly enjoyable, with the trio proving themselves to be as adept in the art of comedic performance, as they are in writing and directing their own material. Creative and clever, the work encompasses virtually all that is resonating within our immediate zeitgeist, effectively shaping itself into a condensed representation of our life and times, as things stand at the moment. Its absurdist style allows us to take its meanings beyond the obvious. We are able to look at art, politics, society and economics from new angles, maybe not to reach completely unexpected conclusions, but its refreshing take on important issues are definitely provocative.

From sanctimonious single mothers to the Prime Minister, the iconoclastic trio cuts them down to size, in a spirited exercise that re-focuses our mores through an improved, more equitable lens. The gay rights movement feels to have past its prime in Australia, but the queer principles and values we have engendered through the last forty or so years, continue to serve in the unending expansion of democracy in our ways of life. Queer refuses hierarchies, and is always quick to disseminate power. It protects the weak, and insists on challenging every convention. Salem Barrett-Brown, Danni Paradiso and Rory Nolan demonstrate in their sketches, the virtues of the new Australian; more egalitarian than before, more intelligent, more caring. They work for the good of everyone, even when we think of them as outsiders.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You (Green Door Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 8 – 23, 2019
Playwright: John O’Donovan
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Eddie Orton, Elijah Williams
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Contrary to popular belief, love is not for everyone. Sure, Casey and Mikey have found each other, and the mutual attraction is undeniable, but their small town in the west of Ireland is certainly not going to let nature take its course. John O’Donovan’s debut play If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You takes place one night on a rooftop, after the couple had gone on a burglary spree, now trying to lay low and evade persecution. They are of course, hiding not just for the drugs and money that they had stolen, but also for their homosexuality. Leo Varadkar may have been installed as their country’s first gay Prime Minister, but away from the capital, things are less rosy. Discrimination persists, and violence remains normalised for those who dare deviate.

The writing is passionate, exciting in its very contemporary depiction of queer identities, but its vernacular is specific and can prove challenging for those of us who might be culturally uninitiated. The language of politics however is universal, and the young men’s struggle to bring to a tangible actualisation their emotional and spiritual connection, in a climate of dread and fear, needs no translation. Director Warwick Doddrell’s rendering of that crucial quality of intimacy is sublime, for a stage that absolutely burns with desire. Additionally, the amount of tension and dynamism he is able to build onto the restrictive setting of a small roof, is quite remarkable.

Set design by Jeremy Allen is a thoroughly convincing transformation of space that works perfectly in the auditorium’s traverse format. Lights by Kelsey Lee are similarly evocative, and admirable for its sense of accuracy, but the glare of misplaced lamps is unfortunate. Costumes may not be technically demanding for the show, but Stephanie Howe’s keen aesthetic eye for her characters’ looks proves to be very discerning indeed. Melanie Herbert does marvellous work with sound design, painstakingly calibrated to have us submerged in a poetic atmosphere, whilst delivering hints of realism when required.

The production is made memorable by a pair of brilliant performances, both actors wonderfully animated yet soulful, a match made in theatre heaven, for the benefit of our dramatic enjoyment. Eddie Orton is an enthralling presence, tremendously likeable in his portrayal of boyish innocence grappling with toxicity, as we watch his Mikey grow into the kind of masculinity dictated by his parochial environment. Elijah Williams is powerful as Casey, impressive with the depth he is able to convey, for a personality that keeps becoming richer as the show goes on. Chemistry between the two is excellent, and the rigour that they bring to the stage is simply riveting.

The irony of machismo, is the enormous fear that underlies it. Fear of being soft, fear of breaking from convention, fear of ostracism, can lead people to behaviour that betrays their true nature. We make our boys become less human, when we insist that they grow into models of patriarchy. This is immediately observable in our inter-racial gay lovers Casey and Mikey, who are suddenly aware of the threat to their social currency, should they decide to progress meaningfully with their relationship. Choices are inordinately scarce for those young and poor. They can only live according to preexisting structures, ones that are intolerant of difference, disdainful of the new, and it is this inhibition of people’s freedoms that turns us into monsters. As our protagonists wait for the sun to rise, we wonder if this moment constitutes a final glimpse of beauty, before they are robbed of their very essence.

www.greendoortheatreco.com