Review: A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing (Brevity Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 6 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Eimear McBride (adapted for the stage by Annie Ryan)
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Ella Prince
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Our destinies are written long before our flesh is are conceived. The unnamed girl in the story was born into an underprivileged Irish family, of a conservative Catholic town where ancient rules are upheld without question or suspicion. Women are allocated their place, but men occupy everything, including the female body. In Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, violations take the form of rape, physical but also mental, emotional and spiritual. The entirety of the girl’s adolescence is characterised by the abusive imposition of all surrounding characters, determined to prevent any sense of individual agency from developing. She is deemed an object, an empty vessel with which society can do whatever it wishes.

It is a problematic adaptation by Annie Ryan who retains the “stream of consciousness” form of McBride’s book. One actor is designated to play not only the girl, but also every significant personality of her microcosm. Conversations are brief and unanticipated, often leaving us confused about the identities of people being portrayed, although we might as well think of them all as one uniform perpetrator, considering the analogous way in which our protagonist is being defiled. Actor Ella Prince is unable to provide clarity in terms of detail from the difficult text, but her capacity for authenticity and focus are certainly impressive. It is an extremely powerful presence that she brings to the show, and the gravity of the play’s concerns are never compromised under Prince’s depictions. The traverse stage proves challenging, requiring half of the show to be performed with her back to the audience, which proves unsatisfactory for a production that relies so heavily on its star’s facial expressions.

There is however, very fine design work being accomplished here. Isabel Hudson’s sophisticated set makes for a morbid but dramatic evocation of ideas around burial and death. Lights by Veronique Bennett are surprisingly dynamic, whilst administering a relentless austerity that is crucial to the play’s very specific tone. Chilling sounds created by Clemmie Williams ensure that we never deviate from the mournful devastation being analysed.

The girl is defiant, aggressively so, but she holds no power. We watch as she is put through a progression of torment, wondering if a person like this could ever grow into something whole. In places where freedom exists, we can imagine individuals flourishing, beyond the bounds of inevitable social restrictions. We want to believe that each human bears potential that is unique and good, and opportunities are available where against all odds, people can create the best out of their embryonic selves. This may or may not be true, but where there is no freedom, the only certainty is the unremitted spawning of deformed lives.

www.brevitytheatre.com.au

Review: DNA (Last One Standing Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 15 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Alex Beauman, Jeremi Campese, Holly Fraser, James Fraser, Jess-Belle Keogh, Alex Malone, Bardiya McKinnon, Liam Nunan, Millie Samuels, Jane Watt, Emm Wiseman
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
A group of teenagers get themselves in deep trouble, but instead of seeking help from adults or officials, their instinct leads them to the alpha male of their pack. Phil is the strong silent type, the intense young man always looking to be deep in thought. He takes on the role of top dog with supreme confidence, and everyone else does as they are told, but we quickly discover this designation to be a case of style over substance. Dennis Kelly’s DNA examines our attraction to masculinity, and its socialised associations with authority and legitimacy.

The play is curiously plotted, with the narrative of a murder mystery interrupted by scenes of Phil with Leah, a girlfriend perhaps, desperate for his attention, but whom he is determined to ignore and belittle. Juxtaposing scenes of urgency with those frankly tedious two-hander moments, may not be dramatically effective, but Kelly’s dialogue is refreshing, with his use of UK vernacular especially fascinating to Australian ears.

The couple is played by Bardiya McKinnon and Millie Samuels, both actors demonstrating a satisfying level of concentration, but unable to turn their characters likeable. There are many colourful personalities in DNA, although not conventionally appealing, and certainly not uplifting or inspiring types that draw us in. It is however, an honest tale that reveals darker shades of our humanity, and director Claudia Barrie makes sure that pertinent meanings of the piece, are conveyed with power and clarity. The big cast features some strong players, and they keep us attentive, even when their youthful folly threatens us with characteristic dreariness.

Sean Van Doornum’s sound design is noteworthy for introducing a wide range of tense ambiences to the space. Along with Liam O’Keefe’s lights and Ella Butler’s set, the production impresses with its polish, although the show’s overall result can be slightly underwhelming. DNA is a cautionary tale, and it does bear repeating, that humans are often very stupid creatures. Allowing us to see ourselves at our worst, is a gift that is almost unique to what art can achieve. How we proceed from having observed our deficiencies, is important, but never ascertainable at the point of conclusion when we consume a work.

www.lastonestandingtheatreco.com

Review: Being Dead (Don Quixote) (MKA Theatre / Unofficial Kerith Fan Club)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 6 – 10, 2018
Creation and performance: Kerith Manderson-Galvin

Theatre review
In Being Dead, Kerith Manderson-Galvin is constantly “corpsing”, or “breaking”, unable to commit to the theatrical device known as a character. This is all a ruse of course, in this avant-garde variant of the Don Quixote story. A work of art is to be created, a show is anticipated to be staged, and the accompanying ambitions are, as always, unimaginably grand. Artists needs to be brave; we expect performers to be polished up, ready and flawlessly poised, but that does not mean a negation of their humanly vulnerabilities.

Manderson-Galvin’s presentation embraces qualities normally prohibited. Hesitant, apologetic, confused and very nervous, the actor reveals all that conventional wisdom deems unsuitable for theatrical consumption. These states of being, although negative, are unquestionably authentic, and within the text’s radical employment, they become saliently relevant to its story of wild aspiration. To dream big, one’s weaknesses cannot be ignored. In throwing one’s all into a project, imperfections too require attention.

The character we see, never really knows when their show begins. They are fearful and indecisive, in a perpetual state of procrastination, but for the audience, it is clear that the performance is underway the moment we see the genius Manderson-Galvin pacing on stage, portraying the fear that grips anyone who wishes to accomplish something extraordinary. It is a strange discipline that is being flaunted, an odd coupling of overt awkwardness and concealed deliberateness. It is false bravado turned inside out, for an experience wonderfully unusual and perversely delightful.

Equally enjoyable are its several sequences of sheer beauty, unpredictable and comforting, gestures of kindness perhaps, to release us of its otherwise stubborn edginess. Lights by Jason Crick and sound by Jules Pascoe, keep the production contained and coherent, pleasant elements that we cling to, like a security blanket, amid Being Dead‘s resolve to challenge and disturb.

Unbeknownst to themself, our protagonist succeeds in their search for something magical. Preoccupied with anxiety, they fail to detect all the good that is being created. Fear is a monster, an adversary to be combated with great fortitude and ferocity. Strength will deliver victories, but stillness is necessary, if the rewards are to be appreciated.

www.mka.org.auwww.unofficialkerithfanclub.com

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

5 Questions with Travis Jeffery and Hoa Xuande

Travis Jeffery

Hoa Xuande: Before you read Tonsils And Tweezers, going purely from the name, what did you think the play would be about?
Travis Jeffery: I had absolutely no idea what the play was about before I read it. I love the title, but the only thing it gives away is two of the characters names, and even that’s not crystal clear. Will O’Mahony is a very intelligent human and writer so I gathered the title wasn’t going to be literal, but the thought did cross my mind that ‘hey maybe it’s just set at the dentist’.

What kind of kid were you at school?
I was the funny chubby kid at school. Or at least I tried to be funny, I was definitely chubby. My passport photo was taken in 2009 when I was around 107 kgs, these days when I whip it out at the airport I occasionally get laughed at… at least I’m getting laughs 😦

What are the similarities or differences between you and your character?
The importance of friendship is definitely something myself and Tonsils have in common. My friendships are one of the most important parts of my life, whether it’s on or off stage it’s wonderful knowing you have people that will be there for you, including you, Hoa Xuande. At the heart of Tonsils And Tweezers is two best friends trying to help each other work through something traumatic, it’s their friendship that drives the play.

What do you think your character’s name actually is and why?
Interesting question Hoa, lets go with Peter. Purely because in one of the rehearsals James Sweeny, who plays Max, called me Peter when he wasn’t cut off in time. Or maybe his name really is just Tonsils, like Cher!

Where do you go to get your dance moves?
I learnt my moves at the school of hard knocks! Don’t be fooled into thinking I woke up one morning and they were there. Years of hard work and dedication has been put into my skills. Hitting the D-Floor rain, hail or shine to keep my moves in peak condition. Actually to be honest I was born with absolutely no rhythm so dancing is incredibly hard for me, come watch the show and see for your self.

Hoa Xuande

Travis Jeffery: What do you enjoy about Tonsils And Tweezers and Will O’Mahony’s writing?
Hoa Xuande: I’ve had the chance to work with Will twice now on his plays, including the original development of Tonsils And Tweezers, and the thing that really sticks with me about his writing is how frivolous and fun his plays are until it drops you into the deep end and puts you into an emotional mess. Without trying to sound smart he creates these ideas and clues along the way, which ironically makes his plays really clever. In Tonsils And Tweezers we just get to be silly and play until we hand the audience the play’s actual intentions and emotional truth. It’s really fun to do that every night!

What’s the biggest difference between this production and the original?
The biggest difference between this production and the original would have to be the pace between the two shows. The original was put on as part of a double-bill of theatre at the Black Swan State Theatre Company in Perth so we had some time constraints so Will, who also directed the piece himself, really got us to rapid-fire the text. I mean, we really spoke quite fast! But this production has allowed me to just re-discover the text and give the play a little more ‘breathing room’ so it’s nice to be able to just take your time a bit more in this version of the production and make new choices that you hadn’t previously thought about before. It’s just been great to be able to do the same text again but in a different way!

This question has 2 parts! Part 1: What do you like most about rehearsals? Part 2: What do you like most about working with me?
Haha, well… early on in rehearsals, it was interesting to re-discover the play with Travis and Michael and because I had done the play before, I thought, “Nah, I’ll be right.” But as they kept mining the text and discovered things I had completely missed before, I found myself questioning what I actually knew and what my choices were in the previous production and whether I had even understood the play in the first place. So stepping through the play once again in these rehearsals has actually been quite a refreshing feeling. Travis, mate, I like your can-do attitude! Strong choices even if they might be wrong, or always wrong, haha! Nah, actually that was me every day!

Is it true you only own one white shirt and wear it every day?
False, my friend, I actually own more than one white shirt. Three, to be precise. One of which is being used in the show right now! But I choose to wear my ‘rehearsal’ white shirt every day for rehearsal purposes. FYI, it does get washed every week, I think!

Did you ever have a nickname that you hated? Do you have one now?
I’ve had plenty of nicknames or more like mis-pronunciations of my name that’ve probably turned into a nickname at some point in time. The strangest reading of my name once was ‘hon’ and I was like, ‘Interesting, don’t know where the ‘n’ came from but I’ll take it!’ It’s pronounced ‘hwa’ by the way, like a karate chop! That phrase has become attached to my name every time I introduce myself now, haha! But no, never really hated any nicknames. Do I have one now? Don’t know, probably, but Xanadu’s been making the rounds because it looks similar to my last name!

Travis Jeffery and Hoa Xuande can be seen in Tonsils And Tweezers by Will O’Mahony.
Dates: 12 – 29 Jan, 2018
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

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