Review: Blue Christmas (New Ghosts Theatre Company)



Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 11 – 22, 2019
Images by Clare Hawley

Good People
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Laura Djanegara, Sasha Dyer, Chika Ikogwe, Jane Watt, Emma Wright

Shandy’s Corner
Playwright: Gretel Vella
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Meg Clarke, Laura Djanegara, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Zoe Jensen, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash

Theatre review
It is Christmas time, when things come to a boiling point for two groups of women. In Katy Warner’s Good People, old friends have their holiday in Indonesia cut short by a state of emergency, as violence breaks out and tourists are corralled and confined to an airport. These Australians have witnessed the true face of poverty, and are now confronting the brutal implications of their privileged first world lives. Shandy’s Corner by Gretel Vella takes place in a women’s shelter, in first world Australia, where the consequences of our patriarchal systems are on full display, with broken individuals trying to regain their agency and a sense of dignity.

Both hour-long works are sensitively written and immensely contemplative, offering valuable perspectives on the kinds of lives we currently inhabit. Directed by Lucy Clements, the double-bill presentation grips from start to end. Good People is provocative, able to instigate meaningful conversations, while Shandy’s Corner is fabulously entertaining, with a dark humour that proves deeply satisfying. Clements injects an infectious passion into every scene, for a theatre that communicates with efficacious power.

An excellent impression is left by a very strong and cohesive cast, remarkably engaging in their delivery of two ensemble pieces, with not a single weak link. Clementine Anderson and Laura Djanegara perform in both stories, taking the opportunity to demonstrate versatility, but are especially memorable in Shandy’s Corner for their compelling portrayals of women overcoming adversity in wildly different ways. Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Emma Wright bring complex characterisations and excellent drama to the staging, intense with the emotions they convey. Funny ladies Meg Clarke and Zoe Jensen are thoroughly enjoyable in comedic roles, each actor with approaches as bold as their imaginations.

It is appropriate that the Christmas message here relates to the inherent injustices of our way of life. To respond to these plays, we can do no better than to think, “what would Jesus do?” in the face of these man-made tragedies. Christianity proclaims to be about caring for the poor and the oppressed, as it preaches in Proverbs 31:8-9, to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” When we look around us, there is little that can be construed as holy, but good art remains, and it is eternally sacred.

www.newghoststheatre.com

5 Questions with Chika Ikogwe and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash

Chika Ikogwe

Vaishnavi Suryaprakash: If you could use your acting platform to change one thing about the Australian performance scene, what would it be?
Chika Ikogwe: I would love to see a more diverse and inclusive industry here in Australia. I know there are a lot of people that are tired of hearing this, and even people that believe that the pendulum has swung so far, that now the industry only favours diversity. Which is just completely false. The majority of work on stage and screen still majorly lacks First Nations people, People of Colour and minorities in general. And there’s also a lack of stories that are being created / written by people from these minority groups. I absolutely acknowledge the amazing work and the great strides that have been made in the last few years to create a more diverse and inclusive industry, but there’s so much more work to be done on that front. I just want to see the Australia that I see as I walk down the street, as I catch the bus and as I do my grocery shopping, being reflected on stage and screen here in Australia. That’s what I’d change ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What has it been like growing up with the name “Chika Ikogwe”?
It has changed a lot over time. When I was younger, there were times when I absolutely hated my name, and wished I was called something else. I distinctly remember my first day of prep when the teacher called out my name on the roll, and all the kids just burst into laughter because for some reason they found my name so funny. One kid even yelled out ‘Chicken! Her name is chicken!’ That was the first time in my life I’d felt any kind of shame regarding my name. Then there’ve been other times when I’ve done over-the-phone job interviews, secured the job and have been greeted with perplexed facial expressions on my first day of work. Turns out some people don’t know Chika is also a Nigerian name. There’s been so much I’ve lost out on because of my name, but to balance that so much I’ve gained. Life is just funny like that though, and I kinda love it. It gives character. I wouldn’t trade my name for anything else… Except maybe Beyoncé?! Just kidding. I think…

What do you most love about the character you play in Good People?
Jess is an actor and she takes her best pals on a holiday so they can reunite and just, like, hang out?! That’s awesome and I hope one day I can do that with my friends. #Goals.

When you think about the vastness and contents of the universe, how do you feel?
Bruh, I feel a LOT. Sometimes I feel super overwhelmed at the fact that there’s so much out there that we don’t even know about. Sometimes I feel like I can do anything, and the world really is my oyster. Sometimes I feel incredibly small. Sometimes I wonder if the world’s richest people congregate monthly to discuss their plans to leave everyone on Earth behind to start a new life on Mars or Europa or something. Sometimes I wonder if Beyoncé remembers me from that one time we locked eyes at her concert back in 2013 (probably not, but I’ll keep lying to myself). Sometimes I ask myself, “Who the hell let Donald Trump, Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson occupy any kind of political space, AT THE SAME TIME?!” I feel many feels. 

Who’s your favourite tennis player and why?
The Williams sisters are my forever Queens. Particularly Serena Williams. I played tennis for about 6 years growing up, and Serena was one of the only players I could identify with. Not only was she a black woman, but she also had broad shoulders and a muscular build amongst players that were mostly tall, white and skinny. She played with such force and passion. I remember wanting to be just like her when I grew up. She made me feel so seen and inspired me so much. 

Vaishnavi Suryaprakash

Chika Ikogwe: If you could use your acting platform to change one thing about the Australian performance scene, what would it be?
Vaishnavi Suryaprakash: I would get more young people from CALD backgrounds involved in theatre and performance art. I want an artistic career path to be contemplated by more of these children, and for them to feel encouraged to create art.
 
What’s the worst Christmas present you’ve ever received?
I actually can’t remember – nothing stands out! I think I’ve been pretty lucky. On a related note, I think Harry Potter’s worst Christmas present would be the tissue from the Dursleys (yes, I am currently re-reading Harry Potter, how did you know). Though I have often wondered how they sent their presents to Harry. Does Hedwig turn up every year a few days before Christmas? How do they know the reason she has turned up? How come they give Harry Christmas presents, but never birthday presents?
 
If your character in Shandy’s Corner had a catch phrase, what would it be?
“A lady never discusses the size of her yarn stash.”
 
You win a million dollars. What are the first 3 things you spend the money on? 
The very thought makes me stress out… so let me tell you instead what I love to buy: good quality tea, books (a guilty habit because libraries exist!), and hiking gear (ooh nothing beats the feeling of the perfect supportive backpack resting on your shoulders…)
 
Which actor would you cast to play “Vaishnavi Suryaprakash” in your biopic? 
Definitely Scarlett Johansson. 

Chika Ikogwe and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash can be seen in Blue Christmas, a double bill featuring two new Australian plays, by Katy Warner and Gretel Vella.
Dates: 11 – 22 Dec, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

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