Review: All His Beloved Children (KXT on Broadway)

Venue: KXT on Broadway (Ultimo NSW), May 5 – 20, 2023
Playwright: Frieda Lee
Amelia Burke
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Melissa Gan, Sam Hayes, Lukas Radovich, Kavina Shah
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Yamuna has died, but her mouth refuses to shut. A chain of posthumous events suggests that a woman may very well be silenced with her tragic demise, but there are unexpected forces that can arise, possibly from metaphysical realms, to make things right. Frieda Lee’s All His Beloved Children could be a story about ghosts, or karma, or it could simply be about the stranger aspects of human behaviour, that sometimes makes existence on this plain, seem a curious phenomenon.

The obscure humour of Lee’s writing, explores some of our morbid recesses, taking taboo ideas and transforms them into subversive artistic expressions, about relationships that we have with one another, and with things pertaining to the spiritual realm. Directed by Amelia Burke, the production alternates between delivering twisted pleasures that are genuinely delightful, and youthful irreverence that can feel somewhat inane. Burke’s commitment to a theatre that is unpredictable and intriguing however, is beyond doubt.

Set by Adrienne Andrews and costumes by Moni Langford, transport us somewhere timeless and geographically indeterminate, as though this weird story could take place anywhere on earth. Frankie Clarke’s lights are whimsical and detailed, creating varied textures within an atmosphere that is unmistakably sensual. Sound design by Daniel Herten is inspired by a certain exotica, to help us consider the play’s themes outside of Western conventions and values.

Embracing the quirky qualities of the staging, is an ensemble cast comprising Tel Benjamin, Melissa Gan, Sam Hayes, Lukas Radovich and Kavina Shah, who are challenged by a requirement to depict a persistent sense of truth, within an unremitting eccentricity that informs the overall tone of the production. It is a tricky balance that does not always prove effective, but the show’s intentionally bizarre sensibility, is unforgettable.

People die, but slates are never wiped clean. We will always have to evolve along with inevitable inheritances, taking on the baggage that others leave behind; things we can never pretend not to be tainted by, and things we can never completely disassociate from. The separations between “us and them”, are as tenuous as the distinctions between those dead and alive. The sooner we come to terms with the indissolubleness of us, the better our chances at life.

Review: Mortel (KXT on Broadway)

Venue: KXT on Broadway (Ultimo NSW), Apr 25 – 29, 2023
Director: Steven Ljubović
Cast: Phoebe Atkinson, Gemma Burwell, Abbey Dimech, Giani Leon, Meg Hyeronimus, Levi Kenway, Aiden Morris, Bella Ridgway, Shannon Thomas
Images by Abraham de Souza

Theatre review
Nine beings emerge from their cocoons, flesh and bone perfectly formed, all muscles ready to fire. Mortel is a work of physical theatre that takes from dance traditions, from experimental art and from performance training, manifesting in a presentation that ranges from the obscure to the obvious, from beautiful to awkward.

Directed by Steven Ljubović, Mortel has a tendency to feel derivative, in a style that is perhaps too demanding of an artist’s capacity for originality. Whether drawing from something more distinct like Bob  Fosse’s “Rich Man’s Frug” or other elements that simply feel instinctively familiar, the staging never delivers much that is truly inventive. It is however, a show that is often captivating, with an evocative and sensual sound design by Kieran Camejo that provides a basis for our emotions to engage. Lights by Clare Sheridan are gently rendered, to best support, and flatter, the dynamic activity taking place.

Performers are dressed exquisitely by Ljubović, in shades and shapes that nod to contemporary pop culture and to the world of fashion. The cast of nine is incredibly cohesive, perfectly well-rehearsed and indefatigably focused, on what they mean to achieve as individuals and as a singular pulsatory organism. The work may not require extraordinary athleticism or technical proficiency, but their demonstration of strength and precision, along with their boundless dedication, is a joy to behold.

There is nothing that quite parallels the enthusiasm for living a good life that emerges, from the unremitting meditations on the nature and inevitability of death.

Review: Cherry Smoke (KXT on Broadway)

Venue: KXT on Broadway (Ultimo NSW), Mar 24 – Apr 8, 2023
Playwright: James McManus
Charlie Vaux
Cast: Alice Birbara, Fraser Crane, Tom Dawson, Meg Hyeronimus
Images by Abraham de Souza

Theatre review
The story takes place somewhere in a godforsaken redneck part of the United States, where girls kiss delinquents and dream of birthing babies, and boys fight each other to prove their manhood. As we see in James McManus’ Cherry Smoke, there is not much one can aspire to, when caught in a cycle of poverty. Even the imagination is restricted, and people can only follow in the footsteps of parents, whose lives have proven completely unworthy of replication.

Directed by Charlie Vaux, the pessimistic story is given a surprising tenderness, with perhaps a deficiency in portrayals of brutality and grittiness, that makes the experience feel insufficiently poignant. Lights by Jasmin Borsovszky are commensurately soft in approach, visually appealing but overly romantic with its renderings of despondency. Soham Apte’s set design offers simple solutions to help facilitate entrances and exits with minimal friction. Sounds by Johnny Yang are a highlight,  working marvellously to alter atmosphere, and to manufacture moments of dramatic tension.

Actor Meg Hyeronimus plays the love-struck Cherry, as a sassy yet stern young woman,  whilst the object of her desire Fish is performed by Tom Dawson, who depicts the boxer with imprudence and a devastating recklessness. Both demonstrate good focus, along with attention to detail, for a challenging piece about a space that seems so far removed, from most of our present realities. Alice Birbara and Fraser Crane, too are diligent with their parts as Bug and Duffy respectively, bringing intensity to the production at key junctures.

The veracity of socio-economic problems being explored in Cherry Smoke, is beyond doubt. Evidence of people falling through the cracks is extensive, should we choose to pay attention. It is meaningless to say that we want these problems to go away, unless we can admit that it is a matter of wealth redistribution that needs to take place, and that some simply have to give up their power and riches, in order that many more can be released from their torment. The disadvantaged should also find ways to divert violence away from themselves, and exert that force instead, on those who are more deserving of pressure and disruption.