Review: Relative Merits (El Rocco Room)

Venue: El Rocco Room (Potts Point NSW), Jul 10 – 25, 2019
Playwright: Barry Lowe
Director: Porter James
Cast: Isaac Broadbent, Samuel Welsh
Images by Joseph Issa

Theatre review
Clay has come to Sydney looking for his brother, just when Adam announces his retirement from footy stardom. It is not a convenient time, made even more difficult by Clay’s over-the-top homophobia, as he discovers Adam to be in the process of coming out as gay. Relative Merits by Barry Lowe describes some of the hardest experiences for LGBTQI people, when we have to deal with conflict between family members who are almost always ignorant of our challenges. The story takes place 30 years ago, and even though much of our social contexts have changed, what happens at home can still feel much the same.

Young Clay has to go through an extensive learning process over a short period, to undo a lifetime of programming. He is presented with a situation that goes against bigoted values he had inherited, but the love for his brother compels a process of rehabilitation, like many families have had to experience. Actor Isaac Broadbent convincingly portrays that transformation in Clay, with co-star Samuel Welsh adept at expressing Adam’s various states of torment. Performances often feel exaggerated, as a result of some very unsubtle writing, but director Porter James ensures that the narrative is conveyed with clarity, for an hour of nostalgic theatre that is not without its charms.

Queer babies are born everyday to straight parents. This is our history, and will continue to be our reality, as long as that binary of straight and queer persists. It is however possible to imagine a future in which people are not defined thus, that sexuality rejects those categories, so that we will no longer be able to be segregated by useless notions of difference. If we do preserve those differences, we must better appreciate the equality that exists within those differences, that we may be diverse and unpredictable, but human lives should not be ranked in arbitrary hierarchies that prioritise some over others. It may not always be our natural impulse to love all, but if there is anything that is worth indoctrination, it is that message of love thy neighbour that we must insist to come above all else.

www.lhe-agency.com

Review: Away (Bondi Pavilion Theatre)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Jul 4 – 7, 2018
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Nicholas Christo
Cast: Beth Daly, Meg Clarke, Norah George, Veronica Lang, Berynn Schwerdt, David Simes, Will Usic, Elliott Weston, James Wright
Images by Lynn Quiroz

Theatre review
Tom and his family are new immigrants to 1960’s Australia. Unlike many of their aspirational neighbours, they are content with a new residence offering a sense of freedom and egalitarianism, after having worked hard to escape the stifling mores of England. Michael Gow’s Away may not be set in 1788, but it is in some ways a story about white settlement, as we watch three white families trying to make sense of their place on this strange colonised land. They never feel completely at home, and the play urges that we attempt to find ways to explain their unrelenting anxieties and throbbing disquiet.

It is a kind of rootless existence that we witness in Away, about those who have only short histories as inhabitants of this young nation. The play opens and closes with quotations from the works of Shakespeare, as though inspiration can only be derived from old Europe; that inability and aversion to connecting with the authentic here and now, is more than a little revealing. The production however, uses A Midsummer Night’s Dream well, with the presence of Puck and other fairies underscoring much of the action, in costumes by Emma Clark that are very delightful indeed.

Director Nicholas Christo does well to introduce a dimension of ethereality whenever possible, for a magical quality that brings additional drama to the production. Not all actors are obviously suited to their roles, but it is an adequate cast that presents the show, with David Simes proving to be most endearing as both Tom and Puck. The performer is sprightly, with a charming earnestness that accompanies an admirable level of dedication he displays for the stage.

Not every work of art can stand the test of time, but there is no stopping us from new interpretations when we find them starting to wither. There is little joy in reading the same texts, in the same way, year in year out. With every revisit, tiny shifts in our culture allow us to see old things in new light. That which had been written might be characterised by a certain immovability, but the eyes that read them, can never defy the ravages of time.

http://www.waverley.nsw.gov.au/recreation/places_of_interest/bondi_pavilion

Review: Flood (Old 505 Theatre)

lamberthouseVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Nov 8 – 19, 2016
Playwright: Chris Isaacs
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Chandel Brandimarti, Caitlin Burley, Olivia Jubb, Aaron Lucas, David Thomas, Jackson Williams, James Wright
Image by Alexandra Nell

Theatre review
6 young adults, all white, embark on a road trip into the Western Australia bush land. A dramatic transgression occurs involving Aboriginality, and the story attempts to move itself into high gear, except no black person ever shows up on stage to provide balance to the ideas being explored.

Chris Isaacs’ Flood is a well-meaning work about race relations and colonisation, but is woefully oblivious to the fact that it is entirely concerned with the guilt and hurt of white people, when the tragedy at the centre of its narrative strikes only Aboriginal people. It is a shocking and deeply disappointing indiscretion that should no longer surface in public storytelling, but its existence is reflective of the ignorance and insensitivity that remains commonplace in Australian society.

It must be said however, that the production is carried out well. Design elements are simple but elegantly implemented, and direction by Charles Sanders tunes rhythms and emotion levels appropriately for the narrative to make sense. All performers present a good amount of proficiency with their roles, and the relationships they cultivate are subtly but effectively conveyed. The pain and struggle these white kids experience might bear authenticity, but their side of the story pales in significance, and is frankly, tedious to witness.

We can acknowledge and thank the First Nations all we want, for the use of their land at every social occasion, but when talking about their place in our historical and contemporary lives, we must no longer usurp space that is rightfully theirs. The failure to engage Aboriginal voices (the programme lists Indigenous content consultants but the text does not present Aboriginal voices), and then for the colonialists to exclusively occupy an Australian stage, when attempting to address issues of regret and reconciliation, is hardly acceptable. Flood is earnest navel-gazing, but in its frustrating and empty introspective search for answers, it has forgotten to ask those who matter most.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: The Credeaux Canvas (Lambert House Enterprises)

lamberthouseVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 14, 2015
Playwright: Keith Bunin
Director: Ross McGregor
Cast: Emilie Cocquerel, Carmen Duncan, Felix Johnson, James Wright

Theatre review
In Keith Bunin’s The Credeaux Canvas, the commodification of art and youthful ambition are explored through the intertwined lives of three young Americans in 2001 New York City. This is a story of broken dreams and deceit, as well as the often underplayed hardships of growing up. On the surface, Bunin’s characters have everything in the world going for them, each with talent, intelligence and social access, but they make choices that are doomed from the start, and all have to pay the price for their mistakes. The play delves into relationships and events, but leaves us to question the ways humans err, and to investigate what it is that likens us to the moth that gets burned by a flame.

This is a handsome production, beautifully and thoughtfully designed to evoke an accurate sense of time, space, and drama. Emma Vine’s set of a dilapidated apartment is executed with sophistication and flair, and lighting by Liam O’Keefe adds variety and nuance to scenes with careful subtlety. A highlight of the show is music by Christopher Gordon, who takes charge of scene transitions with great imagination and impressive elegance.

Ross McGregor directs the show with a passionate sensibility. He tries to keep scenes active and lively, but is restricted by individual abilities of his cast. Leading lady Emilie Coquerel is polished and energetic, but her character never feels believable enough, although it must be said that her transformations are depicted with good clarity. The key role of Winston is played by James Wright, who brings a natural naiveté to the painter’s wide-eyed entrance into adulthood. Both Coquerel and Wright can be overly self-conscious, most notably in a nude scene where the actors engage uncomfortably in a long conversation, revealing not much more than their bodies.

Felix Johnson is a dynamic performer who shows great commitment in his supporting part of Jamie, with an endearing emotional volatility that allows us to identify and engage with his narrative. Veteran actor Carmen Duncan appears in just one scene, but blinds the audience with her formidable talent and skill. She plays art collector Tess with sensational presence and brilliant humour, captivating the crowd in a way that only extensive experience and that enviable star quality can.

Death is mentioned several times in The Credeaux Canvas, and indeed, life is short, and although we only have one chance at it, mistakes are made so that they can be rectified, and through regret, we can grow. There is a darkness to the play’s conclusion with its characters finding themselves at a juncture where they can either continue on roads of destruction, or make a change for the better. It is a significant point in time for them, but their story gives us the knowledge that every moment is an opportunity to move, from the dark to the light.

www.facebook.com/credeauxcanvas

Review: The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me (Lambert House Enterprises)

rsz_1796028_10202558976807602_539984011_oVenue: Ginger’s Oxford Hotel (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 19 – 27, 2014
Playwright: David Drake
Director: Kynan Francis
Actors: Ben Hudson, James Wright

Theatre review
American playwright and actor David Drake’s 1994 one-man play is revived to coincide with the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras 2014 season. This time, Australian director Kynan Francis casts two actors, makes several updates to the script, and chooses a cabaret style venue to stage a radical re-telling of a piece of radical writing. Drake’s work from the post-ACT UP era was fresh and optimistic, arriving at a time when the shock of the AIDS epidemic had begun to subside, and communities were galvanised and empowered. A new gay identity had emerged, characterised by a buoyancy that had previously remained elusive. The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me is an important work that represents this transformation. It remembers the horrors of a time of closeted secrecy and overt persecution, but articulates a vision of the future of equality and emancipation.

Ben Hudson is the more sure footed of both actors. He exhibits a close affiliation with the themes of the work, with a performance that is stirringly passionate and authentic. There is no question that Hudson would have been able to carry the show on his own, but Francis’ decision to partner him up is not an unwise one. While James Wright is less experienced, he holds his own. Like a young brother following closely behind, he completes the picture, and adds more to the production that is immediately evident. Both are brave yet vulnerable, and both understand the weightiness of the material they have taken on. There is a lot of careful reverence and sensitivity in this production, giving it an uplifting and beautiful spirituality.

Francis’ direction is deep and meaningful. His thorough familiarity with the script and its contexts ensures that every scene, moment and nuance is depicted with emotional accuracy and poignancy, and with political impact. The use of two actors effectively portrays the bonds between gay men, as brothers, lovers and compatriots. Some of this work is very moving. There is also technical brilliance on show, particularly with the performance of an extended section set against music. For a production of such small scale, it is surprisingly, and impressively, well rehearsed.

In 1994, the idea that all adults will one day be able to marry equally in the eyes of the law was hard to imagine. Our battles today might feel arduous and frustrating, but The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me shows just how far our society has progressed. The play ends in the year 2020, when Oklahoma becomes the final USA state to legalise same-sex marriage. We are now 6 years away from that fictitious moment, and things seem altogether more hopeful and brighter than ever before.

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Three Winters Green (Lambert House Enterprises)

threewintersgreenVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 7 – Nov 3, 2013
Playwright: Campion Decent
Director: Les Solomon
Actors: Tom Sharah, Brett O’Neill, Gael Ballantyne, James Wright, Emily Kennedy, Matt Young, Diana Perini

Theatre review
First produced in 1993 (and again in 2003), Three Winters Green arrived at a time when the AIDS epidemic was still a crucial force in galvanising gay communities in the developed world. Campion Decent’s script is a beautiful representation of that generation’s experiences, and his depiction of their struggles is an important documentation that needs to be borne witness time and time again.

The emphasis on Les Solomon’s 2013 direction remains on the devastating effects of the AIDS virus, but other elements in Decent’s writing make the play more than a relic of recent lgbt history. It deals with uniquely queer experiences of family, the closet, and homophobic violence, all of which are hugely relevant themes that resonate strongly, even for the most jaded of contemporary Australians.

Tom Sharah is the lead, and his work is a major factor in the success of this production. Sharah has a thorough and sensitive understanding of the text, and his portrayal of Francis is deeply affecting. He plays the flamboyant character with great humour and delivers a lot of big laughs, but he also cuts through with beautiful, subtle moments that convey truthful character development and heartfelt emotion. It is a heartbreakingly sublime performance. Brett O’Neill is memorable in his supporting role as Andrew. He is naturally charismatic, and impresses with simplicity and authenticity. The restraint in his acting contrasts well with other cast members, and allows him to shine brightly through.

The play concludes with the unfurling of a quilt that was part of the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt Project, that commemorates and honours those who have lost their lives to the disease. The poignancy of the quilt’s presence, along with the angels and the mourners they leave behind, cannot be understated. George Orwell said, “the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” May Three Winters Green return with greater emerald vibrancy at each passing season, and may we never forget the foundations of our shared histories, even if the communities we live in become increasingly fragmented.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

Butterflies Are Free (Lambert House Enterprises)

butterfilesVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 7 – Nov 3, 2013
Playwright: Leonard Gershe
Director: Les Solomon
Actors: James Wright, Emily Kennedy, Cheryl Ward, Matt Young

Theatre review
Written by Leonard Gershe in 1969, Butterflies Are Free premiered at virtually the same time as the legendary Woodstock Festival. The work discusses notions of freedom at a time when America was in the depths of the Vietnam War, and when the hippie subculture was at its peak. 44 years on, the resonances in Gershe’s script remain strong, and its story still strikes a chord with contemporary audiences.

Les Solomon’s revival of the play is slightly referential of the 60s, but design elements do not explore the retro aspect too deeply. Instead, Solomon focuses our attention on character development and the themes inherent in the writing. His direction of the piece is confident and passionate. We are treated to perfectly paced comedy, as well as an earnest approach to the deeper and more philosophical sections of the text.

Quality of acting is consistently strong. Emily Kennedy’s portrayal of a free spirit is delightful, and she captivates by shading her character with glimpses of a sombre interior. Her balance of light and dark grounds the show in a space of warmth and truthfulness, and establishes an intimate sense of identification with the audience. Cheryl Ward plays Mrs Baker, the “mother”, bringing a comic quality that is enjoyable yet subtle. Ward’s performance is measured and sensitive, creating probably the most convincing character in the show. It is noteworthy however, that the final quarter of the play seems slightly rushed. The comedy eventually gives way to a fairly serious conclusion packed with meaning and pathos, but the actors seem to remain at the speed of the earlier scenes.

The theme of freedom is one that absolutely everyone can relate to. In Butterflies Are Free, we are presented with a beautiful story and sublime, deeply moving words. This production allows us to savour those words as delivered by a group of impassioned players, and provides an opportunity for its audience to reflect upon the freedoms that exist in our lives and also those that are sadly absent.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au