Review: Affliction (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Legs On The Wall (Lilyfield NSW), Sep 7 – 8, 2019
Playwright: Lauren Orrell
Director: Steve Le Marquand
Cast: Jack Berry, Martelle Hammer, James Hartley, Deborah Jones, Isaro Kayitesi, Lauren Orrell, Luke Townson
Images by Isaro Kayitesi

Theatre review
Lucy is 12 years old, with mental health issues requiring professional medical care, but she tries to secretly tame elements of paranoia and psychosis, afraid of repercussions if the truth of her condition is made known. Lauren Orrell’s Affliction reveals the stigma surrounding mental illness, and the ignorance that still exists in relation to the subject. It offers a valuable glimpse into personal experiences that are too often hidden, allowing us to gain a better understanding of those challenges. The play is sometimes educational in tone, but its best moments are humorous in an absurdist style, with an irony that is smart and satisfying.

Directed by Steve Le Marquand, the production is macabre but surprisingly colourful in its explorations of some very dark ideas. A more intimate environment would allow us greater engagement with the characters, but the vastness of space is otherwise visually appealing. A video interlude by Marianne Khoo brings an unexpected dimension to the story, and an additional opportunity for twisted laughs that many will find enjoyable. Music by Clare Heuston offers excellent tension to some very theatrical scenes of psychological turmoil.

Playwright Orrell is also star of the show, convincing in her portrayal of a troubled child, strong not only with the emotions she is able to express, but also with the sheer physicality that she presents on stage. A grotesque nurse Doreen, is played by James Hartley whose comedic chops prove to be highly amusing. It is a small part that leaves us wanting much more. Deborah Jones is fabulous in her various roles, impressive with the range of monstrous personalities she is able to embody so effortlessly.

Affliction can feel pessimistic, but its creator makes a powerful and positive statement, about overcoming adversity with this ambitious work. Orrell talks openly about her own struggles with mental health, and to see her channelling those frustrations into art is most reassuring. We see a woman rejecting cultural impositions, choosing instead to define her own life, and to build her own identity, from what she sees to be authentic and meaningful. Disadvantage can sink us, but more than likely, the human spirit can see us swimming our way to the top.

www.catchmydisease.weebly.com

Review: Man With The Iron Neck (Legs On The Wall)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 23 – 26, 2019 | Dunstan Playhouse (Adelaide Festival Centre, South Australia), Mar 8 – 11, 2019
Playwright: Ursula Yovich
Directors: Josh Bond, Gavin Robbins
Cast: Caleena Sansbury, Kyle Shilling, Tibian Wyles, Ursula Yovich
Images by Victor Frankowski

Theatre review
Named after Aloys Peters, a 1930s German stunt performer “who hangs himself and lives to tell the tale,” Ursula Yovich’s play Man With The Iron Neck addresses the issue of suicide among our Indigenous youth. Bear is an aspiring and talented footballer, about to go places, but there are demons that haunt and that threaten to hold him back from all his hopes and dreams. Having grown up with the pain of his father’s abandonment, Bear’s interminable suffering although not immediately evident, reveals itself to be palpable and immutably deep. Yovich’s writing is gentle but deliberate, a moving exploration into a contemporary problem borne out of inter-generational trauma.

Masculinity too, is a resonant theme in Man With The Iron Neck, as we examine a young man’s development in a household without male role models. Bear is required to adhere to traditional notions of his gender, but what is available for emulation, is tainted with tragedy. A substantial amount of physical theatre is introduced by directors Josh Bond and Gavin Robbins, to illustrate Bear’s narrative of late teen maleness, notably involving aerial acrobatics that prove mesmerising. Gratifying work on sound design by Michael Toisuta and Jed Silver, is crucial in the production’s ability to transport us between realms surreal and realist. Performer Kyle Shilling is an engaging presence in the lead role, with an admirable athletic confidence that assists with the show’s dynamism.

Bear’s story is evidence that serious effort into undoing undesirable effects of colonialism, has to take place in tandem with processes of private healing. It is the confluence of both social and personal strategies that is required for our young, especially those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, to be able to move toward brighter futures. We have to learn to talk about our lives as groups and as individuals, to ensure that no one is left behind. It is abundantly clear that our Indigenous youth are routinely neglected; there are reports that seven Aboriginal child suicides have taken place in less than four weeks of January, 2019. As a wider Australian community, we remain unwilling to contribute to solutions, choosing to indulge in delusions that the problem is isolated and removed from our non-black daily realities. We all bear the duty of care for these lives, and our failure is not only shameful, it is reprehensible.

www.legsonthewall.com.au

Review: PUNCTURE (Legs On The Wall / Form Dance Projects / Vox – Sydney Philharmonia Choirs)

Venue: Riverside Theatre (Parramatta NSW), Jan 21 – 25, 2015
Director: Patrick Nolan
Choreographer: Kathryn Puie
Composer: Stefan Gregory
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Dancers are at the forefront in the exploration of theatrical space. Without the burden of words and narratives, they open up senses to what the physical presence of things and bodies can do on a stage, and how we communicate between persons, to create meaning where little or none had existed before. Puncture features a great number of people, some are dancers, and the others singers, introduced as though emerging from the audience, and we are encouraged to identify with them, and to read their performance as though what they present have come from us, even if we feel secure in our seats with temporary passivity. The mix of characters features a beautifully diverse range of ages and ethnicities that reflect the breadth of human experience, and of Australian life. The vocalists in particular, are almost a visual copy of the viewing crowd, and efforts at incorporating them into the dance, provide some of the more emotional moments of the piece.

Patrick Nolan and Kathryn Puie have created in Puncture, something that is a little less self-conscious, and a little more accessible than what we have come to expect of modern dance. They investigate the notion of inclusiveness to address the art of performance, as well as the consumption side of show business. It is a noble ambition to blur the lines of where the show starts and where it ends, but redefining audienceship is a difficult exercise. While not always successful, the ideology of breaking barriers provides strong impetus that shapes the show into something that feels adventurous and earnest. We are at our most engaged when the cast tackles the unconventional. The incorporation of rigging (executed behind the scenes by Jon Blake and Felix Kerdijk) to lift bodies 4 metres away from the ground, the soprano on an aerial hoop, and the tender interchanges between choristers and dancers; we are kept fascinated and entertained.

The 22-strong choir is led by Music Director Elizabeth Scott and Composer Stefan Gregory, with accompaniment on piano by Luke Byrne and on percussion by Bree Van Reyk. The marriage between what we hear and see is wonderfully cohesive, with the music at its most successful when it ventures into the avant garde. Even at its most daring, all the sounds are elegantly resolved, except when words like “hello” and “love” are used, disrupting the abstract beauty that wishes to be experienced in personal ways. It is noteworthy that there are many intriguing personalities in the choir, who could have been featured more heavily in the work’s choreography. Trained dancers tend to lose their individualities in the very discipline they invest in, and the juxtaposition provided on this occasion with non-dancers on the same stage is a main feature. Getting the singers to do more with their bodies is probably challenging, but it is precisely the idea of redefinition that would be elevated further, and the meanings that one draws from Puncture can therefore be more powerful.

Many in the show are dedicated and accomplished dancers, but this is not a piece about athleticism or superhuman faculties. It is an expression of how we live, feel and breathe as individuals and as collectives. Its themes are not always clear, but it articulates its concerns with sensitivity and focus. These artists intend to show us something important in their inimitable ways, and if we think that everything important can be put into words, then they have proven us wrong.

www.legsonthewall.com.au / www.form.org.au / www.sydneyphilharmonia.com