Review: The Dog, The Night And The Knife (The Other Theatre)

Playwright: Marius von Mayenburg (translated by Maja Zade)
Director: Eugene Lynch
Cast: Thomas G Burt, Tom Crotty, Samantha Lambert
Images by Shayan Askari

Theatre review
It is always 5:05 o’clock, in Marius von Mayenburg’s nightmarish The Dog, The Night And The Knife. A man is trapped inside a surreal landscape, encountering strange people who all seem to have nefarious intentions, it seems, of wanting to eat him up. The anxiety-riddled work takes us on a bizarre trip, into a space that feels like the semiconscious, where reality exists only in states of compromise. Paranoia is about things that hide beneath the surface, and in von Mayenburg’s play, things are certainly never quite what they seem.

Actor Tom Crotty demonstrates good focus as the protagonist, full of mental concentration, but lacking in physical agility. The production is staid, probably overly serious in its interpretation of von Mayenburg’s writing. Director Eugene Lynch is able to create a sense of macabre for the piece, but the show proves less funny than it could be.

In a variety of roles are Thomas G Burt and Samantha Lambert, both performers introducing an enjoyable theatricality with the ghostly quality they bring to their characters. Burt is particularly delightful with the dynamism he is able to bring to the stage. Also noteworthy is music composer Kailesh Reitmans, who delivers clever atmospheric enhancements for the production, especially effective with the suspense he is able to convey.

There is no denying that art can help deal with psychological and emotional baggage of which no one is excepted. At the theatre, whether we come in contact with cannibals or with the average Joe, there is always opportunity to know ourselves better, and in that process, find a more expansive view of existence that will keep our disquiet in check. In The Dog, The Night And The Knife, von Mayenburg comes to terms with the idea that people are not always kind to one another. It might be a pessimistic realisation, but an acceptance of reality is always a necessary start, before attaining greater epiphanies.

Review: A Westerner’s Guide To The Opium Wars (Thirty Five Square Theatre)

Venue: M2 Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 25 – 30, 2017
Playwright: Tabitha Woo
Director: Kevin Ng
Cast: Tabitha Woo

Theatre review
In Tabitha Woo’s mostly autobiographical work A Westerner’s Guide To The Opium Wars, it is not the historical event in China mid-1800’s that takes our focus. The conflict between East and West that Woo is concerned with, is a personal one. Being of both Asian and European heritage, Woo’s understanding of her own Australian identity can be a complicated one, shaped by our society’s persistent rejection of affiliations with neighbouring cultures.

As Woo traces her lineal descent, through Tasmania, Malaysia and China, we begin to gain a greater understanding of our collective character as a singular yet diverse nation. We think about the meanings of migration, and the tension between having to leave behind that which is unsatisfactory, and the need to remember where we come from. In the construction of new identities as we flee from one place to another, a deliberate renunciation occurs, of things and memories best left behind, but the nature of time requires that we return eventually, usually momentarily, for a more honest evaluation of states of being.

The show is often fascinating in the way it uncovers decades and centuries of information behind Woo’s smiling exterior. Its juxtapositions of cultural influences from all over the world makes for a rich experience, although transitions between the theatrical forms it explores, could be handled more imaginatively. As performer, Woo makes up for her reticent presence with clarity of thought and intention, always ensuring that our understanding of her work is accurate and comprehensive.

Each person carries with them, ghosts from generations past, yet we can only regard our acquaintances with a sense of egalitarian homogeneity. We have no choice but to make assumptions of uniformity in how we deal with the world, but in relation to the self, a thorough authenticity is necessary or existence can turn unbearable. How a person wakes up every morning, depends on how much they respect the mind and body that is being nourished. The better we know ourselves, whether as individuals or as communities, the better a life we can create.

Review: Kaleidoscope (Theatre21)

theatre21Venue: M2 Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 19 – 23, 2015
Playwright: Charlie O’Grady
Director: Finn Davis
Cast: Harry Winsome
Image by Alex Smiles

Theatre review
Gabriel is a young trans man who has been transitioning for four years, but who still finds it hard to leave his home for the big wide world in the mornings. On the day of our encounter, he struggles in front of a mirror for 90 minutes, and we witness how difficult it is for him to do the most basic of things; to get dressed and exit his front door. Stories about transgender experiences are not hard to come by, especially at this very point in time, as mainstream consciousness gains awareness of issues surrounding trans people, but Charlie O’Grady’s Kaleidoscope is an articulate and exceptionally insightful expression of the realities of trans youth at our specific day and age. The tale remains one characterised by pain and conflict, but it is an au courant representation of the continual evolution of ideologies and language in the discussion of gender. O’Grady’s script is sensitive, powerful, cerebral, emotional, and very repetitive. It takes pains to describe Gabriel’s entrapment with circular and recurring motifs that can frustrate its audience, but it serves to depict the persistent turbulence that Gabriel goes through with every breath of his life. Early sections of the play are overtly didactic, which is probably helpful for most viewers who are unfamiliar with the climate under examination, although a greater sense of sophistication with tone could make things more palatable.

Staging of the work is straightforward, but excessively so. Gabriel is in his bedroom, speaking into the mirror for over an hour, and virtually nothing changes. The monologue format is a challenging beast, not just for those on stage, but also for an audience that needs more than a fascinating subject, especially when the show runs for more than several minutes. We need definite transformations of scenes so that our senses can stay engaged, and we need to feel clear shifts in the character’s journey so that we can stay connected. Kaleidoscope however, delivers a long and continuous oration that, although very coherent and truthful, often proves to be too unvarying for our attention to stay intimate with. Harry Winsome’s performance is a solid one, and he impresses with the fluency of his lines, never stumbling over the extremely extensive and demanding strands of words. The emotions he conveys can seem intense and forceful, but they rarely translate with sufficient depth and authenticity to captivate; we hear his thoughts objectively, without being able to relate with his sentimentalities truthfully.

Gabriel is at war with the world, and with himself. He thinks that his story is about finding acceptance in the world, but it is clear that the biggest hurdle to his own happiness is himself. On many levels, the play is a universal one. We all come into adulthood with doubt and challenges, and finding permission to live freely is never easy. Gabriel obsesses over his reflection, thinking that it is the gaze of others that oppresses him, but like anyone, he must come to realise that the only affirmation worth receiving is from himself, and until he stops waiting for consent to arrive from without, can he allow his own emancipation to occur.

Review: Rosie, Ruth, & Susan (Smoking Gum Theatre)

smokinggum1Venue: M2 Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 29 – Aug 3, 2015
Playwrights: Finn Davis, Charlie O’Grady, Lucinda Vitek
Director: Lucinda Vitek
Cast: Finn Davis, Charlie O’Grady, Lucinda Vitek

Theatre review
The idea is simple.Three artists create a verbatim work of theatre from interviews with a grandmother. The temptation is to lead the conversations to specific points of interest or contention, and then manufacture tension and drama as you would a conventional work of fiction. Rosie, Ruth, & Susan resists those expectations, and lets the conversations be, with minimal embellishment introduced into the resulting script.

Staging the work in an art gallery allows an intimate proximity that produces an unusual theatricality. We are encouraged to observe the performers from a more active perspective than one would normally adopt in an auditorium type setting. Our focus shifts between tepid tales and the delicate presences recreated by the cast. It is widely believed that elderly women are among the most invisible of society, and the sensation of sharing space with their vitality so tenderly portrayed is unusual for many. Finn Davis’ performance is particularly captivating as Rosie, who looks back at her younger days as a university student and doctor in the early-mid twentieth century. There is no mistaking the sincerity of the piece, but it is needlessly mild, and opportunities for more obvious applications to socially important concepts like feminism and ageism could be expressed more powerfully.

We must always listen to our elders, because their wisdom is invaluable and irreplaceable. The youth can often be preoccupied with arrogant pride, and mistakes are made because of that all-too-common know-it-all attitude. On personal levels, we may make erroneous decisions about careers and relationships, but on a larger scale, nations go to war and commit the same aberrations as previous generations had done. Technological progressions give the illusion that humans are constantly advancing, but we are clearly unable to prevent similar atrocities from repeating at every era. “Careful the things you say, children will listen,” Stephen Sondheim advises, but when we stop listening, the consequences are dire.