Review: Cock (Old Fitz Theatre / Red Line Productions)

redline2Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 3 – Mar 6, 2015
Playwright: Mike Bartlett
Director: Shane Bosher
Cast: Brian Meegan, Matt Minto, Matilda Ridgway, Michael Whalley
Image by Tim Levy

Theatre review
John is caught between a man and a woman. These relationships cannot co-exist, because the three people believe that the nature of love is monogamous, and more than that, love requires resolute sexual identities. Mike Bartlett’s Cock is essentially a play for the post-gay era. It makes us look at the boundaries and definitions that have come to rule our lives, and to consider their arbitrariness despite their unadulterated and pervasive presence. John has to decide if he is gay or straight, and as the pressure escalates, we become increasingly aware of the absurdity of his circumstance. There are few things in the LGBT world more controversial and dangerous than saying that sexuality and gender are choices that can be made by conscious adults. Cock makes reference to the need for manufactured concepts that serve political purposes, which may not be legitimately applicable to all individuals that they try to protect, and would disintegrate when its purpose is served. Of course, we can understand that no one would choose to be gay in a world that discriminates and persecutes those who deviate from heteronormativity, but if society has progressed far enough, then maybe making a conscious choice to become the “other” is no longer a threatening proposition (if the “other” can still exist in that progressive civilisation). What is discussed in Cock suggests the redundancy of sexuality labels in how we live, even how we love.

Shane Bosher’s direction strips the production of all sets and props. The actors do not make any costume changes, so all they have are words and ideas, bodies and space. The theatre-in-the-round configuration encourages constant movement, and coupled with scenes of incessant fight and struggle, the atmosphere is often electric. Bartlett’s writing is energetic and bold, with humour and drama bulging at the seams, but it is clear that Bosher’s affinity with the play’s graver portions is stronger. Tension on this stage is omnipresent, but jokes are hit and miss. The leading men give exciting performances but lack the versatility to flow persuasively between the light and dark of the writing.

Michael Whalley is John, the young man stuck in a state of confusion. Whalley embodies the frustration and weakness of his character with great clarity, and the play’s difficult themes find a surprising resonance through his performance, but John needs to be more affable in order for the dramatics to have greater efficacy. John’s male lover is played by Matt Minto, who is delightfully flamboyant, but repetitively so. The character is a stubborn one, and we eventually grow tired of his unchanging voice and mannerisms. Conversely, the female lover shows a great range of intellectual and emotional states, and those transformations make Matilda Ridgway’s performance a gripping one. She finds authenticity in a script that is more conceptual than real, and creates the only character we are able to empathise with, even though we are baffled by her devotion to John, the non-hero. Brian Meegan is a last minute replacement for the male lover’s father, so it is entirely understandable that he is yet to have all his lines down, but he does a superb job in later scenes to consolidate the play’s plot and philosophy.

LGBT communities in the West have invested decades to create cultures and identities, in order that oppression may be resisted and subverted. Once those objectives are fulfilled, however, a new stage of evolution will commence. In Australia, that time has not yet come, so John will continue to be forced into conceding an invariable sexual preference, whether it rings true to his personal experiences, or not.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: Gaybies (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlotheatre2Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 6 – Mar 8, 2015
Playwright: Dean Bryant
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Cooper George Amai, Sheridan Harbridge, Rhys Keir, Steve Le Marquand, Zindzi Okenyo, Olivia Rose, Georgia Scott
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Plays about LGBT experiences often fail the test of time. They reflect certain moments in political causes, and social progress renders most stories passé after their periods of relevance are over. Mart Crowley’s The Boys In The Band (1968) and Jean Poiret’s La Cage Aux Folles (1973) now seem dated and contrived, but there is no denying their historical significance and the respective parts they have played in the human rights movement for gay men in the west. Dean Bryant’s Gaybies comes out of current debates about marriage rights of same-sex couples, and their detractors’ apprehension about parenting by LGBT families, should laws be changed to permit these unions.

Bryant’s script takes the form of verbatim theatre, composed of interviews he has conducted with children of same-sex parents, as well as a few lesbian and gay adults in the process of conception. The work is a timely response to community concerns, and a colourful look at contemporary family lives in Australia, providing a perspective that challenges notions of conventionality and presumptions of what makes a favourable set of circumstances for children to thrive. It is the kind of text that would either be daring and controversial, or merely preaching to the choir, depending on the audience it plays to, but Bryant’s own direction injects inventive variety and surprising humour to ensure a delightfully engaging experience for all but the very bigoted.

The brilliant cast brings a palpable tenderness to the production, with all seven performers taking on three roles each, demonstrating versatility and a good amount of heart and soul. Zindzi Okenyo has a gentle but magnetic presence, ensuring that we stay on her side from start to end. Her style is understated and honest, with an infectious enthusiasm that gives weight to her stories. Also very affable is Rhys Keir, who creates big distinctions between each of his characters, allowing them to be individually memorable. Keir’s impulses feel authentically spontaneous, and the vibrant energy he brings to the stage is refreshing and full of charm. Crowd favourite Sheridan Harbridge delivers a polished yet moving performance, with a visibly solid connection between the actor and her material. Harbridge’s comic and vocal abilities serve her well in the show, and we cannot help but fall under her spell repeatedly.

Owen Phillips’ set design is a straightforward but effective idea, executed with elegance. His facsimile of a community hall relies on our personal associations with a space characterised by ordinariness, and like the show’s very concept, visual aspects are kept pleasantly simple. Even though the absence of a traditional narrative structure means that we lose opportunities for greater emotional indulgences, what Dean Bryant and his cast provide are important testimonials and a valuable documentation that would function as a sign of the times, and without doubt, a step towards the momentous and inevitable legalisation of marriage for all.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

In Rehearsal: Queen Bette

Rehearsal images above from Queen Bette by g.bod theatre, part of the 2015 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras season. Photography by Richard Hedger.
At The Old 505 Theatre, from Feb 25 – Mar 1, 2015.
More info at www.gbodtheatre.com

5 Questions with Sheridan Harbridge

sheridanharbridgeWhat is your favourite swear word?
I’ve always been fond of douche rag and cunt wad.

What are you wearing?
An old faded summer dress, tights for rehearsals, and fluro yellow plastic shoes. It’s as terrible as it sounds.

What is love?
Sleep ins. Eggs, coffee and sharing a good view.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Yana Alana Between The Cracks. ‘Twas excellent stuff.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Of course! I’m in it! And I’ll try and get my fluro shoes in it too.

 
Sheridan Harbridge is appearing in Gaybies, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras festival programme.
Show dates: 6 Feb – 8 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse

5 Questions with Rhys Keir

Rhys Keir HeadshotWhat is your favourite swear word?
Is this going to come back to haunt me when I audition for Playschool or run for Mayor? Well… it’s Motherfucker. I’ve always loved the way that word feels to say and it’s the only swear word that my Dad really, really hates. Plus when I’m freestyle rapping, which I do frequently and terribly, it’s a good filler word while I’m trying to think of what to say.

What are you wearing?
No word of a lie… I’m currently in my backyard pool wearing green underpants (please excuse the graphic imagery).

What is love?
Seeing the best of someone and the worst of someone, and choosing both (stole that from a poem).

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
I saw Sport For Jove put on The Crucible at Bella Vista Farm. I’ve been going to that festival every year since it started and it’s one of my favourite parts of the year. An amazing show. 4.5 stars. That deduction of 0.5 stars comes from pure jealously and envy that I wasn’t in it.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I have every reason to think so! It contributes towards a very important discussion and there are some very talented people involved.

Rhys Keir is appearing in Gaybies, part of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras festival programme.
Show dates: 6 Feb – 8 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse