Review: Angels In America (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 16, 2019
Playwright: Tony Kushner
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Catherine Davies, Maggie Dence, Ben Gerrard, Jude Gibson, Ashley Lyons, Gus Murray, Timothy Wardell
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
At the centre of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, are the breakdown of two relationships, from two different worlds. We might like to term those seemingly separate existences the left and the right, as we are want to do in so much of our political conversations. In the middle of catastrophe however, when the devastation of human frailty becomes palpable, categories dissipate as they prove increasingly impotent and therefore meaningless. Set in the middle of the 1980s AIDS crisis, Angels In America is an ode to desperation, that condition for which the face of humanity has to reveal its truest nature.

In their hopelessness, characters in the story are met with divine intervention. Ghosts, angels and other apparitions descend upon their consciousness, not always as a form of salvation or even reprieve, but as a refusal of the finitude to which we regard life, especially during sickness and disease. Kushner summons the vastness of our mental capacities; call it belief, imagination, or fantasy, to render a theatrical representation of being, that extends our conception of sentience to include metaphysical dimensions.

Not that our bodies are unimportant. In fact, in this deep interrogation of material versus immaterial, we are consumed more than ever, by our very corporeality. Flesh and blood are never far from the centre of our attention, functioning as literal concerns and as symbols, reiterating time and again, that we are immovably both vessel and soul. Heaven and earth are inextricably linked at the location where skin breathes, making us simultaneously, painfully so, sacred and profane.

This transcendental drama is communicated through director Dino Dimitriades’ pursuit of the sublime. The aesthetic world that he manufactures as vehicle for Kushner’s words, is heavy yet delicate, a sentimental embrace of past sacrifices, and a benediction that regards our future, as LGBTQI communities, with caution. At over seven hours long, it is probably inevitable that the journey would feel uneven, with certain portions coming across less powerful than others. It is a massive undertaking, and the considerable confidence with which the epic is approached, sets our expectations very high, and we struggle to overlook moments win which our awe is allowed to falter.

Jeremy Allen’s set design is carefully proportioned and elegantly conceived, but the minimalism of its style is unforgiving of construction imperfections. The colour palette of costumes is thoughtfully calibrated by Maya Keys, who perhaps exercises too much restraint in her visual representation of personalities and their physicality. Lights by Benjamin Brockman are memorable for their dark sensuality, moving us between spaces of despair with an artistic finesse reminiscent of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Ben Pierpoint is tasked the impossible challenge of providing original music for the endurance piece, understandably deficient in its thoroughness, but sensational at each key juncture of the plot.

The show boasts some extraordinary acting by its indefatigable cast. Mormon wife Harper is played with luxuriant and interminable nuance by Catherine Davies, whose disarming authenticity brings invaluable poignancy to the entire operation. Her husband Joe is interpreted with unexpected tenderness by Gus Murray, tremendously convincing in the complex duplicity that he is charged to portray. The dynamic Ben Gerrard offers up a depiction of a dying man at all his extremes. As Prior, he is more provocative than he is moving, successful at engaging our minds for an intellectual understanding of the story. Ashley Lyons plays another AIDS patient Roy, admirable for the energy and colour that he brings to the stage.

As Belize and Mr. Lies, Joseph Althouse is a scintillating presence, with a marvellous, precise use of voice and gesture that gently steals all of his scenes. Timothy Wardell goes on an emotional roller coaster, able to convey Louis’ passions with aplomb but insufficiently lucid with the role’s philosophical attributes. The Angel is given the Maggie Dence treatment and proves quite the phenomenon, appropriately strong and otherworldly. Jude Gibson impresses in a variety of roles, particularly memorable as Mormon mother Hannah and as Dr. Henry, intricate and humorous with everything she presents.

When we reach for the esoteric, it is a greater truth that we seek, but being mortal, we can only understand its messages within our ultimately insurmountable limits. What we receive will always bear a reflection of ourselves, no matter how much bigger a version we can perceive. Angels In America suggests however, that we can move beyond good and bad, right and wrong, past and present. We are encouraged, through this spiritual fable, to think and act radically, to turn boundaries into starting points, for where we know things to end, is but the beginning of mystery. Much as we are essentially flawed and addicted to destruction, it is in our nature to imagine a higher power, and be able to conjure a notion of purity. The choice whether to follow that celestial magnificence, determines how we paint the destiny of each breath, in all our days.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

Review: Cake Daddy (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 16 – 22, 2019
Playwrights: Ross Anderson-Doherty, Lachlan Philpott
Director: Alyson Campbell
Cast: Ross Anderson-Doherty

Theatre review
When we first meet Ross Anderson-Doherty in his one man show, he plays a success story at Cakewatchers, an internationally renowned weight-loss programme. The performer’s large body is the location on which the farce takes place, as he takes us through a series of absurd guidelines, that claim to help individuals achieve some semblance of satisfaction for one’s own physicality, by becoming thin. Cake Daddy by Anderson-Doherty and Lachlan Philpott is an incisive summation of what is termed “diet culture”, the horrendous relationship many of us have with food and body image; that bottomless pit of cruelty, dealt by the self and by society, determined to infect each of us with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

As the jokes and songs pass us by, we see Anderson-Doherty shedding the spokesperson’s plastic facade, to reveal real experiences of a fat person who struggles to find self-acceptance. The disclosures are by no means original or new, but the honesty of the performer’s display of emotion, is channelled by director Alyson Campbell to communicate a remarkable poignancy that turns the show subtly, into a discussion about compassion, both for the self and for others. As Anderson-Doherty oscillates between hating his reflection, and loving the freedom of an emancipated mind, we witness the most authentic portrayal of humanity. Even when we have the answers to life’s big mysteries, there will always be hard work waiting to be done, in order to get through some of the days.

Musical numbers in the piece can sometimes feel extraneous, as we tend to lose a powerful sense of immediacy when Anderson-Doherty drifts into song, but to encounter his exceptional singing voice is an unequivocal pleasure. As comedian, his ability to read the audience is uncanny, and we find ourselves always kept on our toes by his vigilant stage awareness, although some of his pacing can be needlessly languid, in a production that is most effective when manic in tone. Cake Daddy skates close to self-deprecation, but its subject is never humiliated. In fact, we watch him in all his glory, and wonder if he actually shares in our vision of his greatness. However each person comes to dislike parts of themselves, it is crucial that one is committed to finding peace within, even if it proves an endless task.

www.wreckedallprods.com

Review: The Things I Could Never Tell Steven (Whimsical Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 20 – Mar 2, 2019
Music & Lyrics: Jye Bryant
Directors: Ghassan Kassisieh, Katherine Nheu
Cast: Julia Hyde, Joey Sheehan, Suzanne Chin, Tim Martin
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Steven is constantly evasive, nowhere to be seen, because he had done the wrong thing. After their recent nuptials, Steven’s wife finds that he often disappears, and we discover that he chooses to spend time instead with an ex, a male lover happy to rekindle the relationship, unaware of Steven’s change in marital status. Steven however would only stay for the sex, and vanish in between coitus, unable to extend intimacy beyond the flesh. Jye Bryant’s The Things I Could Never Tell Steven tells an intriguing story about sexual orientation for our times, to provoke questions about identity, and to discuss the quickly evolving meanings of marriage under our newly egalitarian legislation.

Bryant’s musical features songs that are beautifully melodic, with witty lyrics that offer plentiful amusement. Musical direction by Ghassan Kassisieh, who provides accompaniment on keyboard, is precise and pleasant. The production is minimally designed, but directors Kassisieh and Katherine Nheu offer elegant staging solutions that keep meaningful emphasis on the songs. Performer Julia Hyde is very impressive as Steven’s unnamed wife, with a wonderful voice that delivers considerable dynamism to the show. Her mother-in-law is played by Suzanne Chin who brings an excellent measure of comedic energy to proceedings. Joey Sheehan is less effective with the humour, but as Steven’s ex his falsetto is a real auditory joy, and Tim Martin who, although not sufficiently dramatic in approach, is nonetheless convincing in his portrayal of the reliably stoic father.

Steven is not present to plead his case, but he is clearly not the marrying type. In times past, we would have conveniently attributed his misbehaviour to him being a closet case, but now we are free to examine his tale as one about the relevance and purpose of marriage. It is possible that Steven’s regret is simply about attachment, of having to sacrifice his selfhood for no good reason, regardless of the genders at play in the musical. He should have known to interrogate rules around monogamy and fidelity before taking that solemn vow, and more importantly, he should have challenged notions of conformity and conventions, that have brought him to this point of dilemma.

www.whimsicalproductions.com.au

Review: Wyngarde! A Celebration (G.bod Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 2, 2019
Devised by: Garth Holcombe, Peter Mountford
Director: Peter Mountford
Cast: Garth Holcombe
Images by Richard Hedger

Theatre review
Peter Wyngarde gained mainstream popularity in 1969 as Jason King, a novelist turned sleuth, in the UK television series Department S. A flamboyant actor, known for his horseshoe moustache and bronzed skin, he is one of innumerable twentieth century celebrities who had never come out of the closet, yet remains an integral part of British gay culture. His 1975 arrest for gross indecency in a public toilet forms part of his mystique, but as was typical of the times, his queerness was kept obscured, refused acknowledgement by wider society. The public would only allow a sex symbol who could not threaten their heteronormativity, and Wyngarde acquiesced.

Garth Holcombe and Peter Mountford’s Wyngarde! A Celebration is a re-framing of the personality, an insistence that we look at old narratives with new eyes, to form a history that makes sense in terms of how we experience the world today. As though a private audience with Wyngarde himself, in which his inhibitions are shed, and we witness him able to be his true self at last. Holcombe has the right charisma for the role, but is occasionally hesitant. The cocky debonair masculinity of a bygone era is portrayed alongside a camp sensibility, to make a statement about the evolution of gay identities, and to form a reminder of a community’s legacy of struggle.

For all the bravado that Wyngarde enjoys putting on display, there is a loneliness that pervades. There is an unmistakable pride in his long career in stage and film, but we sense something unfulfilled. Wyngarde! A Celebration can feel too gentle in its approach. We want a bawdy tell-all, but it gives us instead, something with more integrity than we are perhaps accustom to, in this age of ubiquitous intrusion and humiliation. It is our nature to seek authenticity, but it appears that revealing everything often serves to distract from the truth. Many things are left unsaid in Wyngarde’s story, and that is perhaps his very essence, and the most accurate representation of the man we have come looking for.

www.gbodtheatre.com

Review: The Bed Party (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 12 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Sophia Davidson Gluyas
Director: Sophia Davidson Gluyas
Cast: Mathilde Anglade, Julia Billington, Brigitta Brown, Margarita Gershkovich, Suz Mawer, Alex Moulis

Theatre review
Six queer women share their “ideas, jokes and intimacies” in a display of community and solidarity in Sophia Davidson Gluyas’ The Bed Party. They congregate in a bedroom, discussing life and love, bringing each of her own perspectives and challenges, to find consensus or simply to receive validations, within the circle of their trusting group. The conventional plot plays second fiddle in this feminist approach to storytelling. The sparkling dialogue has its own distinctive rhythms. Lines are not in service of a bigger project of narrative construction, but are themselves the emphasis of the play. We listen to what the women are saying, how they say it, and distil all the meanings in between. It peaks in waves, in acknowledgement of our capacity for more than a singular momentary apex.

The show begins abruptly, unable to find a mode of naturalism that would guide us comfortably into its microcosm, but its chemistry gradually develops and we are soon completely, and wonderfully, immersed. It is a warm cast, not entirely believable as close friends, but certainly a welcoming bunch of personalities that wins us over easily. Mathilde Anglade’s cheeky charm in the role of George is a delight, as she works every comedic opportunity in the script to her advantage, and for our thorough amusement. Julia Billington delivers dramatic intensity along with ideological power, as Bri the sensible half of a partnership determined not to procreate.

As independent women, we learn to make our own rules, and we take the liberty to choose our own families. We are fearless, but we are thoughtful, always careful to design a way of living that is ethically sound, as well as being genuinely fulfilling. We question everything in front of us, and view all that had come before us with great suspicion. That which is prescribed, is rejected until proven worthy, and saying no to anyone is a breeze. Above all however, a powerful woman honours the sisterhood, and leaves no other behind.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: The Moors (Siren Theatre Co)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 6 – Mar 1, 2019
Playwright: Jen Silverman
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Romy Bartz, Thomas Campbell, Enya Daly, Brielle Flynn, Alex Francis, Diana Popovska
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is the Victorian era, and Emilie has left London for the countryside, looking for love and employment. Out on the wily moors, she encounters all manner of strange people and occurrences, in Jen Silverman’s spoof of the gothic romance The Moors, a comedy that brings gentle subversion to a world that is often too corseted and restrictive, in its portrayal of what it means to be female. Through its surreal renderings of familiar tropes, old scenes are turned odd, and where there is usually softness, we find instead ideas that are sharp and twisted. Women are much more interesting than genres can portray, even in the early 1800s.

Directed by Kate Gaul, it is a fabulously moody atmosphere that supports the play’s dark humour. A queer sensibility frees up all its characters, including animals, to become unexpected, almost beyond our grasp; they just refuse to be pinned down. The production is probably slightly too restrained and not as extravagant in style as it could be, with the exception of Diana Popovska’s splendidly wild performance of the maid, alternately named Marjory/Mallory/Margaret, bringing us endless mirth by making creative choices that are as weird as they are joyful. Romy Bartz is a glamorous Agatha, a solid presence whose nuances add texture to the show, especially valuable in manufacturing a quality of heightened austerity so specific to the times.

The actors are well-rehearsed, and impressive with their mastery of the revolving stage, always perfectly timed with positions and gestures that offer up a series of sumptuous tableau. Fausto Brusamolino’s lights take us to where it is dreamy and erotic, and Eva Di Paolo’s costumes make certain that desire is kept a central theme. Composer Nate Edmondson surpasses all expectations with the astonishing detail in the sounds that he provides. We are spooked and tickled at the same time, thoroughly entertained by the purposefully arty approach to his portion of the storytelling.

We should always try to see people as atypical, even if the way we construct narratives, and thus understand the world, always insists that individuals are turned into types. We become more human when we display contradictions, and when women turn inconvenient, is when we can begin to fathom the truth about who we are. In a world that only sees us as madonnas and whores, we cannot hope to be real, when we are cast merely as objects that facilitate power structures in which we must be the losing party. When we dare to imagine ourselves as complex and unconventional, leaving behind all notions of categories to live out original lives, is when things can feel meaningful, even if we have to learn to get used to being thought of as prickly and difficult.

www.sirentheatreco.com

Review: My Night With Reg (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 5 – Mar 9, 2019
Playwright: Kevin Elyot
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Michael Brindley, Steve Corner, Nick Curnow, James Gordon, Steven Ljubovic, John-Paul Santucci
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
In Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg, we meet a group of London gays, in the throes of the 1980s AIDS crisis. Just as a new post-Stonewall liberation had begun to inform the way these men were able to live, a dark period of oppression again descends upon them, threatening to quash any promise of a bright future for the community. The play portrays the intimate world of traumatised individuals, all suffering from the reverberations of a then mysterious killer disease, whilst demonstrating the undying vibrancy of an irrepressibly spirited band of brothers.

It is a sentimental piece, oddly apolitical, with an authenticity that today represents not just an enjoyable sense of nostalgia, but also provides opportunity for a valuable historical study of a society not long past. Elyot’s jokes are as funny as they would have been at their 1994 premiere, but his sorrowful expressions are less resonant, with the advent of significant medical advancement, so many years after the fact.

An endearing cast presents a heartfelt production, directed by Alice Livingstone who orchestrates an entertaining 95-minute exploration into queer identities, from the perspective of middle-class white gay communities of the time. Some of the acting is lacking in precision, and sensitive moments deflate as a result, but the show delivers sufficient poignancy for it to be an ultimately satisfying experience. Comedic roles in My Night With Reg leave the strongest impressions, with Steve Corner’s outrageously lascivious turn as Benny particularly delightful, diligently balanced with some very surprising vulnerability that proves affecting. Also memorable is Steven Ljubovic, whose quintessential rendering of cabin crew Daniel, is unapologetically camp, complete with one-liners that are simply irresistible.

There certainly are more relevant queer stories to tell for 2019, but to forget those who had fought hard for today’s freedoms, would be unconscionable. From living underground to nuptial vows, the journey for LGBTQI rights was (and in many other places, remains to be) long and arduous. My Night With Reg does not explicitly show external forces of subjugation, but the limitations and compromises to how we had lived, are clear. Having emerged triumphant, it is important that we know to value and to take advantage of these new liberties, and to revisit tales of our past, for a reminder of today’s privilege, is key.

www.newtheatre.org.au