Review: Hello Again (The Factory Theatre)

Venue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Feb 20 – 28, 2020
Words & Music: Michael John LaChiusa (after La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler)
Director: Jerome Studdy
Cast: Denzel Bruhn, Lyndon Carney, Grace Driscoll, Stacey Gay, Charlie Hollands, Brendan McRae, Kate O’Sullivan, Anna-May Parnell, Harrison Vaughan, Emelie Woods
Image by Junior Jin

Theatre review
When first staged in 1920, La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler remained a scandalous work even though it had taken 23 years to go from initial publication to a theatre in Vienna. It dared to depict progressive sexuality as somewhat natural, and certainly spoke about promiscuity as as a phenomenon far less reprehensible than was the convention. A century later, there is little left in the work that feels even naughty, thankfully as a result of substantial advancements over time, in attitudes about sex.

Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again is a 1993 reiteration that transforms the ten dialogues from Schnitlzer’s original, into songs for the musical format. LaChiusa’s music is often experimental and infrequently melodic, with lyrics that now seem unsophisticated and lacking in wit. Each chapter takes us through the decades of the twentieth century, but direction by Jerome Studdy never makes that at all clear. The production feels rough around the edges, admittedly clumsy at points, but an enthusiastic cast almost holds everything together. Without microphones, the acoustically challenged auditorium proves demanding of those with smaller voices, but it must be said that the ambition of all involved is admirable.

La Ronde is about class as much as it is about sex. It represents an effort to look at humans at our most vulnerable and essential, stripped of all ornamentation and pretence, trying to understand ourselves at what should be our purest. Using sex as a common unifying mechanism, and hypocrisy as a theme through which we can access notions of manufactured identity, Schnitzler urges us to be honest, in the belief that truth will set us free.

www.facebook.com/HatTrickProductions

Review: Australian Open (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 14 – 29, 2020
Playwright: Angus Cameron
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Di Adams, Gerard Carroll, Miranda Daughtry, Patrick Jhanur, Tom Anson Mesker, Tom Russell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Inspired by her son Felix, Belinda decides to change the nature of her marriage, in order to try out new things. Felix adamantly objects, even though it is his own open relationship with Lucas, that had acted as the very catalyst for his mother’s radical transformation. Australian Open by Angus Cameron looks at the way we let our most personal lives be dictated by others, and how we in turn feel at liberty to intervene with other people’s private business. It is a wonderfully progressive piece of writing, that takes the discussion of sexuality and marriage into the twenty-first century. Framed by some fabulously mischievous wit, the play is often hilarious, with its strengths clearly residing in dialogue rather than in plot.

Relentlessly camp, the show is directed by Riley Spadaro, whose penchant for grand gestures makes the experience a vivaciously engaging one. Spadaro is meticulous with the comedy of the piece, never letting any opportunity for laughs go wasted, although it must be said that more serious moments at the end, can in comparison, feel perfunctorily handled. There is a sense of refinement to the staging, with Grace Deacon’s work on set and costumes proving enchanting with her refreshing palette. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights too, bring an exuberance to keep us in the mood for all the bubbly goings on.

An extremely adorable cast keeps us enthralled in their slightly naughty story, with Di Adams particularly charming as Belinda, full of pointed nuance and jubilant playfulness, for a character luxuriating in being able to get back her groove. Felix is played by Tom Anson Mesker, whose proficient comic timing establishes pace for the proceedings. Also very funny is Gerard Carroll as Peter, able to portray vulnerability whilst bringing cheeky humour to the role. The millennial tennis star Lucas is given a surprising authenticity by Patrick Jhanur, who hits the mark effortlessly, both in terms of his acting and allure, for the very sex-positive part. Miranda Daughtry is appropriately stern as Annabelle, a commanding presence who offers a valuable counterbalance to her flighty family members. Finally, Tom Russell is memorable in the smaller role of Hot Ball Boy, simultaneously playing clown and eye candy, for a delighted and appreciative crowd.

As demonstrated by Felix, the hardest part about love and sex, is the discovery for oneself, what it is that one really wants. The inundation of messages relating to those subjects makes it nigh on impossible to know, if one is acting in response to influences, or if one’s true nature or essence is actually being expressed. As children, we are given explanations about partnerships and gender, that are at best interpretations of phenomena. There comes a time in adulthood, that each individual must determine for themselves, and themselves only, what those things should mean.

www.presentedbybub.com

Review: Our Blood Runs In The Street (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 21, 2020
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Andrew Fraser, Cassie Hamilton, David Helman, Eddie Orton, Sam Plummer, Ross Walker, Tim Walker
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Violence is an indelible part of LGBTQI history in NSW. In the many years leading up to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and then the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Sydney’s gay men and trans women especially, have suffered physical harm, to the extent of murder, as a result of homophobia and transphobia.

Our Blood Runs In The Street is a work of verbatim theatre, composed of accounts by victims, as well as “family members, witnesses, historians, police officers, journalists and researchers,” presented alongside contemporary dance and physical theatre, for an examination of the prejudice and brutality that has shaped the community.

With stories mainly from the last three decades of the previous century, director Shane Anthony and his team have collated a meaningful text from which we can better understand that past. We are additionally informed that investigations are ongoing, in case new revelations should surface as a result of the show. It is a heavily fragmented work, and although able to convey the severity of incidents, struggles to elicit emotional involvement.

Visually enticing, with imaginative choreography throughout, and lights by Richard Whitehouse bringing constant colour and movement, our eyes are kept entertained. Auditory capacities are attended by composer Damien Lane and sound designer Nate Edmondson, who move us seamless from scene to scene, as they maintain an uncompromising gravity for these harrowing tales.

Seven performers, each one earnest and passionate, deliver testimonials with indisputable conviction. David Helman is particularly impressive with his clever blend of words and movement. Imagery and dialogue in the show do not always work well together, but Helman makes us watch and listen with coherence, without distraction from one or the other. A powerful speech is given by Cassie Hamilton, captivating in her stillness, recounting the serious under-estimation of violence against trans people, as reported by Eloise Brook of The Gender Centre.

The times are slowly changing, but problems for LGBTQI Australians continue, now most notably for ethnic minorities in suburbia. That the stage for Our Blood Runs In The Street is filled with white bodies, is indicative of the disparity that exists between cultures. People of colour have benefited from the work of Western activists, but there remains challenges, specific and nuanced, yet to be addressed. Pride has functioned as an effective war cry for many queers, but it is still a concept that eludes some, for which shame is still the default experience.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: The Rise And Disguise Of Elizabeth R (Sugary Rum Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 1, 2020
Book & Lyrics: Gerry Connolly, Nick Coyle, Gus Murray
Music: Max Lambert
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Gerry Connolly, Rob Mallett, Laura Murphy
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
The Queen of England comes to terms with her long career, and the significant diminishment of her empire, in The Rise And Disguise Of Elizabeth R by Gerry Connolly, Nick Coyle and Gus Murray. Connolly himself too, faces a reckoning in the show, as we watch the star confront his achievements as entertainer and impersonator of the Queen, a man of a certain age unable to step out of a majestic shadow, forever eclipsed. These two stories form the basis of a rich tapestry, a multi-disciplinary presentation involving burlesque, cabaret and stand up, intersecting with conventional theatre and Broadway elements, for a witty exploration into the amalgamated phenomena of legacy and ageing.

Directed by Shaun Rennie, the production captivates our senses with its irresistible exuberance, and engages our minds through considered examinations of the Queen as cultural catalyst and icon. Costumes and set design by Jeremy Allen, along with lights by Trent Suidgeest, serve up striking imagery, able to create beauty for every scene, whether fantastical or realistic. Connolly’s performance is unfortunately tentative, but although lacking in confidence, occasional glimpses of genius are revealed in his knack for subtle but acerbic irony. A small but very strong supporting cast keeps us buoyant, with the spirited duo of Rob Mallett and Laura Murphy bringing exceptional proficiency and charisma to the stage. Also noteworthy are Leah Howard’s choreography and Max Lambert’s musical direction, both consistently surprising with their work, and valuable in helping to sustain high energy levels for the 80-minute duration.

No matter what a person does for work, it should always be personally fulfilling, but if an individual’s contributions to community are substantial, life can begin to take on real meaning. Both the show’s main characters are frustrated with the people they have become. They rarely see beyond the repetitive toil that dictates how each day pans out, even though what they do constitutes extensive benefit to societies. We are taught to think about work in selfish ways, always looking at it in personal terms of profit and advantage, ignoring the greater good that can result from a broader comprehension of one’s decisions. The Queen is a lucky woman, not only for the wealth and power bestowed upon her, but also for being affixed to a path that offers her endless opportunities to make the world a better place. The rest of us have destinies that are more pliable, and we need to rise to the challenge of making bolder choices as a result of understanding those freedoms and responsibilities.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions

Review: The Campaign (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 11 – 28, 2020
Playwright: Campion Decent
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Tim McGarry, Simon Croker, Mathew Lee, Madeline MacRae, Jane Phegan
Images by Jasmine Simmons

Theatre review
Up until 1997, some of the harshest anti-homosexuality laws in the Western world, were found in our very own Tasmania. In Campion Decent’s The Campaign, we witness the rife homophobia in the Australian state, as well as the hard work by rights groups that fought tooth and nail to bring legislative reform. The story begins in 1988 when community leader Rodney Croome was arrested alongside many others of the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group (previously known as the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group), for setting up a stall at Salamanca Market collecting signatures for a petition, towards the decriminalisation of consensual sex between adult males.

A verbatim work featuring first-hand accounts by activists from that critical decade of LGBTQI history, The Campaign feels a thorough and accurate compilation of memories pertaining to that period of incredible dedication by a group of tireless advocates. With focus placed almost entirely on political machinations, the play can suffer from a lack of drama and theatricality, even though director Kim Hardwick’s determination to inject colour and movement into the staging is evident. Her efforts to keep things pacy, helps liven up dialogue that tends to be dry and stoic.

A disarmingly earnest group of five performs a big number of roles, with Mathew Lee memorable for the authentic emotions he brings to the stage, in the role of Croome especially. Jane Phegan too is a genuine and purposeful presence, as is Tim McGarry whose rigour is a joy to watch. Simon Croker and Madeline MacRae are commendable for bringing both gravity and dynamism to their various characters, in an ensemble that proves itself remarkably well rehearsed, and full of magnanimous conviction.

The Campaign is about the heroes of the movement, but occasional glimpses of villains, make us wonder if those vicious sentiments can ever be extinguished. It has taken a very long time to attain legislative protections, but as witnessed in national debates relating to the 2017 same-sex marriage referendum, people’s attitudes can still be extremely malicious and harmful. For many of us, the reasons for that hatred may have to remain a mystery; the incomprehensible need to vilify those whose identities and actions are completely of no consequence to others, is absurd, and unfortunately relentless.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: Angry Fags (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 5 – Mar 7, 2020
Playwright: Topher Payne
Director: Mark G Nagle
Cast: Brynn Antony, Phoebe Fuller, Monique Kalmar, Lachie Pringle, Meg Shooter, Emily Weare, Tom Wilson
Images by Chris Lundie

Theatre review
Bennett and Cooper have had enough of homophobia. In Topher Payne’s Angry Fags, the best friends engage in increasingly reckless and violent activity, as a reaction against the gay hate they are experiencing in the “solidly red” American state of Georgia.

Characters in this revenge fantasy take their cues from extremists and terrorists in the news. We see these young men at the end of their tether, resorting to strategies that do nothing more than offer momentary amelioration to their suffering. Their desperate display of might is only capable of providing fodder for the media to sell stories, with no alteration detectable in the prejudice that their transgressions intend to vanquish.

Directed by Mark G Nagle, the comedy of Angry Fags is often effective, even if its irony can seem insufficiently pointed. Chemistry between players is lacking, but individual performances are accomplished. Actors Phoebe Fuller and Lachie Pringle bring the laughs, both memorable with their timing, inventiveness and conviction, proving themselves to be playful personalities able to bring entertainment value to any stage. Central to the story is Bennett, performed by Brynn Antony, a broody presence unable to contribute effervescence to funny portions, but engaging when things take a dark turn.

Hate needs to be met with consequence, but violence is not an instrument that minorities can wield easily. Justice is a frustrating process for those who seek it, but in these discussions that seem only to take place within inherently inequitable structures, speaking the language of power still remains the most potent force of change. It is obvious that extremist methods involving pillage and murder would never garner desirable results for queer movements in the west, but discomfort and inconvenience for the establishment, are not to be shied away from.

www.newtheatre.org.au/