Review: Gods And Little Fishes (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 31 – Jun 25, 2022
Playwrights: Richard Sydenham, Jamie Oxenbould
Director: Richard Sydenham
Cast: Katie Fitchett, Sarah-Jane Kelly, Andy McDonell, Arky Michael, Jamie Oxenbould, Eloise Snape, Richard Sydenham
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Frank has been rescued, and is now spending his days on a raft in the middle of the ocean, with three strange men. In Gods and Little Fishes by Richard Sydenham and Jamie Oxenbould, we watch Frank in a state of discombobulation, struggling to deal with a mysterious traumatic event. The raft is presented as an allegory for the stage, with the three rescuers offering distinct representations of strength, of humour and of camouflage; qualities that help Frank navigate his moment of incapacity.

The writing is philosophical, with a sense of mischievousness that proves delightful. Sydenham’s direction of the piece is finely balanced, positioned in a whimsical place between the comedic and the melancholic. The moral of the story could be communicated more sonorously, but there is no denying the unwavering commitment to its central beliefs about the cathartic powers of art.

The show’s playful spirit is conveyed visually through the work of set designer Hannah Tayler and costume designer Katie Fitchett, who bring a jovial vibrancy to the imagery we encounter. Grant Fraser’s lights add a dimension of mood variation, while sound by Lloyd Allison-Young, although sparse, helps to modulate our sensibilities, so that we tune in to the specificities of what the play wishes to impart.

Oxenbould’s restrained performance as Frank offers a minimalist rendering of character, that pulls us in to gain an effective understanding of his anguish, without having the theatrical experience be one about indulgent melodrama. Andy McDonell, Arky Michael and Eloise Snape are the three rescuers, each actor wonderfully affable, and together as a team, they are impressively well-rehearsed, and proficient at keeping us curious and attentive. Sarah-Jane Kelly plays Frank’s son Jeffrey, able to introduce an air of innocence and sentimentality to proceedings, without ever turning nauseating.

We have become experts at quantifying and monetising so many things, including services of a medical nature. Enterprising people have concocted innumerable contrivances that form what is known as the health and wellness industry, yet the creation of art, although an ancient pursuit, is yet to find its place in a world that is now almost entirely commercialised.

We refuse to acknowledge that art is critical to our survival as individuals and as a species, therefore keeping it a low priority in how we allocate resources as communities. People live their lives oblivious to how they benefit from the work of artists, even begrudging them for daring to do what they love. The truth is that humans cannot exist without storytelling, and we cannot experience transcendence without inventiveness. It is at our own peril, should we continue to make heroes out of idiots, and billionaires out of despots.

Review: Breaking The Code (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 11 – Mar 5, 2022
Playwright: Hugh Whitemore
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Naomi Belet, Igor Bulanov, Steve Corner, John Grinston, Bridget Haberecht, Jason Jefferies, Leilani Loau, Ewan Peddley, Martin Portus, Dallas Reedman, Harry Reid, Jess Vince-Moin
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Breaking the Enigma code, and therefore effectively ending World War II, was Alan Turing’s greatest achievement, but our memory of him today seems to have a lot more to do with homosexuality, than just his professional triumphs. Hugh Whitemore’s 1986 stage biography Breaking the Code, documents Turing’s parallel lives, that saw him decrypt the Nazi cipher device, and breaking the code of silence around homosexuality in mid-century England.

During investigations into the burglary of Turing’s home in 1952, authorities discovered that Turing had engaged in sexual activity with another man. The punishments that followed were dire, as was the suppression of Turing’s identity, as a gay war hero, that had prolonged for several decades after his death in 1954. Whitemore’s play brings excellent elucidation to that remarkable story of cruel betrayal, enacted by the state upon one of its own.

That indictment of government and of society, is gently implemented by director Anthony Skuse, who brings sensitivity and an immense melancholy to his staging of Breaking the Code. Skuse is also designer for the production, with beautiful work on a set that provides inordinately elegant performance spaces, for every scene. Along with Patrick Phillips’ video projections and Jordan Russell’s lights, the show delivers visual splendour, in many of its moody moments.

Sound aspects too are thoughtfully rendered, with Naomi Belet’s impressive live singing proving a particularly memorable element. Three actors perform the role of Turing. Steve Corner brings scintillating drama, to counteract the often overly languid tone and pace of the staging. The spirited Harry Reid brings valuable vibrancy and agility to the role, and Ewan Peddley’s earnest presence helps engender compassion for the heart-breaking tale. Also noteworthy are Bridget Haberecht and Leilani Loau, both remarkable for the nuance and emotional precision they bring to the parts of Pat and Sara, respectively.

To perpetuate the notion that queerness is bad, so much of our accomplishments and our contributions, as LGBTQIA+ people, are routinely buried and made to be forgotten. With this sanctioned invisibility, heteronormativity expands its dominance. Queer people are conditioned to accept the notion that we are all “just human”, whilst simultaneously having to suffer homophobic and transphobic attacks that simply refuse to end.

Alan Turing was a gay war hero. He played a vital part in obtaining freedom for his countryfolk, who in turn deprived him of his humanity, and drove him to an early grave, all for the sin of homosexuality. That system will only raise him up for helping to win the war, but will not acknowledge the destruction unleashed upon his private life, at least not until half a century later. Turing’s sexuality may not have been relevant in defeating the Nazis, but his sexual identity needs to remain at the fore of our memories, as long as homophobia persists.