Review: Apocka-wocka-lockalypse (Meraki Arts Bar)

Venue: Meraki Arts Bar (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 16 – Apr 1, 2023
Playwright: Richard Hilliar
Richard Hilliar
Cast: Matt Abotomey, Lib Campbell, Zoe Crawford, Nathan Porteus, Nicole Wineberg
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

In a bunker beneath what has become known as the Deadlands, Miss Melissa lives with four furry monsters, spending their days together as though in a children’s television programme, singing songs and telling stories. There is no audience of course, for it is the end of the world, and Miss Melissa has quite clearly lost her mind. Written and directed by Richard Hilliar, Apocka-wocka-lockalypse is as mad as its protagonist, but is thankfully a great deal more likeable.

A deeply subversive work, consistently amusing with its irreverent spirit, and its excellent sense of humour, Apocka-wocka-lockalypse satisfies beyond the laughs it so deftly delivers. The show is genuinely funny, but also provocative, determined to make bold statements about a catastrophic future, that we are in the delusory habit of ignoring. Art reveals the truth, even when it seems to spend all its time entertaining and playing the fool.

Hillier’s methodology of incorporating puppetry, allows our sensibilities to venture directly into a space of absurdity. A suspension of disbelief then occurs, along with a diminishment of defences, in order that the show may convey its difficult message, as well as trigger our imagination to participate in something altogether more outlandish and flamboyant.

Matt Abotomey, Lib Campbell, Zoe Crawford and Nathan Porteus are our enthralling puppeteers, a brilliant team of storytellers who bring extraordinary animation and passion, to the production. Inventive and cohesive, they make the experience compelling from beginning to end. Miss Melissa is played by Nicole Wineberg, who inhabits both the sweet and the terrifying qualities of her character with aplomb, in a performance that captivates most when she channels a sense of extravagance, into the eccentric tale.

Production design by Ash Bell is a whimsical take on Miss Melissa’s unnerving world, combining innocence with horror, for visual cues that are truly disarming. Lights by Isobel Morrissey are minimal, but nonetheless effective. Music by Alexander Lee-Rekers brings valuable elevation to the staging, tremendously accurate with all that it wishes to evoke in the viewer, full of humorous insight, to reveal the meanings behind the relentlessly zany darkness.

Our apocalypse can be thought of as preventable, or be regarded with a gloomy inevitability, but it seems we mostly pretend that it is not actually imminent. Indeed, we may already be in the very throes of our end times. Our boundless proficiency at being optimistic, has proven necessary in preventing us from depressive states of paralysed hopelessness, but it appears to also be the Achilles heel, that puts us in perpetual denial and that encourages us to keep repeating the same mistakes. There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but to think that we will arrive at salvation without gargantuan effort, is to sound the death knell of our species. |

Review: Bright Half Life (Meraki Arts Bar)

Venue: Meraki Arts Bar (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 2 – 19, 2023
Playwright: Tanya Barfield
Rosie Niven
Cast: Genevieve Craig, Lisa Hanssens, Loretta Kung, Samantha Lambert 
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review

Erica and Vicky are each other’s greatest love story, but like most love stories, theirs is one that feels just a bit mundane to everybody else. Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life is concerned with the big romance in a person’s life, both the enormity and normalcy of such an experience. The non-linear aspect of the storytelling helps draw us into the women’s decades-long narrative, but the sheer ordinariness of their union, makes for a theatre that seems somewhat unremarkable.

Direction by Rosie Niven brings clarity to both the unconventional timeline, and the emotional fluctuations, as we encounter key moments in the evolution of Erica and Vicky’s life together. The presentation struggles to convey some of the play’s humorous dimensions, but its central gravity is certainly well communicated. Lights by Capri Harris bring much needed visual variation, and sound design by Akesiu Ongo Poitaha helps us envision the many places and years, as we accompany the couple on their reminiscence.

Genevieve Craig and Samantha Lambert play respectively, Vicky and Erica in their younger days, both detailed in their explorations of women in love. As they grow older, we see the roles go to Lisa Hanssens as Erica and Loretta Kung as Vicky, who manufacture a more intimate and tender connection. Performances are slightly too earnest in parts, but all four prove themselves accomplished actors, in a play that provides ample opportunity to demonstrate skill and acumen.

Bright Half Life reminds us of the centuries of absurdity, and cruelty, when same-sex marriages were thought of as abominable. In a few short years since its legalisation in Australia, so much has changed culturally and ideologically; it is now hard to fathom the immense difficulty with which so many normal relationships had faced to simply attain recognition, just because they were queer. Normal can be boring, but sometimes the road to normalcy is the most arduous imaginable. |

Review: The Dazzle (Meraki Arts Bar)

Venue: Meraki Arts Bar (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 3, 2022
Playwright: Richard Greenberg
Jane Angharad
Cast: Steve Corner, Alec Ebert, Meg Hyeronimus
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

The Collyer brothers of New York City gained infamy a century ago, for their obsessive hoarding and other generally bizarre ways. Richard Greenberg’s The Dazzle explores their life together in a Harlem brownstone home, for a portrait of two grown men, trapped in a peculiar world, only partly of their own doing. The intriguing characters are depicted by Greenberg beyond the narrow confines of their public personae; Homer and Langley are given depth, dimension and indeed humanity, along with marvellous wit, in a play that absolutely endears and captivates.

Jane Angharad’s direction of the piece ensures that the strange relationships and personalities of The Dazzle, resonate with authenticity. She keeps us fascinated and increasingly invested, by finding ways to make elements of the narrative feel recognisable and intimate, even though most are unlikely to have experienced anything like it.

Costumes by Aloma Barnes render for the production an accurate sense of time and place, whilst adding some commendable visual flair, but set design for the Collyer home requires greater dilapidation, to better convey the severity of their situation. Catherine Mai’s lights and Johnny Yang’s sounds, work intricately with oscillations between comedy and drama in the sumptuous text, to build emotional intensity, for a journey that takes us somewhere unexpectedly rich with emotion.

Actor Steve Corner is brilliant in the role of Homer, with an immense range that incisively conveys the complexities involved, in this tale of extreme eccentricity. The textured flamboyance he brings to the show, is simply wonderful. Langley is played by Alec Ebert, who brings an unneeded restraint to the stage, but whose tender approach prevents us from perceiving the brothers as mere caricature. Meg Hyeronimus is convincing as Milly, the only person to have entered the Collyer’s private sanctuary in The Dazzle. Hyeronimus revels in the radical transformation that occurs for her part, able to represent both incarnations of Milly with equal conviction.

We are fascinated by stories like the Collyers’ or the Beales’ (of the legendary Grey Gardens documentary film) not because the people concerned might feel alien, but because we sense the closeness in proximity between their outrageous existences and our normal lives. It is a thin line that separates, and a precarious psychological boundary, that keeps us from falling off the deep end. There may be truth in declaring that normal is only ever a matter of subjectivity,  but misery is a state of being that refuses to be denied.