Review: Route Dash Niner (Re:group Performance Collective)

merrigongVenue: Giant Dwarf (Redfern NSW), Dec 13, 2016
Written and performed by: Jackson Davis, James Harding, Mark Rogers, Steve Wilson-Alexander, Carly Young

Theatre review
We meet a group of Australian astronauts as they prepare to travel light years into deep space. It is a formal set up, something like a press conference perhaps, where we are furnished with information on this monumental undertaking. Route Dash Niner is a very droll, very stoic work of comedy. There are certainly moments where the audience laughs out loud, but the show seems more interested in simply keeping us amused, with a sense of humour that is about a captivating subtlety, rather than relying on a standard formula of delivering one punchline after another.

The performers are incredibly serious within their deadpan approach, and coupled with the gravity of the context being manufactured, we find ourselves in a curious situation where nothing is believable, yet everything feels real. Our reaction to the details of their absurd journey oscillates between laughter and logic. We participate as audience at a comedy show for half the time, and serious journalists participating in a sombre occasion the other half. It is an unusual theatrical experience, unnerving at times but ultimately, and surprisingly, compelling.

The quiet confidence of Route Dash Niner‘s unusual humour wins us over. Its science fiction may not feature remarkable intellect, but the creators’ refusal to underestimate their audience’s level of receptiveness, as many comics are want to do, gives the show a certain sophistication. The astronauts are expected to return in six months. What happens at the next symposium is anybody’s guess, but smart money is on something funny and more than a little odd.

Review: Letters To Lindy (Seymour Centre)

merrigongVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 2 – 10, 2016
Playwright: Alana Valentine
Director: Darren Yap
Cast: Jeanette Cronin, Glenn Hazeldine, Phillip Hinton, Jane Phegan
Image by Lisa Tomasetti

Theatre review
There was always something impenetrable about Lindy Chamberlain. Without performing appropriately the role of a distraught mother losing her child, many Australians found her coolness disarming. Alana Valentine’s Letters To Lindy too, does not reveal enough of the protagonist’s inner world. A substantial portion of the show is absorbed in recounting events that are already familiar, and although it does provide glimpses into Chamberlain’s deeper thoughts, the play’s structure although earnest, does not quite deliver a poignancy that lives up to its central, harrowing incident. The mother retains a sense of detachment from her public, and we once again struggle to connect.

Jeanette Cronin is star of the show, impressively dynamic in her approach, with surprising interpretations that prevent Chamberlain’s story from turning cliché. Director Darren Yap pitches the performance at a level suitable to the vast auditorium, encouraging actors to bring a vigour to the stage that keeps us attentive. Of the supporting cast, Glenn Hazeldine is particularly charming in a wide ranging suite of personalities, colourfully portraying each character with a delightful, and thoughtful, sensitivity.

We have no right to demand that Lindy Chamberlain acts out a part to fit a narrative that pleases us. In fact, she is to be commended for going against the grain of stereotype, especially in this new era of pervasive and obsessive media scrutiny, to insist on presenting a face of authenticity. As a theatrical work however, Letters To Lindy needs to fulfil our need for something more engaging, and more moving, in its drama.

The cruelty that societies are so ready to dispense on individuals, especially those in the public eye, have to be kept in check, yet we keep creating opportunities for those injustices to be amplified. It seems our need to witch hunt does not cease, even when we already know better.

The Hansard Monologues (Seymour Centre)

hansardVenue: York Theatre, Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Jul 23, 26 & 27
Playwright (Verbatim): Katie Pollock, Paul Daley
Director: Tim Jones
Actors: Camilla Ah Kin, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, David Roberts

Theatre review
This work encapsulates the last three years of the Australian parliament in two hours, utilising its most memorable and powerful speeches to create a series of snapshots, of political and social life in contemporary history. These are important moments that have guided recent public discourse, and as such The Hansard Monologues: A Matter Of Public Importance is a theatrical work that possesses uttermost relevance to all our lives.

Performances in the piece are thoroughly interesting. The players make different choices at different times, moving from plain matter-of-fact reading of transcripts, to mimicry of recognisable voices and gestures (Llewellyn-Jones’ take on Christopher Pyne is a crowd-pleaser), and passionate renditions of moralistic arguments. With these parliamentary speeches transformed into “scripts” for actors, the text surprises with its frequent use of highly-charged, emotive language, and how it translates so readily from a political space to a theatrical one, if in fact they are all that different. The actors must be praised for having not just a good handle on the speech rhythms of each different MP, but also for their understanding of all the material, which delivers coherence and lucidity to what is essentially a montaged creation by very clever playwrights.

Hansard presents issues that affect us, its themes concern us, and its re-enactments familiar to us all. At this crucial point in time as we approach our next federal election and become more aware of our part in the democratic process, watching this production is an incredibly intense experience, with our senses so heightened and our minds so alive. The stakes are not only high, but also irrefutably real. While some of the characters may appear bizarre, this is far from fictional stuff.