Review: Tiny Universe (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), May 20 – 29, 2021
Directors: Margot Politis, Natalie Rose
Cast: Harrison Bishop, Desmond Edwards, Lana Filies, Lily Hayman, Steve Konstantopoulos, Matthias Nudl, Nick Vagne, Lucy Watson
Images by

Theatre review
In Tiny Universe by Margot Politis and Natalie Rose, eight characters are contained within their own eight-foot cubes, pondering aloud, their relationships with the outside world. We hear about their anxieties and their dreams, as they offer anecdotes and introspections, from each of their intimate personal spaces. These people are alone, but also part of something bigger. As the audience’s attention is spread across each of these individuals, who only make themselves fleetingly available, we begin to form a picture of our collective existence, and an idea of what humanity can look like.

Unable to delve deep enough into any of these personalities, we can only appreciate the broad strokes of what is being presented. Even without the benefit of understanding the intricacies of what happens inside each box, Politis and Rose provides a tenderness to the treatment of their subjects, that move us to a certain state of empathy; both for those on stage, as well as the persons we are, silent and contemplative in our respective seats.

The performers are charming, and highly idiosyncratic with what they generously offer, in these stories about selfhood and of community. Attractive lighting by Liam O’Keefe proves memorable, for providing a pop aesthetic to the staging, that keeps sensibilities firmly in the now. James Peter Brown’s diverse musical stylings, usher us through a range of mood transformations, always gentle in his manipulation of feelings. Politis’ impactful set design is constructed by Will Jacobs and Sophie Ward, who bring to the production a pleasing sense of refinement.

It is perhaps in our solitude, that we can access that which is most true. Self-expression is often contingent on our expectation of how things will be received, but in Tiny Universe, we see the possibility of self-discovery in a way that is uncompromised, when we can find a space to be spared of judgement. This however, is much more involved, than to make the self physically detached. Society is so much in the mind, whether or not our bodies are in the company of others. Tiny Universe gives us examples of what could be, when a person simply exists on their own terms. We then lament how hard it is to remain as such, in interactions with the wider world. |

Review: Natural Order (Milk Crate Theatre)

Venue: Petersham Town Hall (Petersham NSW), Aug 1 – 10, 2019
Director: Margot Politis
Cast: Aslam Abdus-Samad, Peter Birbas, Shane Ball, Desmond Edwards, Flor Garcia, Owen Gill, Alicia Gonzales, Lisa Griffiths, Sandra Hickey Eugenia Langley, Yen Mekon, Ray Morgan, Matthias Nudl, Ruth Oslington, Darlene Proberts, Steve Simao, Pauline Trenerry, Lucy Watson, Georgina Wood
Images by Lisa Walton
Theatre review
The social services agency in the story of Natural Order is named District Advanced Vocational Outlet, a fictional body no different from any bureaucratic organisation we have had the misfortune to encounter. In the hour long show, we are herded from one room to the next, to witness inefficiencies of a system that seems determined to look busy, but achieve little. We watch people falling repeatedly through its cracks, in an endless queue unable to resolve itself, lost in a system that has forgotten how to care.

Petersham Town Hall is transformed into an electrifying performance space, with evocative set design by Emma White, involving a series of wheeled panels forming simple but unexpected spatial configurations. Liam O’Keefe’s lights are a sensory highlight, effortlessly guiding our vision, as well as our emotions, through the literal and figurative labyrinth of Natural Order. Sound by James Brown and Bella Martin, along with audio-visual installations by David Molloy, offer further enhancements for an experience that many will find touching, regardless of an understandably coy devised text.

Directed by Margot Politis, the production is a stimulating exploration into the way we manage inequalities within our communities. Natural Order is a reminder, rather than a disclosure, of things we already know; its message is communicated gently, and thankfully without a lot of zealous earnestness. Featuring an extremely engaging cast of performers, including Darlene Proberts, whose delightful singing voice has us hopelessly charmed. Shane Bell delivers a powerful monologue, bringing tears to many eyes with his portrayal of Michael, as he recounts his distant glory days. Aslan Abdus-Samad and Alicia Gonzalez depict a couple of robotic red tape staffers, memorable for their cheeky sardonic comedy. Indeed, to talk about old issues that often feel too big to solve, requires a generous sense of humour. Crying is sometimes necessary, but laughing will get us out of the doldrums, for a new invigoration that will help propel us towards further action.

Review: This House Is Mine (Milk Crate Theatre)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 12 – 22, 2015
Playwright: Maree Freeman
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Chris Barwick, Veronica Flynn, Contessa Treffone, John McDonnell, Fabiola Meza, Matthias Nudl, Rach Williams
Images by Patrick Boland

Theatre review
Milk Crate Theatre works with artists who have experienced homelessness and social marginalisation. In Maree Freeman’s This House Is Mine, stories about mental illness and homelessness are woven together from a series of collaborative exercises that reveal the concerns and states of mind of the participants. Each narrative rings with authenticity, and even though many of the circumstances might be unfamiliar to general audiences, we can all connect with the emotions being portrayed.

The work features a cast that excels in bringing to the stage a sense of vulnerability that gives the production an unusual dramatic texture. Performances are all deeply touching, and often thought-provoking. Also affecting are pre-recorded interviews that tell of experiences that are rarely shared. We are informed of societal issues that require addressing, especially in the field of medical support, and hearing testimony from those in our community who rarely have a public voice, is profound, and important.

Sean Bacon and Sarah Emery’s beautiful video work is projected throughout the show’s duration, adding abstract dimensions to the unfolding action. The delicate nature of their visuals is a reflection of the fragile humanity that is This House Is Mine‘s main interest. In the presence of disadvantage, our privileged backgrounds seem conspicuous, and standing next to the powerlessness of its characters, our ability to influence change becomes apparent.

5 Questions with Maree Freeman

mareefreemanWhat is your favourite swear word?
I like old school swear words, I’m very partial to a ‘drat’ or a ‘bother’… they make me think of a Victorian nun dropping her rosary beads and hoping no one notices the mild verbal expletive.

What are you wearing?
I work in the arts so, you know… Gucci.

What is love?
I’m not a romantic so I hesitate to give anyone advice on what love is.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The last show I saw was my niece’s preschool christmas performance – it was fantastic! 5 stars!

Is your new show going to be any good?
You be the judge. Only way to find out is to come and see it! I will say though that the Milk Crate Theatre Ensemble are one of the most interesting and unique groups of artists out there. This House Is Mine is definitely going to be a show like no other this year.

Maree Freeman’s This House Is Mine is a play about homelessness and social marginalisation.
Show dates: 12 – 22 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Eternity Playhouse