Review: Broadway Bound (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 13 – Dec 15, 2018
Playwright: Neil Simon
Director: Rosane McNamara
Cast: Les Asmussen, Patrick Holman, Brett Heath, Suzann James, Susan Jordan, Simon Lee
Images by Chris Lundie

Theatre review
Brothers Eugene and Stanley are comedy writers on the brink of commercial success, close to leaving home for the bright lights of New York City. Their parents’ marriage however, is disintegrating, and in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound we see members of the Jerome family growing up, including Kate and Jack, who have to come to terms with major transformations taking place in their mature years. The semi-autobiographical play provides a glimpse of America in the middle of last century, with all its post-war optimism and nostalgic charm, but the work has not aged well. Although written only in 1986, its humour already proves tired, and where its themes can seem timeless, the drama is unfortunately lacklustre.

Rosane McNamara’s direction does however, provide us with a prudent amount of theatrical vitality. There is little to be excited about in the writing, but onstage activity is determined to keep us engaged. Actor Simon Lee is especially animated with his performance as Stanley, providing a necessary vigour that wills us into sharing in his character’s idealism. The innocence of younger sibling Eugene is made convincing by wide-eyed Patrick Holman, who demonstrates himself a reliable anchor for the family’s increasingly unstable dynamics. Their long-suffering mother Kate, is elevated by Suzann James’ impressive capacity for nuance, in a rich portrayal that is remarkably well-observed and accurate.

We meet the Jeromes at a moment of chaos, when big changes are underway for each individual. The turmoil signals that life is in motion, that although stability is required for us to thrive, occasional upheaval is necessary, to prevent us from complacent stagnation. Age is only a number, but our mortality is inference that growth and progress are essential to the human experience. If everything stays the same, time bears little meaning. Whether one thinks of time as limited or abundant, there is no denying that to waste it, is an irrevocable blunder.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: What The Butler Saw (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 2 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Joe Orton
Director: Danielle Maas
Cast: Madeleine Carr, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, Andrew Guy, Martin Quinn, Ariadne Sgouros, Amrik Tumber
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
The play is set inside a psychiatrist’s clinic, with four doors facilitating the all too familiar frenzied parading of manic personalities, in this rowdy old-fashioned English farce. Joe Orton’s What The Butler Saw first appeared 1969 in London’s West End, presumably conceived to take the mickey out of fuddy duddy types, by placing mildly scandalising dialogue and activity at its centre, for what could now be thought of as a sort of relic of the swinging sixties. It involves experts and authorities being ridiculed, which is always a pertinent and gratifying function of the theatre, but a substantial reinvention of the hackneyed sex comedy genre would be required, if Orton’s work is to remain truly effective.

It is a handsome production, designed by Tobias Manderson-Galvin with lighting by Martin Kinnane, but director Danielle Maas’ efforts for something delirious and avidly hectic, often disintegrates into little more than a confusing wreck. It is however noteworthy that the show does deliver improved coherence in Act II, for those who are able to persist and return to the action post-intermission. There is no shortage of conviction from its cast (actor Amrik Tumber’s capacity for memorising some very long bizarre speeches is impressive), but their comedy feels forced, and attempts to outrage never reach anywhere far enough to provoke meaningful response.

Although muted and peculiarly tentative, semblances of an anarchic spirit can be detected in the show. Art practices are valuable when they find ways to shake us out of our mundane stupor, offering a wake up call to all that we forget to question. It can provide answers, or it can simply help us begin to examine things that are hitherto undisputed or axiomatic. What The Butler Saw wants to lift the lid on subjects like the medical establishment, law enforcement, gender constructs, traditional marriage, and (gasp), incest; all of which are worthy of exploration no doubt, but it seems that our apathy can be quite a formidable encumbrance to be coming up against.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Uz: The Town (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 17 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Gabriel Calderón (translated by Verónica Barac)
Director: Verónica Barac
Cast: Christie Aucamp-Schutte, Lily Balatincz, Joshua Morel, Cooper Mortlock, Daniel Pollock, Mau Salinas, Lucy Starita, Renae Valastro, Tiffany Wong
Images by Elizabeth Chua

Theatre review
It appears God has done it again. Grace, a Stepford wife type, is charged with the task of killing her own child. Just like Abraham’s celestial conversations all those centuries ago, Grace is a woman of faith who listens to everything that God orders, especially when his voice booms down from the heavens directly into her kitchen. Gabriel Calderón’s Uz: The Town is a subversive work, tackling issues around foolish pietism and the social hypocrisies that derive from religious beliefs. Its premise may seem a tad too familiar, but its humour is scintillating, and defiantly outrageous as it proceeds to demolish all that is held dear.

The production is appropriately hammy in style, with exaggerated performances helping to make the caustic dialogue slightly more palatable. Director Verónica Barac manufactures a wild and enjoyably chaotic energy for the piece, but some of the play’s more dangerous statements might require a clearer sense of irony to prevent misinterpretation. As Grace, actor Lily Balatincz is at her best when the character turns irredeemably maniacal. Her portrayal of religious fervour may not always be sufficiently nuanced, but the actor is certainly well-rehearsed and spirited with what she brings to the stage. Mau Salinas is memorable as Grace’s husband Jack, an absurd and grotesque figure that provides a touch of extravagance to the experience.

We can all have our own nonsensical preoccupations, in fact those are what give colour to the magnificence of life, but when we intrude upon each other’s freedoms, as we so often do, is when life turns dark. People know what it is like to be on the receiving end of transgressions, but we continue to inflict harm on others in spite of our better judgement. We recognise that Grace should know better, but we also understand the weakness that allows us to succumb, to the convenience of surrendering agency. Standing up for one’s own principles is hard, and sadly, many are incapable of it.

www.facebook.com/uzthetown/

Review: Next Lesson (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 13 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Chris Woodley
Director: Alex Bryant-Smith
Cast: Michael Brindley, Sonya Kerr, Jens Radda, Kat Tait

Theatre review
In 1988, when Margaret Thatcher was UK Prime Minister, Section 28 was introduced, stating that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Quite unbelievably, this piece of homophobic legislation was active until 2003, and for that period of 15 years, schools were in effect, encouraged to discriminate against LGBTQI students and staff, even though homosexual acts had been officially decriminalised since 1967.

Scenes in Chris Woodley’s Next Lesson take place in an English secondary school, featuring chronological vignettes beginning at the installation of Section 28, through to the passage of the Civil Partnership Act in Dec 2005, when same-sex unions were finally recognised. It tracks the evolution of LGBTQI experiences, children and adult, through tumultuous years, with predictably depressing accounts of institutionalised oppression. It is not a particularly imaginative work, but the authentic representation of emancipated queer lives, is certainly valuable.

The production is simple but impassioned, an earnest rendition that speaks from the heart. Performers Michael Brindley and Sonya Kerr bring a sense of gravity to their roles, encouraging us to respond with empathy. Jens Radda and Kat Tait are memorable with their humour, both spirited and playful when called upon to make us laugh.

It would be a mistake to think that the fight is over. The gay rights movement has delivered great advancements, but the work is not done for LGBTQI people in countless developing countries, and in ethnic minority communities within our own Western nations. Laws have changed, but attitudes are often still lagging behind. The recently appointed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in his second week of taking office, demonstrated a disdain for gender variance, by tweeting that “we do not need ‘gender whisperers’ in our schools” in reference to professional assistance being made available to students who are encountering personal challenges, in relation to their gender identities. As long as forces that work against justice are persistent, there can be no room for complacency. Fighters who win will only grow stronger, and hard won freedoms must be guarded at all cost.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: The Elements Of An Offence (New Theatre)


Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 10 – 16, 2018
Playwright: James Gefell
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Sarah Aubrey

Theatre review
Rachel is Christine’s boss and girlfriend. They work at the police department, trying to do the right thing for the public and for themselves, negotiating endless bureaucracy along with the precarious nature of being both colleagues and lovers. It is also a story of competing principles, in a space where we expect virtue and decency to reign supreme. James Gefell’s The Elements Of An Offence also talks about corruption, as well as the au courant matter of power imbalances that pervade all our lives. We watch the women divided by their opposing positions concerning a case that they undertake, gradually being torn apart by an office culture that emanates from their patriarchal authorities.

The desk-bound characters are allowed little that could facilitate a more effective exploration of physical space, but both women are richly imagined for what is ultimately a fascinating work, with an engaging plot and very dynamic dialogue. Alice Livingstone’s direction is nuanced and enjoyable, although a greater sense of gravity to certain sections would provide emphasis to the play’s more pertinent ideas. Actors Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame and Sarah Aubrey find excellent chemistry as a team, convincing as bedfellows and captivating as duelling policewomen. They present a well-rehearsed show, fuelled by the formidable pairing, of conspicuous talent with remarkable conviction.

When systems are discovered to be unjust, those at the bottom will formulate strategies of disobedience. When one realises that playing by the rules will only reinforce one’s own oppression, defiance becomes a useful device, if not for the effective subversion of structures, then at least for the sake of maintaining one’s integrity. Rachel and Christine learn that doing their jobs well, ironically contributes to their own detriment. The choices they make, can no longer be pure, but they can help to make things better.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Nell Gwynn (New Theatre)


Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 8 – Sep 8, 2018
Playwright: Jessica Swale
Director: Deborah Jones
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Kate Bookallil, Debra Bryan, Steve Corner, Aimee Crighton, Susan Jordan, Simon Lee, Naomi Livingstone, Steven Ljubovic, Peter Mountford, Genevieve Muratore, Rupert Reid, Eleanor Ryan, Shan-Ree Tan, Adam Van den bok, Bishanyia Vincent
Images by Chris Lundie

Theatre review
Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn tells the rags to riches story of its eponymous 17th century English actress, charting her rise from common prostitute to becoming one of the first women to ever take to the professional stage, and eventually finding her way into the courts as King Charles II’s most favoured mistress. It was a short but eventful life, that Swale takes great care to frame as a modern feminist parable, featuring a young woman who uses beauty and brains, to battle against all odds, and make it all the way to the glass ceiling. Fascinating biographical information is transformed into effective drama, placed alongside contemporary observations and commentary about womanhood.

Actor Bishanyia Vincent is marvellous in the title role, spirited and intelligent, for an interpretation that is as inspiring as it is entertaining. There is a lightness to the character that endears, but Vincent takes every opportunity to imbue complexity and depth, offering insights that are emotional, or sometimes political, making Nell Gwynn a tale that is unmistakably relevant to our times. Equally memorable is Lloyd Allison-Young as the king, wonderfully flamboyant in his comical expressions that represent perfectly, our perspectives of the aristocratic classes. Both are deeply charming personalities, who insist on keeping us delighted at every turn. It is a strong cast overall, with each performer proving themselves accomplished and inventive in their individual parts.

Musical aspects of the show are whimsical and amusing; Laura Heuston as musical director and Clare Heuston as music consultant, bring a gratifying effervescence to their interludes. Virginia Ferris delivers lively but simple work as choreographer, in clever accompaniment to direction by Deborah Jones that focuses earnestly, on the craft of acting. Visual elements are raw, slightly too basic, or perhaps too straightforward, in configuration and imagination.

As a woman of the lowest class, Gwynn was able to rise through the ranks, with a serendipitous combination of talent and luck, to reach heights that had allowed her a taste of greener pastures. She was never liberated of course, from that dependence on men and their libido, and ultimately succumbed to syphilis, but there is no denying that she was able to ensure wealth and status for all her subsequent generations. Womanly wiles are still a currency today, but for most of us, how we transact is now chiefly a matter of our own discretion.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Stupid Fucking Bird (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 12 – 28, 2018
Playwright: Aaron Posner
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Gil Balfas, Brendan Miles, Mansoor Noor, Megan Smart, Annie Stafford, Kaitlyn Thor
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
It is a wonderful world that the characters in Stupid Fucking Bird inhabit. Consumed by love and art, their lives might seem frivolous to some, but to those of us tired of the daily grind, their romantic mashup of 21st century Australia and 19th century Russia, suggests an imaginary existence where only the exciting things matter.

Aaron Posner’s rendition of Chekhov’s The Seagull retains the original’s narratives and personalities, but radically transforms the way in which the stories are told. Chekhov enshrined in his play, a wish to establish new theatrical forms, so it is appropriate that artistic liberties are taken. We are also entirely grateful for Posner turning the antiquated piece into something much more entertaining, and relevant to our times.

Director Warwick Doddrell presents a stunning production; gripping from the start, relentlessly amusing, compelling and vivacious, for a very unlikely experience of the venerated classic. Doddrell’s dramaturgical excellence is accompanied by an experimental spirit that permeates all faculties of the show, and we see all its cast and creatives deliver some truly outstanding work on this stage.

Set design by Jeremy Allen offers simple solutions for a highly effective transformation of space. Original songs by Jim Fishwick are replete with wit and charming vibrancy. Ben Pierpoint and Mary Rapp’s sound design is thrilling in its urgency, with an exuberant contemporariness that provides an air of irresistible edginess. Lighting designer Veronique Bennett is similarly striking in approach, creating alluring and refreshing imagery, demonstrating valuable proclivities that are sensitive yet vivid.

Seven actors, individually delightful, prove themselves a formidable ensemble in Stupid Fucking Bird. Mansoor Noor’s memorable athleticism and emotional vigour as Conrad, form a reliable centre for the show’s quality of interminable liveliness. Megan Smart is a splendid Nina, with a bewitching authenticity that accompanies every delicious melodramatic turn. The iconic Emma Arkadina is played by a fierce Kaitlyn Thor, seductive and powerful as the grandiose matriarch.

Lloyd Allison-Young and Annie Stafford are gifted with arresting presences, both captivating performers with a knack for making everything look effortless. Gil Balfas and Brendan Miles offer exquisite balance to the extravagant goings-on, both able to bring confident subtlety, at junctures where nuance is required but unexpected. Stupid Fucking Bird represents a rare theatrical occasion, where brilliance emanates from all its participant components.

Characters in the story suffer unrequited love and artistic jealousy. Their personal sense of inadequacy feels familiar, but also strange, if not completely bizarre, should we choose to evaluate their behaviour closely. The disquiet that overwhelms the privileged can be seen to be counter-intuitive, although it is clear that money does not solve all problems, least of all, our narcissism. When Conrad is told to “try loving something more than yourself,” the key to his salvation is succinctly and perfectly awarded, but predictably, left direly unheeded.

www.newtheatre.org.au