Review: August: Osage County (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 6 – Jul 7, 2018
Playwright: Tracy Letts
Director: Louise Fischer
Cast: Adrian Adam, James Bean, Kirra Farquharson, Peter Flett, Jake Fryer-Hornsby, Brett Heath, Lynden Jones, Sonya Kerr, Alice Livingstone, Amy Scott-Smith, Helen Stuart, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou, Emily Weare
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
The Westons are a dysfunctional family, of troubled individuals with a penchant for intoxication. There are no real problems that we can deduce, except that their home seems loveless, and each person bears, with great reluctance, a sense of onerous responsibility, where genuine care and affection are often conspicuously missing. There is also the issue of wealth in their story. Unlike the rest of us, these personalities seem to have no cares in the real world. Without any worries about putting food on tables, or securing roofs over heads, it begins to make sense that their anxieties are centred, and inflated, around their dissatisfaction with one another.

Tracy Letts’ August:Osage County is an entertaining work, that offers sadistic pleasures through its flamboyant portrayals, of women suffering emotional torment. Its low stakes give us permission to indulge in their dramatic exchanges, allowing us to watch gleefully, as rich white folk scream at each other, over not very much at all. While not altogether vapid, the play is ultimately lightweight, in spite of the incessant anguish that it endeavours to explore.

Directed by Louise Fischer, the production is appropriately extravagant with its histrionics, and memorable for the intensity it is able to manufacture, for the play’s unique brand of comic depressiveness. There is little in the Weston household that we can easily empathise with, but opportunities for derision abound. Actors Alice Livingstone and Helen Stuart play the bigger parts, both larger than life and very delightful, with the sensational hysteria that they bring to the stage. Also very charming is Kirra Farquharson whose refreshing naturalism introduces a quotient of valuable authenticity to proceedings, and Emily Weare whose nuances are as pertinent as they are captivating.

August:Osage County may not be an instalment of the Real Housewives franchise, but like the best in the tv genre of “scripted reality”, it delivers a series of spectacular conflict that undeniably amuses and enthrals. It may not be at its most satisfying when it attempts to offer depth and insight to the human condition, but the theatrical thrills that it provides, is quite remarkable.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: The Lieutenant Of Inishmore (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 24 – May 26, 2018
Playwright: Martin McDonagh
Director: Deborah Mulhall
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Michael Becker, Alice Birbara, Steve Corner, Angus Evans, Patrick Holman, James McCrudden, Nicholas Sinclair
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
It is 1993, and the threat of devastating violence in Northern Ireland is a daily reality. Groups are formed, and re-formed, in accordance with shifting political ideals that deliver little more than bloodshed and suffering. Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant Of Inishmore first appeared in 2001, only a few years after the abatement of conflict, when the memories of terror were still fresh, and the play’s comedy is therefore, predictably dark.

Also completely absurd and deeply ironic, a narrative is built around Padraic, a homicidal maniac who kills in the name of nationalism, and the very unlikely soft spot he has for Wee Thomas, the pet cat at home. Blisteringly funny, the sardonic The Lieutenant Of Inishmore deals with real life trauma, by channelling the senselessness of recent history through heightened humour, into a digestible form. Every time we laugh at a joke, we are required to reflect on the wounds to which it refers, and in that process find a way to reach an understanding, of things too difficult to find psychological and emotional resolution for.

Director Deborah Mulhall sets the tone perfectly, for an outrageous ride of a show. The bold comedy is as enjoyable as it is thought-provoking, and our communal laughter works to create a sense of unity around the play’s discussions of terrorism and war. A delightful cast keeps us amused from the very start, when the formidable duo of Patrick Holman and James McCrudden open the production with an energetic confidence and delightful eccentricity. Chemistry between the two is nuanced and tenacious, and thoroughly enjoyable to the bitter end. Lloyd Allison-Young is a very compelling leading man, incisive in his portrayal of Padraic. Inventive and charismatic, with an enviable knack for comic timing, he lands every punchline with finesse and flair.

The story is ridiculous, but we leave the theatre thinking its wild fiction is no stranger than the truth. As we grapple with the idea of children in foreign lands being bombed, and of our neighbours being arrested for charges of terrorism, we often experience disorientation and confusion, as though the world had been turned upside down. We try to install order into things to form a semblance of logic, because information must be arranged to cohere somehow, for the alternative of ignorance and apathy is unforgivable. So much of how we are is bizarre, and bizarrely inhumane, but even when we are unable to locate the reasons for our atrocities, to prevent them from occurring must always be fundamental to who we are.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Silent Disco (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 22 – Apr 14, 2018
Playwright: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Leilani Loau, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Natasha McNamara, Brendan Miles, Tom Misa, Gemma Scoble
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
15 year-old Tamara has a talent for writing, but little else besides. Her story in Lachlan Philpott’s Silent Disco, is one of disadvantage and hopelessness. Although living in one of the world’s wealthiest nations, her future as a Millennial Australian is pessimistic. At the mercy of parents and a school system that are broken and desperately failing, we watch Tamara struggle, as her circumstances lead her to a path of ruin. The young rely on our nurturing, but when we offer only neglect and abuse, the inevitable result is destruction.

There is remarkable sophistication in Philpott’s beautifully stylised writing, but the ideas in Silent Disco are simple. Although its characters are dynamic, and the relationships between them are intriguing, Johann Walraven’s restrained direction provides only minimal dramatic tension, offering instead an unyielding sense of naturalistic authenticity to its melancholic situations. Set design by Ester Karuso-Thurn is visually arresting, but activity feels distant, in a vast space that requires a less understated approach. Jessica Dunn’s work as sound designer is refreshing, and her inventive compositions help enliven proceedings.

Actor Gemma Scoble is a convincing Tamara, looking and sounding every bit the rebellious school girl on all of our suburban high streets. Her portrayal of the wilful teen is certainly accurate, but a greater sense of theatricality would allow us to engage better with her experiences. Tamara’s boyfriend Squid, is played by Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, appealing with the emotional nuances he very effectively conveys, and Leilani Loau’s performance as a compassionate teacher is quiet but powerful, and vitally thought-provoking.

We disapprove of any parent less than responsible and competent, but we routinely allow our community organisations to falter. Tamara’s parents are deeply disappointing and probably unforgivable, but their human flaws are understandable. As a nation that boasts of so much, our failure to protect each other should be even more reprehensible, but the ease with which we turn a blind eye, is appalling. In becoming increasingly individualistic, society turns neglectful. It is as though we have stopped thinking of the weak as deserving of care, and have begun regarding them as dispensable and contemptible.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Fucking Men (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 6 – Mar 10, 2018
Playwright: Joe DiPietro
Director: Mark Nagle
Cast: Jackson Blair-West, Michael Brindley, Stanley Browning, John Michael Burdon, Anthony Finch, Ray Mainsbridge, Tom Marwick, Nick Pes, Anton Smilek, Pete Walters
Image by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Replace all the women with men in Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play La Ronde, and we have Joe DiPietro’s Fucking Men, about men having sex with other men. It is now the 21st century of course, and although the concept of monogamy is still an interesting matter of discussion, there is something awkwardly regressive about watching gay men struggle with sexual conformity, at a time when their rights are finally being protected at equal measure by the law. With hackneyed issues of fidelity and coming out as its main areas of concern, the work can easily be mistaken for being of an earlier era of gay liberation, some thirty years or so ago.

Fucking Men is strictly about gay culture in the West, and this production features a big cast of white men speaking in Australian accents, in case we misinterpret its intentions and try to imagine the action taking place in some third-world nation. It is true, that these stories remain real to gay men in developed countries, but audiences would be hard pressed to find anything new in DiPietro’s depiction of gay identities that have not already been represented time and time again.

Mark Nagle’s direction of the work has some exuberance, and its embrace of the play’s frequent requirements of partial nudity is inevitably entertaining, but the show fails to escape the fundamentally prudish essence of the text. It wants our feathers to be ruffled by all the promiscuous goings on, but it all grows tiresome quickly, without a more radical or refreshing approach to discussing sex. Performances are uneven, with a big range of acting abilities, from the obviously amateur to some quite accomplished, but the cast shows a good sense of dedication to the staging, in spite of the unfortunately banal material.

It is valuable to have art talk about minority issues, to its own communities. There are no women, and no straight men in Fucking Men. It centres everything on the gay experience, and addresses its audience from that particular perspective, without concessions or compromise. There is integrity in a theatre that chooses an audience that is less mainstream and less commercial, for we all need to be reminded that our place in the world does matter.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Three In The Bed (Birdie Productions)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 11 – 26, 2018
Book, Music & Lyrics: Jonathon Holmes
Director: Jonathon Holmes
Cast: Adin Milostnik, Daniella Mirels, Caroline Oayda, Alicia Rose Quinn, Aaron Robuck
Image by Douglas Frost

Theatre review
It is not the first time we come across a work of fiction, about three women falling crazy in love with one very unexceptional man. These stories never make any sense, of course, and because we are in this supposedly “woke” year of 2018, it is understandable if many were to find that tired narrative a particularly painful one to have to tolerate. Jonathon Holmes’ Three In The Bed is infuriating for the feminist viewer, and the number of us who will not accept that kind of unimaginative and inconsiderate writing, is increasing by the legions.

Its women are completely objectified, and none of the characters bear any sense of complexity or even attempt to be in any way remotely realistic. It is astonishing that songs about “why doesn’t he like me?” and “let me clean your room” are being unleashed on Australian audiences, in this day and age.
Sexually exploitative scenarios (the production’s unabashed selling point) are manufactured, just for laughs, but in the absence of verisimilitude, humour simply becomes impossible. When people do laugh, it is in response to the purposely uncomfortable sexuality being portrayed. The show tries repeatedly to tickle, but we can only cringe in response.

There is however, real talent in Holmes’ musical ability, and his hopeless passion for the Broadway genre is evident. The cast is undoubtedly skillful and their exuberance, quite miraculously, carries the show, with Caroline Oayda eminently memorable in the role of Emma, bringing exceptional flair and prowess to the stage. The performers work hard, and smart, but they are powerless in trying to redeem these deeply unfortunate depictions of womanhood.

www.threeinthebedmusical.com

Review: Australia Day (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 14 – Dec 16, 2017
Playwright: Jonathan Biggins
Director: Louise Fischer
Cast: Les Asmussen, Peter Eyers, Alice Livingstone, Lap Nguyen, Martin Portus, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame
Image by Chris Lundie

Theatre review
A committee of six are planning Australia Day festivities in a country town. There are different agendas at play, but all have to engage in a game of debate and arbitration, overt and otherwise, to reach consensus. Intentions are a combination, of the community-minded and the self-serving, and through this study of a typically parochial setting, Jonathan Biggins’ Australia Day offers a look at who we are today, as communities who have to determine our identities, and assert them.

We are not a homogeneous entity, of course, and in the council chambers where much of the action takes place, we observe the operations of power, as diverse attitudes wrestle to find acknowledgement and representation. There are conservative personalities who wish for symbols of the past to be given prominence, left-wing types who want to disperse bandwidth so that all creatures great and small are covered, and also those who care little either way.

Biggins’ humour is familiar and warm, although its restraint can often seem redundant, for a comedy that concerns itself with arguments surrounding political correctness. The social commentary in Australia Day is pertinent and accurate, but the plot lacks surprise and the predictability of its characters takes us to a conclusion that feels anti-climatic and slightly banal.

The show is however, an enjoyable one. Directed by Louise Fischer, conflict between personalities is deftly portrayed, for an amusing self-deprecating look at our systems of local government. Keeping us involved, are accomplished performances by actors such as Les Asmussen who, in the role of Wally, reveals so much about the regressive elements of our society, funny but acerbic in his authenticity. Also memorable is Alice Livingstone as Maree, a representative from the Country Women’s Association, who manages to bring on the laughs in spite of a thinly penned part.

National celebrations are always problematic, and absurd. We are required to adopt narrow definitions of things and conform to ideologies that are mostly personally irrelevant. It is noble to place society before self, but as long as the collective is unable to be inclusive of everyone, improvements must always be sought. Whenever our identity markers are anything less than universal, deeper thought must be applied.

www.newtheatre.org.au

5 Questions with Lap Nguyen and Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame

Lap Nguyen

Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame: Did you bring any of your own experiences of being a foreigner in Australia to the rehearsal process?
Lap Nguyen: Yes, it certainly felt very odd playing a foreigner in an Australia Day committee and being a foreigner in Australia itself! I bought a lot of unnecessary awkwardness to the character simply because I had encountered so many of those moments but what I think I forgot about Chester is that he’s a lot more adaptable than I am. I think he handled the whole ‘fitting in’ thing a lot better than I did. Plus he’s so likeable and cute (I’m playing him by the way). 

What is the most rewarding project you’ve ever worked on and why?
It’s probably a year 10 school production I did in Vietnam hah! All My Sons by Arthur Miller. It’s rewarding in the selfish way that the audience probably didn’t get anything out of it but I learnt so much throughout the entire process. 

It was really an enlightening moment to be honest. I played Chris Keller and I was so shitty at it. I had this habit of dragging my feet back then and every line I said or when I moved, there would be this screeching noise on the floor. I would mumble my lines, forget my blocking, the whole shazam. It was horrid. The funny thing was that I actually thought I did a good job at the time! Looking back at it, the best thing I learnt is that, no matter how good you think you are, you’re probably shit. Which sounds like harsh advice but I personally take it with me on every production now. I always strive to be better than what I think I am. Sometimes it works, sometimes I end up crying myself to sleep…

Who was the first actor you saw that blew you away?
Johnny Depp. Jack Sparrow. He was infectious. The role’s gone a bit downhill now but back then, Sparrow was the jam. He was my Iron-Man back in the day! Depp did such a phenomenal job fleshing our that role, it made me realise that it doesn’t take an Oscar to make someone’s childhood. 14 years old me was hooked to the bone. 

Your character Chester has a tendency to make poorly timed jokes, has there been a time where you, Lap have done the same?
All the time. I also can’t tell jokes apparently. I find myself way too funny. I just laugh and kill the gag before it even arrives. 

An acrostic poem for Australia Day please:
Anyone
Up for
Satire
Theatre? 
Really
Amazing
Lap
In yet
Another play!

Don’t forget to
Accentuate
Your lovely actors! 

Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame

Lap Nguyen: Have you ever been involved with an Australia Day committee?
Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame: You know what, I absolutely haven’t. I actually haven’t sat on any committee. I am however from a rural country town, so I think I get the je ne sais quoi or lack there of, that comes from being part of such a small community. 

What was your last Australia Day like?
I’m not one to really celebrate Australia Day, as not all Australians see January 26 as a day of celebration, and I want to stand with them.  I would much rather change the date, so all Australians feel they can come together to celebrate what is great about this fair country of ours. 
 
My favourite Australia Day however, was spent in Pokhara, Nepal. Started the day with some vegemite & cheese on toast (!!), that was spread so thick it stung our gums, followed by tandem paragliding. Catching those sweet thermals, that sent my friends into a cold sweat, with the most magical view of the lake in front of us, and the Himalayas behind. Put it on your bucket list if you haven’t done so already!
 
What’s it like to work with the New Theatre’s Australia Day cast and team?
Working with actors that have had so much more experience than me, is truly humbling. It has been wonderful to watch their processes and see how they tackle all the elements of the script. Everyone brings such a different quality to the rehearsal process, it’s a really warm, enjoyable space. 

What was your first performance and how was it?
My first performance was as a four year old, where I played the princess in Princess Smarty Pants at my preschools Christmas production. Whilst lapping up the attention, what I didn’t like was having to give my co-star Cory, a kiss on the cheek, because boys: ick! Having said that, it did turn Prince Swashbuckle into a gigantic warty toad and meant none of the other princes wanted to marry me, so I lived happily ever after. 

What is your dream role?
I don’t know if there is just one role that is my dream role. There are many characters that I have watched over the years and been enamoured with. Mostly badass chicks that get shit done! Lagertha the kick-arse shield maiden from Vikings is one, Tanya from the film Chopper with her brilliant one liners is another. Debbie Jellinsky from The Addams Family Values! *Sigh* So much fun! 

Lap Nguyen and Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame are appearing in Australia Day, by Jonathan Biggins.
Dates: 14 November – 16 December, 2017
Venue: New Theatre