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

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