Review: Blame Traffic (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 13 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Michael Andrew Collins
Director: Michael Andrew Collins
Cast: Violette Ayad, Nic English, Emma O’Sullivan, Mary Soudi, Alex Stylianou
Theatre review
Insurance investigator Lilian’s frustrating encounters with a blue Mercedes, over several days on the streets of Sydney, has stoked her occupational resolve. She finds herself secretly trailing the mystery man, trying to formulate an explanation for the latter’s shockingly poor driving etiquette. Blame Traffic by Michael Andrew Collins features a series of fractured scenes that gradually merge into an integrated, and satisfying, narrative. Collins’ playful dialogue ensures that each sequence is full of amusement, and the intrigue that he constructs, is a consistent pleasure, and the play’s strongest quality.

In lieu of realistic settings for many of Blame Traffic‘s on-road scenarios, the production takes a minimal but effective approach, with chairs and three sliding monitors, to convey its oscillating range of times and spaces. Designer Patrick James Howe keeps things slick and restrained, for unobtrusive solutions that provide surprising impact. Collins’ direction of the piece is taut, with an air of urgency that has us absorbed for its entire hour.

An energetic and rigorous ensemble takes us through the fast-paced action. Emma O’Sullivan shines in both her roles; she turns a very strange Jacquie convincing, whilst endearing us with her quirky characteristics, and as Dion, the actor’s interpretation of a young Italian-Australian is simply hilarious. Dion’s uncle Zio is played by Nic English, whose honest impulses make him a riveting presence. Violette Ayad and Alex Stylianou provide the fireworks with their partnership, in a segment memorable for its scintillating chemistry, both performers taking the opportunity to demonstrate their impressive skill and natural talent. Also wonderful is Mary Soudi who brings a thoughtful complexity to her part of Sarah.

Although not particularly provocative, Blame Traffic is an entertaining work of theatre, that uses the bane of our city’s daily existence as catalyst for its storytelling. We see people interspersed but connected, each heading in their own obstinate directions, occasionally stopping to think of others. Individualism and independence are highly valued in our metropolis; we believe in the freedom that allows people to live to their full personal potentials, regardless of tradition and conventions. It is also clear that Sydney is not an entirely selfish city, even if we do feel like we dwell inside bubbles that only seem to ever grow smaller. Our roads converge every day, allowing our trajectories to meet, at places like the theatre, where we congregate as one, to figure out the people we are, and the people we want to be.

www.facebook.com/twentysevensix

5 Questions with Violette Ayad and Mary Soudi

Violette Ayad

Mary Soudi: What’s your favourite part about playing Lilian (Lilo)?
Violette Ayad: I love that I got to name this character myself. In fleshing out the character, the director and I decided that we wanted her to have a name that was a little ambiguous in relation to her cultural background. A name that could belong to someone from a Middle Eastern background (like myself), but was not specifically Middle Eastern (much like my own name). So, I named her after one of my aunties, Lilian, who everyone in the family calls ‘Lilo’ for short.

What’s something that has really surprised you during the creation of Blame Traffic?
The ease with which we’ve moved from reading and workshopping the script to finding the scenes on the floor. It has been a real reminder that when the time is taken to get the script, the foundation, right, everything else can be built on that with clarity and specificity. Part of the joy of having a writer who is also the director was that we could stop and identify problems in the script, and fix them in the script, rather than trying to gloss over them in the performance of it.

What main idea do you think will stay in the minds of audience members in the hours/days after they see the show?
I’d like to think that people’s responses to this play are very varied based on their own experiences of coincidence and serendipity in their lives. But ultimately, I would love everyone to consider a little deeper the amazing moments of chance and luck that make up life. In a world that moves further away from institutional religion every day, finding joy in these chaotic and random encounters feels like a pretty comforting way to live.

What’s your craziest traffic-related experience?
Oh, so many. I was one of those terrible young drivers you always fear is around the corner. I got my license in West Australia before the introduction of the mandatory L plate waiting period and with only 25 driving hours required. This is terrible, but I once lost 4 demerits and $600 in a 24-hour period when I was 19. Find me in the foyer and I will tell you how. Don’t worry, I don’t own a car in Sydney or drive very often, and definitely take road safety more seriously now that I’m older.

Why are you passionate about this production?
This production began as a way to bring together all of my favourite class mates and friends from the training institutions I’d studied at, and show the world how it’s done! Every decision in this production represents what I love seeing and what I believe in. At the core, we have a well-written story that engages the heart and mind equally. Add to that a cast of incredibly different performers that share an ability to contribute, generously, to a whole production, beyond their own specific part. And finally, a contemporary and innovative design team, making funky beats and a simple, but beautiful, stage design.

Mary Soudi

Violette Ayad: What is your favourite thing about the Blame Traffic script?
Mary Soudi: The humour that’s sprinkled throughout it! One scene in particular cracks me up every single time – I won’t reveal it, but I will say that Emma O’Sullivan plays a teenage boy behind a wheel of a car, and it is just so, so hilarious. 

What makes this project so exciting for you?
I’m excited by this project because I think Michael is one of the brightest young writers in Australia, and Blame Traffic is his best work yet. Being able to bring this brilliant story of his to life alongside so many brilliant creative minds is pretty darn magical.

Having just finished the Bell Shakespeare tour of The Players, how much driving do you think you’ve done in the past year?
Probably a billion hours. Those long drives were the best way to see this gorgeous country and fully take in just how huge it is. And I must say, I’ve truly surprised myself with my ability to park a giant Kia Carnival (mini-van/small spaceship) in so many cramped little parking lots all around Australia. Believe in yourself, folks!

What have been the benefits of working with people you’ve trained with?
Is there anything better than making art with your favourite humans? Knowing each other inside and out is a huge benefit, because after all the years we’re trained together we end up knowing exactly where each other’s creative genius lies, and can bring it out of each other. And all the endless love and tomfoolery!

Without giving anything away, what do you think is a moment people will really respond to in the play? 
A gorgeous moment of realness between a boy and his uncle, where self-doubt transforms into self-belief. Come see it to find out what I’m talking about!

Violette Ayad and Mary Soudi can be seen in Blame Traffic by Michael Andrew Collins.
Dates: 13 – 24 Nov, 2018
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Whose Uterus Is it Anyway? (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 30 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Georgie Adamson
Director: Eve Beck
Cast: Toby Blome, Alexandra Morgan, Finn Murphy, Chelsea Needham, Annie Stafford
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
It is a game show in the reality competition style, involving the infliction of humiliation and abuse for the benefit of a television audience. In this case, contestants are made to jump through hoops before they are awarded the reproductive health care that they require. George Adamson’s Whose Uterus Is It Anyway? is an indictment of the way bodies of women and trans men are controlled, relegated to a lower class, when they deviate from unreasonably strict norms. When a uterus is not being used for procreation, society sees fit that its owner is put through a process of castigation, as enacted here by a white man in a stylised lab coat, playing the role of game show host, manipulating scenarios and exercising his power, to ridicule his subjects.

Ideas in the play are fresh and exciting, assembled with an enjoyable quirky humour. Its writing could be further refined for a more satisfying plot structure, but its unique approach makes for a show that is at once pertinent and amusing. Eve Beck’s direction for the piece contains appropriately subversive measures, and although its comedy proves slightly inconsistent, there is no doubting the production’s ability to have us firmly engage with its stimulating themes. Martin Kinnane’s lights and Camille Ostrowsky’s set design provide dynamism to a visual aesthetic that conveys effectively, the sinister quality of institutionalised medicine and media. Alex Lee-Rekers is detailed with his work on sound, helping us navigate the many subtle tonal and emotional shifts of the show.

An excellent cast brings to life the theatrical and substantive absurdity of Whose Uterus Is It Anyway?. Toby Blome is captivating as the central authority figure, and as four additional subsidiary characters, his efforts are just as compelling. Alexandra Morgan and Annie Stafford are funny women, both exuberant and incisive with their delivery. Finn Murphy and Chelsea Needham dial up the poignancy factor, for some genuinely moving moments that give the staging a crucial quotient of gravity.

As evidenced in Lysistrata’s fabled sex strike, societies have always been petrified of women using their bodies for anything other than gestation. The impulse to reproduce has fuelled an unquenchable thirst to control our bodies, and as a consequence all of how we exist is dictated in accordance with that sense of ownership and entitlement. Three women in the play, along with a trans man, have made decisions for themselves, but it is clear that their bodies are being held hostage, by traditions and systems that struggle to acknowledge our independence. If our subjugation stems from sex and babies, it would only make sense that a revolution can be precipitated by a radical rethink of our identities in those terms. We should define ourselves in creative and courageous ways, rejecting labels and responsibilities when required, not only to live with greater integrity, but to forge a better, more equitable future.

www.biteprod.com.au

Review: Lie With Me (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 2 – 13, 2018
Playwright: Liz Hobart
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Lyn Pierse, Nathalie Murray, Julia Robertson
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
There are monsters walking amongst us, murderers, rapists and cannibals, who look just like everybody else, made of the same flesh and blood. Sebastian is one such monster, responsible for 17 gruesome deaths. His mother is Janice, and in Liz Hobart’s Lie With Me, we explore the impossibly difficult notion of having to come to terms, with being the woman who had birthed such an abomination into the world. Whether nature or nurture, the connections we draw between mother and son, make it an intolerable existence for Janice to have to bear.

Fractured and achronological, scenes in Lie With Me are presented like randomised shreds of memories, challenging us to make coherence out of unimaginable inhumanity. Dark, passionate and urgent, Hobart’s writing makes for engrossing, fascinating theatre. Directed by Warwick Doddrell, the staging can at times be excessively elaborate, but it proves to be an ultimately rich and rewarding experience. Lights by Sophie Pekbilimli are creative and lively, effective in giving unexpected dimension to the space. Sound is delicately managed by Ben Hinchley, who deftly maintains intensity throughout.

Sebastian the monster is conspicuously, but thankfully, missing in action. Janice is played by Lyn Pierse, strong and compelling with all that she offers. Her sophisticated approach ensures that the show never descends into exploitative territory. The very charming Julia Robertson is delightful in her playful array of roles, particularly biting as Sebastian’s father Len. Nathalie Murray provides solid support, a disciplined and nuanced performer proving herself to be inexorably reliable.

Lie With Me is about motherhood, and the many roles women have to play, that deprive us of our sovereignty. Janice tries to be her own person, but having devoted her life to being little more than mother and wife, she struggles to find self-worth when forsaken by both son and husband. It is anybody’s guess if she would again choose motherhood if the reversal of time were possible, but one would hope that the lessons she has learned would lead to a reclamation of power and independence. For those of us with time on our side, the play is a reminder of how we should define existence, and the bigger things we are capable of.

www.bnwtheatre.com.au

Review: Maggot (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 27 – 29, 2018
Cast/Creators: Freya Finch, Angela Fouhy, Elle Wootton

Theatre review
Known collectively as Scungebags Theatre, the trio of Freya Finch, Angela Fouhy and Elle Wootton prove themselves an irresistible hoot in their subversive show Maggot. An introduction informs us that the pop group The Baby Girls have decided to abandon their commercial interests, for the infinitely more prestigious pursuit of high art. This of course, is all a ruse for a series of antics, inspired by clowning principles, to deliver some seriously funny scenes of iconoclastic chaos.

Our institutions, authorities and other sacred cows, are satirised by the three women determined to reject every misplaced sense of reverence that is demanded of them. Mocking the powerful and the traditional, the show falls quite conveniently into a category of feminist performance, but feminism itself is not safe from being lampooned; even the #MeToo movement is exposed to the group’s acerbity, in an unforgettable sequence involving modern interpretive dance and sexual harassment.

Finch, Fouhy and Wootton are distinct personalities, with each performer bearing an individual style, but their cohesiveness as a team is remarkable, for a presentation that impresses with the invulnerable chemistry that they exhibit. Even more rewarding of course, are the many laughs, hysterical and euphoric, that Maggot delivers. Sometimes discerning, sometimes completely nonsensical, their comedy is idiosyncratic, fearless and therefore, thoroughly enjoyable.

It is at our own peril, that we take our feminist selves seriously, when so much of what we should be doing, is to laugh at, and to ridicule, those who wish to dominate. Nothing deflates an erection quicker than derision. Finding ways to pour scorn on those who thrive on exclusionary structures, is a strategy that we must learn to embrace, even just for our own amusement and sanity.

www.facebook.com/maggotshow | www.old505theatre.com

Review: Hell’s Canyon (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 1 – 11, 2018
Playwright: Emily Sheehan
Director: Katie Cawthorne
Cast: Isabelle Ford, Conor Leach
Images by James John

Theatre review
Caitlin and Oscar are close friends, but things have been challenging lately and their relationship is suffering a moment of discord. When they meet to patch things up, the friction in between instigates a flurry of unexpected activity, revealing the troubles that are consuming each of the young characters. Hell’s Canyon by Emily Sheehan is an intriguing representation of our youth, particularly memorable for the authenticity of its dialogue. Speech patterns, as well as the psychology that it showcases, bear an admirable sense of accuracy, but the story can feel deficient in parts, as we try to find explanations for their behaviour. There is a whimsy to its approach that appeals, and an interest in the supernatural that gives the play an added dimension of theatrical flamboyance.

Actors Isabelle Ford and Conor Leach are engaging personalities, both absolutely persuasive and likeable, in this portrait of teenage angst. Ford demonstrates a strength that gives substance to Caitlin’s rebellious edge. Leach’s blend of vulnerability and ebullience makes for a charming Oscar. There is a sadness to the story that seems elusive in their performance, but the splendid chemistry that they harness, keeps us attentive. There is an enjoyable intensity and vigour to director Katie Cawthorne’s work, even when it falls slightly short of the emotional depths required of Hell’s Canyon‘s depictions of trauma.

We all know how it is to feel misunderstood, but the real danger is when we begin to believe in other people’s fabrications about ourselves. When Caitlin and Oscar find themselves ostracised, that rejection is all-consuming, and they lose sight of themselves, hence unable to find a way to arrive at a sense of peace. The two are intimate but there is no harmony, only confusion and self-doubt. Reaching self-acceptance can be a huge undertaking, one that requires at least as much introspection as it does an understanding of one’s environment. Caitlin and Oscar have to wade through the noise, to get to something real. This can happen in an instant, or it can be a lifetime’s drudgery.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Roomba Nation (Hurrah Hurrah / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 4 – 21, 2018
Cast/Devisors: Alison Bennett, Nick O’Regan, Kate Walder
Images by Stephen Reinhardt

Theatre review
Pippi is in a medical facility, surrounded by technology and experts. A doctor and a nurse attend to her, although they demonstrate little care for their patient’s well-being, choosing instead to focus on the science and gadgetry purportedly designed to make us feel better. Roomba Nation is concerned with that disconnect between humans, in a modern age defined by personal independence and isolation, as an ironic result of human advancement. Looking at the way technology is able to take over our existence, the show foregrounds humanity, asking questions about our ever-changing relationship with nature.

Pippi says she is unwell, but her sickness is a mystery. Instead of showing any obvious symptoms of illness, what she presents is a need for attention and connection. The human touch it seems, is still necessary, in these times of virtual everything. Roomba Nation talks about neglect, and we wonder if in the pursuit of progress, our focus has abandoned that which is truly important. Values are constantly shifting, because we are constantly changing. The mortal flesh however, seems to retain a stubbornness, that disallows us from living only in highly evolved states of mind. No matter how clever we think ourselves to be, the reality of bodies, keeps us humble.

Production design by Duncan Maurice is pristine, delightfully and humorously so, to reflect the septic quality of the world being explored. The three characters are absurd and abstract manifestations of people in hospitals, performed by Alison Bennett, Nick O’Regan and Kate Walder, an invigorating ensemble as fascinating they are funny. In accompaniment are three automated vacuum cleaners, dressed up as robots to symbolise the dehumanisation of society, but are otherwise underwhelming with what they bring to the stage. It is a charming piece of theatre, perhaps insufficiently incisive with what it communicates, but an eccentric spirit makes up for its shortcomings.

Resistance may be futile, but when we submit to technology, in our very participation of it, opportunities for ethical choices can still be found. Technology never exists separate from us. It comes from us, and continues to depend upon us. As long as we remain indispensable, we have to believe that it is within our power, to shape the future in accordance with the best of our nature. Efforts to make life easier are inseparable from all that we do, but complacency will only deliver the exact opposite.

www.hurrahhurrah.com.au