Review: Frida Kahlo: Viva La Vida (Théâtre Excentrique / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 23 – May 4, 2019
Playwright: Humberto Robles (adapted by Gaël Le Cornec and Luis Benkard)
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Kate Bookallil
Images by Mansoor Noor

Theatre review
Frida Kahlo contracted polio at six, and at eighteen, a traffic accident further injured her body, causing a lifetime of excruciating pain, that would inform all of her work and legacy. In Humberto Robles’ one-woman play Frida Kahlo: Viva La Vida, we see Kahlo trapped at home, alone with her thoughts and the constant state of torture that her body must endure. She talks about art, love, business and politics, offering an opportunity for her legions of admirers to feel as though at close quarters with the Mexican icon.

Performed by Kate Bookallil, whose jovial presence imbues the show with warmth, insisting that audiences regard Kahlo’s story with only open hearts. Her exuberance conveys a lightness to the character that has a tendency to ameliorate some of Kahlo’s struggles, but we engage with her nonetheless, always caring about our protagonist, and hang on to every word she says. Director Anna Jahjah’s spirited approach makes for a playful show, appropriately colourful, especially with its visual manifestations. There could be greater tonal shifts, for a more segmented presentation to help us better absorb the text, but Frida Kahlo: Viva La Vida‘s strong statements about resilience and perseverance, bears an appeal that is universal.

Kahlo’s defiance is inspiring, powerful, and beautifully transcendent. We see her fighting to the death, and understand the depths of our individual capacities for hardship. Life is not fair. Although Kahlo did experience success late in life, she never had the privilege to see with her own eyes, the extent to which her work has reached, and touched, women everywhere. Our collective admiration would have empowered her in ways we can only imagine. We are all queens, when we raise each other up, and stay connected in mutual succour. If we are determined to leave no one behind, what we can achieve will truly be unprecedented.

www.theatrexcentrique.com

Review: Ajax (Burning House / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 23 – May 4, 2019
Playwright: Sophocles (adapted by Jonothan Graffam, Robert Johnson)
Director: Robert Johnson
Cast: Leikny Middleton, Chad O’Brien, Seton Pollock, Michelle Robertson
Images by Mansoor Noor

Theatre review
When we meet Ajax, the revered warrior is in a state of disillusion, confused not only by bloodshed from endless battles, but also by the futility of his ambitions. Jonothan Graffam and Robert Johnson’s adaptation of Ajax attempts to reinstate relevance, in transporting Sophocles’s story by millennia to the present day. Its spirit is still in that conspicuous style of the classic Greek tragedy, but its brevity can cause a deficiency, as we try to construct meaningful narratives from its abbreviations.

Director Robert Johnson does good work with atmosphere; there is a certain level of sophistication to how the production looks and sounds, perhaps as a result of the simplicity evident in his approach. A very substantial portion of the show consists of monologues by the eponym, and on this occasion, Seton Pollock plays Ajax, covered in blood, and in a lot of anguish. It is a performance that begins with meters in the red, and stays there the whole time. His conviction is admirable, but that unwavering delivery of hyper intensity, quickly turns alienating.

Mythology sends our women and men to war. When our young go seeking glory, it is our stories that determine where they choose to find it. So much of myth making today, is about defending ourselves from those who want to corrupt and destroy our hitherto unsullied way of life. Our refusal to understand those who are conveniently classed other, and our insistence on seeing ourselves as being inculpable and above reproach, are the fundamentals on which we build national identity, and the justification for many lives lost. It is certain that defence is necessary, for evil is real, but peace must be found in many more ways that through the sacrifice of our brave souls.

www.burninghousetheatre.com

Review: The Divorce Party (Life After Productions / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 12 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Liz Hobart
Director: Alexander Lee-Rekers
Cast: Meg Clarke, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Ariadne Sgouros, Alexander Stylianou
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
We are in a car park behind a restaurant with four attendees of a divorce party, taking a cigarette break from the unusual festivities. Liz Hobart’s The Divorce Party is a curious work, structured like a puzzle to involve our participation in figuring out the stories therein. Although mildly intriguing, the play’s deliberate abstruseness never pays off. Barely an hour long, we lose interest early in the piece, and by the time its mysteries are revealed, none of it is able to cause a stir.

Set design by Damien Egan however, is charming with its accuracy in depicting contemporary Australian life, complete with push bin and bad graffiti. The actors demonstrate adequate familiarity with their individual roles, even if their collaboration feels incohesive. Ariadne Sgouros and Alexander Stylianou bring energy at every opportunity, and succeed in creating momentary stimuli for the piece. Meg Clarke has little to work with in terms of storyline, but manages to build a character of some authenticity. A very subtle performance by Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn helps create an enigmatic, if slightly too sombre, quality for his role.

With the proliferation of divorces, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that some people might want to commemorate the event. What was once a catalyst for vehement disapproval from all quarters, is now an ordinary part of life. When a relationship ends, it often means that suffering too, begins to find relief, so it does make sense that celebration is in order. As long as people wish to get married, there needs to be a liberal attitude towards divorce. Nobody should be tethered to any misery, and we should all know to walk out, if the heart so desires.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Seed Bomb (Subtlenuance / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 5 – 9, 2019
Playwright: Daniela Giorgi
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Matthew Abotomey, Kate Bookallil, Lindsey Chapman, Sonya Kerr, Julian Ramundi
Image by Matthew Abotomey

Theatre review
Kat dreams of moving out to the country, so that she can escape the ugly rat race of city life. Upon meeting guerrilla gardeners Gridlock and Pax however, her mind changes, as she begins involvement in a political movement that helps her feel an integral part of community. Daniela Giorgi’s Seed Bomb talks about the responsibility of individuals, in an environment where the power to influence our own destinies, is routinely made to feel diminished. Kat discovers that she is not helpless in her home, and to leave it for greener pastures is in some ways a selfish act.

Giorgi’s benevolent writing is idealistic but not naive. Although its didacticism has a tendency to turn obvious, the immediacy of its concerns bear a pertinence that keeps us engaged, with Kat’s awakening bringing a sense of hope to our humdrum passivity. Directed by Paul Gilchrist, the show is tender and earnest, insufficiently dynamic but certainly authentic with its representations. Actor Sonya Kerr is particularly genuine in her convincing portrayal of Kat, our mild-mannered protagonist who learns to carve her own niche in micro activism.

Other cast members are similarly accomplished. Matthew Abotomey and Kate Bookallil bring conviction to their roles as provocateurs of the piece, both distinct and specific with their respective interpretations of the modern social justice warrior. Excellent comedy by a very cheeky Lindsey Chapman, who plays an ignorant financial adviser, leaves a lasting impression. The frustrations of Kat’s partner Toby are conveyed persuasively by Julian Ramundi, whose depiction of the one left behind, serves as caution against political apathy.

Whether we like it or not, to exist is to be political. We can choose either to participate or withdraw, but there is never neutrality in any of our decisions. Everything we say and do, causes reverberations, like dominoes toppling in all directions. Kat does not become radical, but her new awareness of things beneath the surface, has sparked a fundamental shift in how she behaves. We can never be sure if knowledge will necessarily improve lives; after all, ignorance is bliss. There is however, no possibility for reversal, once the truth is out. This is only the beginning of Kat’s story, what is to follow is a test of our optimism and faith.

www.subtlenuance.com

Review: Wyngarde! A Celebration (G.bod Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 2, 2019
Devised by: Garth Holcombe, Peter Mountford
Director: Peter Mountford
Cast: Garth Holcombe
Images by Richard Hedger

Theatre review
Peter Wyngarde gained mainstream popularity in 1969 as Jason King, a novelist turned sleuth, in the UK television series Department S. A flamboyant actor, known for his horseshoe moustache and bronzed skin, he is one of innumerable twentieth century celebrities who had never come out of the closet, yet remains an integral part of British gay culture. His 1975 arrest for gross indecency in a public toilet forms part of his mystique, but as was typical of the times, his queerness was kept obscured, refused acknowledgement by wider society. The public would only allow a sex symbol who could not threaten their heteronormativity, and Wyngarde acquiesced.

Garth Holcombe and Peter Mountford’s Wyngarde! A Celebration is a re-framing of the personality, an insistence that we look at old narratives with new eyes, to form a history that makes sense in terms of how we experience the world today. As though a private audience with Wyngarde himself, in which his inhibitions are shed, and we witness him able to be his true self at last. Holcombe has the right charisma for the role, but is occasionally hesitant. The cocky debonair masculinity of a bygone era is portrayed alongside a camp sensibility, to make a statement about the evolution of gay identities, and to form a reminder of a community’s legacy of struggle.

For all the bravado that Wyngarde enjoys putting on display, there is a loneliness that pervades. There is an unmistakable pride in his long career in stage and film, but we sense something unfulfilled. Wyngarde! A Celebration can feel too gentle in its approach. We want a bawdy tell-all, but it gives us instead, something with more integrity than we are perhaps accustom to, in this age of ubiquitous intrusion and humiliation. It is our nature to seek authenticity, but it appears that revealing everything often serves to distract from the truth. Many things are left unsaid in Wyngarde’s story, and that is perhaps his very essence, and the most accurate representation of the man we have come looking for.

www.gbodtheatre.com

Review: The Bed Party (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 12 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Sophia Davidson Gluyas
Director: Sophia Davidson Gluyas
Cast: Mathilde Anglade, Julia Billington, Brigitta Brown, Margarita Gershkovich, Suz Mawer, Alex Moulis

Theatre review
Six queer women share their “ideas, jokes and intimacies” in a display of community and solidarity in Sophia Davidson Gluyas’ The Bed Party. They congregate in a bedroom, discussing life and love, bringing each of her own perspectives and challenges, to find consensus or simply to receive validations, within the circle of their trusting group. The conventional plot plays second fiddle in this feminist approach to storytelling. The sparkling dialogue has its own distinctive rhythms. Lines are not in service of a bigger project of narrative construction, but are themselves the emphasis of the play. We listen to what the women are saying, how they say it, and distil all the meanings in between. It peaks in waves, in acknowledgement of our capacity for more than a singular momentary apex.

The show begins abruptly, unable to find a mode of naturalism that would guide us comfortably into its microcosm, but its chemistry gradually develops and we are soon completely, and wonderfully, immersed. It is a warm cast, not entirely believable as close friends, but certainly a welcoming bunch of personalities that wins us over easily. Mathilde Anglade’s cheeky charm in the role of George is a delight, as she works every comedic opportunity in the script to her advantage, and for our thorough amusement. Julia Billington delivers dramatic intensity along with ideological power, as Bri the sensible half of a partnership determined not to procreate.

As independent women, we learn to make our own rules, and we take the liberty to choose our own families. We are fearless, but we are thoughtful, always careful to design a way of living that is ethically sound, as well as being genuinely fulfilling. We question everything in front of us, and view all that had come before us with great suspicion. That which is prescribed, is rejected until proven worthy, and saying no to anyone is a breeze. Above all however, a powerful woman honours the sisterhood, and leaves no other behind.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: The Other Side Of 25 (Bontom Productions)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 5 – 9, 2019
Playwright: Becca Hurd
Director: Ellen Wiltshire
Cast: Becca Hurd
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Amory is 27 and pregnant, but tells us that babies are not her bag. Life is taking her on a journey, and she believes that to fall pregnant, is to take a pause from her meaningful experience of something much greater. Becca Hurd’s The Other Side Of 25 is indeed about the meaning of life, and quite accurately, its protagonist discovers that there is little as wonderful about existence, as it is to be of service to loved ones. It is soon revealed that Amory is surrogate, on behalf of her sister who has a medical condition that causes problems with child-bearing.

The one-woman show format compels its playwright to make deeply personal revelations that in turn, inspire our own reflections on big questions surrounding convention and inventiveness, the mundane and the sacred, ephemerality and legacy. Its unpretentious honesty allows a deceptively simple story to be told, in a style that is strikingly casual, by director Ellen Wiltshire who catches us unawares with the philosophies that the show contains. Hurd herself performs the piece, with a disarming immediacy that makes us imagine that everything must be autobiographical. Her instinct for the stage insists on our undivided attention, and we follow her every progression in relaying Amory’s story.

When we stop to think about procreation, the amount of reasons that can dissuade an individual from taking the plunge can be daunting. Amory’s decision to carry her sister’s baby is one of logic, but the vast majority of pregnancies occur in a space of emotion and intuition. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we have complete understanding about our individual paths in the world, but in a moment of control being usurped, Amory finds herself unwittingly transported. What was once a hindrance, turns in a flash, into something to be cherished above all else.

www.bontom.com.au