Review: Knots (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Dec 5 – 17, 2017
Creators: Gareth Boylan, Kerri Glasscock, Michael Pigott
Director: Gareth Boylan
Cast: Giles Gartrell-Mills, Kerri Glasscock, Michael Pigott
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Jerry likes watching people, as if he has never seen people before. At the theatre, we have the opportunity to look at ourselves as though aliens have just landed. With fresh eyes, we might be able to gain new knowledge about humankind, and perhaps learn to do things better.

Knots prides itself on being obscure and random; keen to speak but not to explain. There is space travel in the mix, and certainly a lot of exploration into all things weird and wonderful. Just as the earth spins on its own accord, we have to go along for the ride, and figure things out the best we can.

The work is fabulously theatrical, and notwithstanding its minimal set design, very pleasing for the senses. Director Gareth Boylan’s manipulations of atmosphere is magical. He persuades our minds to attend to the poetry of Knots, and to make secondary our usual obsession with logic and narrative. Meaning happens, but not at our demand.

The conscious mind is only one part of our constitution. When we find ourselves wholly present and immersed in a work of art, interaction with it involves more than what can be thought through. Knots disrupts conventional reliance on the standardised language of our storytelling. It seeks to communicate in alternate ways, in order perhaps, that we may attain a level of awareness previously unavailable.

Giles Gartrell-Mills, Kerri Glasscock and Michael Pigott perform the piece with excellent focus and discipline. Occasional smatterings of humour provide a sense of dimension, and emotional volatility that seem to appear unexpectedly, helps us connect.

Most plays can be written down and re-staged, but Knots does not want to work that way. It is hard to imagine that the written word will satisfactorily capture its style and essence; its desire is to go boldly where no person has gone before. What we want from theatre, is vastly different from what a good book can deliver. At its most fundamental, theatre is about community and collaboration. It rejects distance and proxy, so you really had to be there.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Plastic (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 18, 2017
Playwright: Mark Rogers
Director: Sanja Simic
Cast: Nick Bartlett, Hannah Goodwin, Harry McGee, Douglas Niebling, Michelle Ny
Image by Carly Young

Theatre review
When we first meet Franz, he seems nice enough. A young scientist excited for the opportunity to discover wonderful things about the universe, he soon gets absorbed into the big machine of corporations, academia and the fourth estate, and idealism turns corrupt, as the golden boy attempts to carve out a name for himself in Mark Rogers’ Plastic.

Having little more than Franz’s personal reputation and career at stake, the context is admittedly dry, but although not a particularly moving story, Plastic is written with remarkable inventiveness and nuance. Its dialogue is consistently amusing, and the playwright’s theatrical flair concocts a range of characters that come readily to life on stage.

Sanja Simic’s exacting and energetic direction makes for a marvellously captivating show. We may not care very much for Franz’s predicament, but we find ourselves nonetheless fascinated, and thoroughly entertained by the production’s clever presentation of sequences that reveal its plot.

The spirited cast of five has a whale of a time, and we go along gleefully with their infectious exuberance. Their work is impressively well-rehearsed, and each actor demonstrates a thrilling sense of passionate conviction, along with an arresting fastidiousness required of the script. The charming Nick Bartlett keeps us attentive to Franz’s narrative even as the character proves himself to have few redeeming features. The roles are not particularly likeable, but there is no resisting the charm offensive from these players.

We often worry about our art being stifled by commercial forces, but in Plastic, we see that things are no different for those working in the field of science. Instead of discovering and cultivating the best that one has to offer the world, individuals pursue only things that promise reward and glory. With our eye on the prize, as it were, we lose sight of the bigger picture, and of greater possibilities. Innovation pertains to that which is yet unknown, but if we focus only on results already predetermined, progress will forever be suppressed.

www.bodysnatcherstheatre.com

Review: The Natural Conservatorium For Wise Women (Clockfire Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 3 – 21, 2017
Director: Emily Ayoub
Cast: Alicia Gonzalez, Sam Newing-Stern, Catherine Parle, Laura Turner, Tony Weir
Image by Geoff Magee

Theatre review
The patriarchy is constantly at war. In a system that benefits few, it has to protect itself from many enemies, especially those who have awoken from its deceptive manipulations, and are now aware of the injustices it generates. The Natural Conservatorium For Wise Women is an allegorical expression of the nature of patriarchy, in which we meet a man sitting atop a lonely throne, inside the strict boundaries of his miserable home, whilst others are outside engaged in blood-drenched combat on his behalf.

A highly imaginative work with only a slight reliance on dialogue, it is the sheer theatricality we encounter that truly excites. The characters tell a meaningful story, but it is the craft being put on display that is most captivating. There is much to admire, in the very specific discipline cultivated by this team of artists, with its strong emphasis on human physicality, rather than a more conventional use of emotional and verbal capacities as devices of communication. Informed by traditions of dance and mime, it is a style of performance that we rarely see in the landscapes of Australian art and is hence, an immediately refreshing experience for our audiences.

It is a very accomplished cast, with Tony Weir sensational as the decaying patriarch. Mesmerised, we watch closely as he mobilises every fibre of his being to turn the stage into a living, breathing thing that insists on our undivided attention. Weir’s commanding presence, and his powerfully seductive eyes, guide us through each moment with commendable precision and an inspiring sense of wonder. Alicia Gonzalez and Catherine Parle too, are terrific with their eccentric concoction of personalities, and the beautiful simplicity built into their unique language, is quite sublime. Space and atmosphere are finely tuned by director Emily Ayoub, who delivers a creation elegantly minimal in its aesthetic, but rich in resonance.

There is no end to the things we can talk about in the theatre, and there is no end to the different ways in which we can have those conversations, yet we seem to go about things in predictable fashion, choosing to persist with refining usual modes of presentation, instead of investing in the new. Our conservative art is symptomatic of the conservative times in which we live, and one might begin to interpret this unmistakable apathy as though there is nothing left to fight for. The opposite is true of course, but until we wake from the dulled and disillusioned dormancy of an existence that has resigned itself to the parochial, events like The Natural Conservatorium For Wise Women can only be an exception and not the norm.

www.clockfiretheatre.com

Review: I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Son Of A Bitch (Théâtre Excentrique)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 22 – Sep 2 2017
Playwright: Rodrigo Garcia (translated by William Gregory)
Director: Anna Jahjah
Cast: Gerry Sont, Sister Ursuline
Image by Emma Lois

Theatre review
It is unlikely that one should lose sleep to something sacred. We worry about money, work, and all other things that feed the ego, but art and philosophy tend not to keep us awake at night. In fact, they can be relied on to offer the comfort that lulls us into slumber. Rodrigo Garcia’s 50-minute monologue I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Son Of A Bitch, is about a middle-aged man resisting the profanities of daily life that can so easily overwhelm our existence.

His two young sons, dreaming about visiting Disneyland, are the inspiration for his attempts at shifting focus onto a higher plane of consciousness. The importance of art and philosophy is all he wants to impart, and he stakes his entire life’s savings of 5,000 Euro on the exercise. Indeed, to be able to gift the best to your dearest, is worth every penny, even if all one gets in return is intangible.

The work is hugely passionate, almost hysterical in its desire to expound its anti-capitalistic ideals. Rarely overtly political, it talks little about what it rejects, choosing instead to delve fervently into its earnest and fantastical explorations, involving in part, the Prado Museum and a long cab ride. Director Anna Jahjah creates a sense of urgency appropriate to the writing, along with a whimsical optimism that helps open us up to the play’s intellectual provocations. Gerry Sont is effervescent as actor of the piece, a warm, likeable presence although not quite humorous enough for what is required. Live music by Sister Ursuline (cello and vocals) provides a romantic dimension, to the discussion of sacred versus banal, art against commerce.

The staging encompasses both the earthy and the ethereal. In being human, we are of the mundane, but also inseparable from the many greater realms that our minds allow. Social forces will insist on our compliance with regards all things pragmatic. Rules, regulations and bills will attempt to shape our lives in a certain way, but our spirit cannot be contained. As long as we understand that the capacity for imagination is real, then what we become, is beyond repression.

www.theatrexcentrique.com

Review: Little Borders (Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 4 – 15, 2017
Playwright: Phillip Kavanagh
Director: Dominic Mercer
Cast: Lucy Goleby, Brandon McClelland
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Elle and Steve are moving houses, because they have convinced themselves that their Middle Eastern neighbour is a terrorist. Little Borders by Phillip Kavanagh, is about the paranoid, fearful and narcissistic people that many of us have become, in a confused world that has us believe that things will go wrong in an instant, and that other people are to blame.

The young couple is bestowed every social and economic privilege that could give them the best opportunity at a comfortable existence, yet they are full of volatility and hostility, obsessed with the idea that their lives are going to fall apart at any given moment. Their self-destructive behaviour is depicted with biting astuteness by Kavanagh, who reveals the insidious nature of hate in our contemporary communities.

The production is suitably dark, if slightly too predictable in its despair. The important messages of Little Borders are given remarkable elucidation by director Dominic Mercer, and we leave shaken by our disastrous reflection, but the show has a tendency to feel too safe and slightly unambitious in its interpretations of Kavanagh’s bold writing. We sense that the words provide room for a greater theatricality, although its minimalism is nonetheless effective, and beautifully executed. Set design by Charlie Edward Davis and Jeremy Allen, is understated but charming, and undeniably memorable.

Actors Lucy Goleby and Brandon McClelland prove themselves to be highly accomplished in the piece. Goleby’s intensity, although quiet and contained, is a captivating study of Elle, a woman gripped by insecurity and irrational anxiety. She keeps us inquisitive, and terrified, by her authentic manifestation of a person that we sometimes find ourselves being. McClelland is a charismatic presence, with immaculate hair and perfect teeth providing disguise for a character that has no redeeming features. His juxtaposition of clean cut suburban wellness against the pure evil of Steve’s words and actions, is chilling, and perversely entertaining.

It is a frightening look at the psyche of our worst neighbours. The play resonates with an alarming accuracy, even though the events that unfold are very dramatic and extreme. It is truthful in what it says about modern life; the interminable feeling of inadequacy, and the need to infringe upon the lives of others, as we proceed to suppress everything that we have no understanding of. We are not told however, how it is that Elle and Steve have become such monsters; Kavanagh’s deliberate omission is provocative. We should really know those reasons for ourselves. These are our middle class lives, and we know these people. All the evidence that would explain their madness must already be in plain sight, if we choose to examine it.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: This Is Not Mills And Boon (Glorious Thing Theatre Co)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Erica J Brennan
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Alison Bennett, Emma Chelsey, Gabe Fancourt, Lynden Jones
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
When we first meet Abby, she surprises us with her prudishness. We think of sex as being universally appealing, and in this day and age, talking about sex is certainly de rigueur, if not interminable, so we wonder what problems Abby is struggling with, that makes her so uncomfortable with the topic.

The story unfolds as Abby begins reading, in secret, a collection of erotic stories. Written by her boyfriend’s mother, Nikki Sex’s book is titillating and wild, but also deeply cheesy and frequently nonsensical. We watch as the far-fetched tales begin to unravel the riddle surrounding Abby’s mystifying sexual nature.

Erica J Brennan’s This Is Not Mills And Boon is a smart, ambitious piece that deals with a young woman’s sexual awakening, or more accurately, it is about Abby’s self-discovery beyond the indoctrination and traditions that our young are subject to. There is good attempt at depicting sexuality as being individualistic and idiosyncratic, and hence, a fundamentally deviant feature of what we consider to be human nature, but Brennan’s characters remain bound to an ideal of monogamy and heteronormativity, which prevents the play from foraging deeper into its philosophical interests, thus losing an opportunity to be truly subversive, or edifying, with its declarations.

Director Richard Hilliar introduces a wanton sense of humour to fantasy sequences that makes the show very enjoyable, but a tendency to be overly earnest with our protagonist’s central predicament, can make its naturalistic scenes needlessly severe. Abby needs to lighten up, as does the show.

Funny lady Alison Bennett delivers laughs in all of her extravagant guises. Sharply intuitive, and wonderfully campy, it is a very bawdy performance that pushes all the right buttons (look out for some physical work featuring Bennett’s extraordinarily dexterous tongue). Also very comedic is Gabe Fancourt as the endearing boyfriend Sol, whose unabashed approach to the portrayal of sex object, is as refreshing as it is hilarious.

Although Emma Chelsey’s interpretation of a plain and reserved personality can often feel too literal and hence lacklustre, her Abby is dignified and honest, with a sincerity that makes the whole exercise convincing. The troubling relationship between Abby and her father is a crucial part of the narrative, and Lynden Jones is strong in that role. His lines are perhaps not written with sufficient elegance, but Jones demonstrates excellent conviction even when the dialogue turns precarious.

The show makes fun of “Fifty Shades Of Beige”, but is itself shy with its own interrogations. It may not be Mills and Boon, but it is certainly no Marquis de Sade either. There is a naivety in how it thinks about sex, but its fervent need to reject convention in favour of a self-determined experience of sexuality and of identity, must be celebrated.

What makes each person feel good, is rarely the same, but what makes us all the same, is the need to discover the truth that lies within. It is human to want to poke and prod, to find something that feels resolutely at the core of our existence. Whether through art or through fucking, we can get to the thing that resides deep at the centre, that holds the meaning of life.

www.gloriousthingtheatreco.com

5 Questions with Emma Chelsey and Gabe Fancourt

Emma Chelsey

Gabe Fancourt: What’s the most challenging aspect of revisiting a character you’ve already played?
Emma Chelsey: I think it’s always important not to bring judgements or preconceived ideas of the character or comparisons to what you have done previously and just start again with a fresh set of eyes. This was challenging to do but I feel it was helpful. There was a lot of development to the script so a lot of it was new and hadn’t been investigated yet so I was able to go deeper having explored this person before and learn a lot more about her the second time around. It’s also easy to fall into a previous way of delivering lines so you have to break that vocal pattern and discover it again as if for the first time!

What did you learn about the play getting it in front of an audience the first time?
That it’s silly, funny, absurd and a thrill!

What is your character’s spirit animal?
Abby is a horse for sure. Flighty, skittish, easily affected by the energy around her, sensitive and can display both dominant and submissive behaviour depending on the situation!

How do you prepare for/ approach scenes that are sexual or intimate in nature?
With laughter. Literally that’s all you can do. You obviously make sure you and your scene partner are comfortable, you rehearse very specifically, everything is choreographed and then you laugh about it a lot…

What’s the strangest/ most unconventional thing about this play?
Sex on stage. It’s confronting and quite foreign to see in theatre and I am intrigued by what the audience reaction will be. Also, the sexual fantasies are strange and wonderful!

Gabe Fancourt

Emma Chelsey: Describe the play This Is Not Mills And Boon in five words.
Gabe Fancourt: Irreverent, playful, honest, dynamic, fun.

What is one of the questions you hope this play asks or answers?
I think with a large part of itself this play is grappling with the extent to which our identity, and in particular our sexual identity, is shaped by our sense of shame. How can we connect with our tastes and preferences when those impulses are met with reflexive shame?

What is the craziest acting related thing you’ve ever done?
In my first school play I was cast as a question mark. For research I interrogated people relentlessly with questions. I also hurt my back trying to get the physicality right.

What has been your favourite part of the process so far?
It sounds nerdy, but I really love the dramaturgical element involved in the development. Sitting down with a script and really sharpening in on how the scenes function and how the story is told in a clear and compelling way is something I find very satisfying.

What do you think is the naughtiest part of this production?
Definitely the fish on fish sex scene. (Spoiler alert)

Emma Chelsey and Gabe Fancourt can be seen in This Is Not Mills And Boon by Erica J Brennan.
Dates: 23 May – 3 June, 2017
Venue: Old 505 Theatre