Review: Van De Maar Papers (Ratcatch / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 9 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Alexander Lee-Rekers
Director: Camilla Turnbull
Cast: Melissa Hume, Jessie Lancaster, Tom Matthews, Lucy Miller, Nathalie Murray, Terry Serio, Sophie Strykowski, Simon Thomson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
A man of extraordinary wealth and influence has died, leaving behind a secret manuscript that he wishes to get published, now that he is no longer here to face the critics. The family however, will have to suffer the consequences of a book that could well destroy the family name. Alexander Lee-Rekers’ Van De Maar Papers is concerned with ambition. Levi Van De Maar, the deceased, had wanted to achieve something that he only saw possible after leaving this mortal coil. His wife Christine has her own priorities of self-preservation, as does Frank, a nephew trying to make his own mark in a world that only sees him as a surname.

Lee-Rekers’ writing is often fascinating, with an idiosyncratic humour that keeps us amused. The production can however feel too serious and slow, with director Camilla Turnbull placing emphasis on conveying psychological accuracy, and comedic impulses made somewhat secondary. Lucy Miller and Simon Thomson play the main surviving Van De Maars, both actors believable if slightly too subtle in their approach. The role of unscrupulous publisher Ron Huck is depicted with an enjoyable theatricality by Terry Serio, whose relentless vibrancy is a real asset for the show. At times, he seems to be the only one who is in on the joke with the audience.

The obsession with money and status in Van De Maar Papers encourages us to question our own values. Juxtaposed against the inevitability of death, we are struck by the intensity with which the shallow and the materialistic can overwhelm and determine every course of action. We know with absolute certainty the brevity of existence, yet we submit to meaningless pursuits, letting the appetite to outdo one another, take over the entirety of our being. There are better things to do than to invest in keeping up with neighbours; the tricky thing is to be able to identify that which will be truly fulfilling, and stick with it.

www.old505theatre.com

5 Questions with Chelsea Needham and Cassandra Sorrell

Chelsea Needham

Cassandra Sorrell: Did you always want to be an actor and musician?
I always wanted to be loud and untameable. There is nothing more exciting than sitting across from other humans an expressing yourself in the rawest way possible. Nothing more exciting for both parties.

Why do you think it’s important that these characters are both women?
I think it’s more important that these two figures identify similarly. The play is a universal exploration of the gray area between truth and lies that is essential to functioning human interaction and relationships.

What has been most challenging about this play?
Leaving rehearsals with an adjusted idea of what your truth is.

What’s your favourite line in I (Love) You?
‘It tastes like spinach but chunky.’

If you could design a piece of technology for the future what would it be?
An endless plant based goats cheese growing machine!

Cassandra Sorrell

Chelsea Needham: So I hear you write and act and do all sorts of amazing things, is there one thing that draws you in the most?
Cassandra Sorrell: Acting had always been my main drive until I discovered a confidence in my writing. Now the two ebb and flow in regards to what serves me more as an artist at any given time.

What’s the best and worst thing about being in a play set in the future?
The best thing is having the luxury to create a world in the room, throw around ideas and explore what could be possible. The worst thing is not having definitive facts to rely on.

Would you implant a ‘truth chip’ in your brain to stop you from lying?
Potentially. I would like to know who that person is and how I would relate to the world. I feel like I would be more authentic. At the same time…would it be to the detriment of creative license, as an artist?

What do you think is most important message about I (Love) You?
That truth must first be discovered in oneself before demanding it from another.

Is it true that the playwright’s dog comes to rehearsals?
No comment.

Chelsea Needham and Cassandra Sorrell can be seen in I (Love) You by Eliza Oliver.
Dates: 18 – 29 Jun, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Normal (The Uncertainty Principle / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 29 – Jun 15, 2019
Playwright: Katie Pollock
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Chika Ikogwe, Alexandra Morgan, Cecilia Morrow, Finley Penrose
Images by James Balian

Theatre review
Teenager Poppy’s eyes begin to twitch one day, and before too long her entire being spasms, to the extent that she passes out in public without warning. It appears a disease has taken hold, one of a mysterious nature that compels all around her to formulate narratives, to impose judgement upon the young woman’s body. When the same symptoms are seen in her school friends, this spreading of an unexplained phenomenon, fractures Poppy’s community, with people seeing only difference of opinion, and not what binds them together. Katie Pollock’s Normal is an intriguing work, because it allows for ambiguity, even though its expressions are passionate. Poppy’s resistance of definition, of not wanting to be pinned down, is a tale about female bodily integrity. It refuses to fit into a structure that would make us comfortable, for its autonomy comes before our conventional stipulations.

Normal‘s politics are never obvious, but director Anthony Skuse makes sure that it speaks with an incontrovertible urgency. The ensemble of four conspire to deliver something quite intense, with Alexandra Morgan’s turn as Poppy bringing a satisfying mix of youthful innocence and exuberance to the play. Chika Ikogwe is wonderful in a variety of roles, always a striking presence, yet marvellously persuasive with her naturalistic style of presentation. Cecilia Morrow and Finley Penrose too are effective in the show, both infectious with their zeal and conviction.

The production is cleverly designed, with Kelsey Lee’s lights monitoring proceedings through a combined sense of dynamism and sensitivity, and her set providing an elegant visual cohesion to the many short scenes that comprise the plot. Sound by Cluny Edwards is imaginative, with a distinctive kooky edge, able to facilitate unexpected dimensions for the story and its characters.

One of the most dangerous things that could happen to society as we know it, is for women to reject any attempts to control our bodies. The radical notion that we can do what we want with our lives and with our corporeality, goes against so much of what constitutes the fundamental building blocks of what we are. Old religions and other old patriarchies require our subjugation and capitulation, so to have women take charge of our own destinies, can only mean devastation to life as we know it, which is absolutely a future to look forward to.

www.old505theatre.com

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