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

Review: Air (Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 13 – 30, 2018
Playwright: Joanna Erskine
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Tel Benjamin, David Lynch, Diana McLean, Suzanne Pereira, Eloise Snape
Images by Mansoor Noor

Theatre review
Annabel works the graveyard shift at a community radio station, reading out obituary entries from the day’s newspaper. Usually an intensely solitary endeavour, interruptions begin to occur, as the phone starts ringing, and as visitors decide to drop by. Joanna Erskine’s Air is part supernatural thriller, and part family drama. It is an intriguing plot, if slightly too meandering, with some genuinely funny touches and moments of melancholy that are quite enthralling.

The play builds to a slightly underwhelming conclusion, but the journey is on the whole, a satisfying one. Director Anthony Skuse’s delicate approach casts a transformative spell over the space, allowing us to luxuriate in the hazy intimacy of the broadcast studio, where a sense of the metaphysical can come and go as it pleases. Eloise Snape is a very endearing Annabel, thoroughly authentic with the naturalism that her acting style embodies, especially delightful when presenting the subtle comedy of the piece. Tel Benjamin and Diana McLean are also on hand for further amusement, eliciting some very cheeky, and surprising, laughs when we least expect them.

Much of Air is a meditation on loneliness and isolation. That which provides safety to Annabel, involves the company of the deceased, and the shunning of the living. It is true that people are tiresome, often unbearable, so we understand the voluntary exile some might choose, over the difficult social responsibilities that are routinely thrust upon us. There is however, little that is rewarding in a life made invulnerable. To let the self be open, will inevitably incur hurt, but without obstacles, we might as well be dead. Annabel’s growth requires that she learns to care and protect, not just for herself, but also for others. It also requires that she makes decisions only with circumspection and not fear.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Mut (Motimaru Dance Company)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 6 – 10, 2018
Direction, Concept, Choreography, Dance: Tiziana Longo
Images by Yvonne Hartmann, Hiroshi Makino

Theatre review
The performance begins with a melange of sound clips from news reports all over the world, in a range of languages, many of which are foreign and incomprehensible, but there is no mistaking the gravity in every voice. Hidemi Nishida’s set design is a grand creation, formed entirely of newspaper and adhesive tape; we are drowned in the stuff, dreadfully familiar yet seductive. A figure starts to move, and a pile of discarded news begins to take human form.

Tiziana Longo’s dance presentation, Mut, can be seen as a discussion about society and culture’s prolonged and incessant attack on womanhood, with particular attention on the female body and its garments. We can also bring an interpretation to the work, that is concerned with information from the media, and the futile struggle in trying to locate truth among a barrage of commercial and political interests from the publishing world. It is a timely work, and as such, Mut touches a nerve.

The music, by Hoshiko Yamane, is sensational, incredibly dramatic in its expressions of a realm that is darkly foreboding in its psyche. Longo’s choreography is liberated, lavishly imagined, with a sense of dystopian glamour that produces breathtaking imagery, rarefied and captivating, although not always sufficiently thought-provoking. As performer, Longo’s presence can seem incongruously ethereal in sections that require something more grotesque, but when the heavy costumes are eventually shed, Longo brings her show to a conclusion that is as affecting as it is unpredictable.

We live in a civilisation where men feel entitled to grab pussies at will, so it should come as no surprise to realise that women are constantly berated for how we look. No matter what kind of body we inhabit, or how we choose to dress, it is always open season on those of the female gender. In a world where we can do no right, it is a wonder that so many of us should remain conditioned in our insatiable need to please.

www.motimarubutohdance.com