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

Review: Are You Listening Now? (Five Foot Productions)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 29 – Feb 2, 2019
Playwright: Xavier Coy
Director: Ed Wightman
Cast: Martin Bell, Xavier Coy, Fiona Mahl, Emily J Stewart
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Mez and Gaz are intruders in a 6-million-dollar house, with intentions not only to burgle but also to teach the affluent homeowners a lesson. Even though Xavier Coy’s Are You Listening Now? makes its point about wealth distribution with no concern for subtlety, the message is nonetheless an important one. By embedding plenty of comedy and drama, the writer ensures his play to be an amusing one, and laughing about class is certainly a worthwhile activity, at these times of unprecedented prosperity for the top end of town.

Directed by Ed Wightman, the staging is energetic, with a high level of intensity fortifying the hour-long piece. Coy himself performs the role of Gaz, adept at delivering laughs in his portrayal of a surprising innocent. His criminal mentor Mez is played by Fiona Mahl, who in her strongest moments, can prove impressively convincing. Emily J Stewart is riveting as Claudia, one-half of the rich couple under siege, a persuasive presence who brings much needed nuance to the production. Multimillionaire Charles is a predictable personality that Martin Bell is able to make believable, for a familiar portrayal of Sydney-style privilege.

It is sometimes surprising to observe the degree to which Australia has embraced neo-liberalism. For generations we have prided ourselves on our egalitarianism, but it appears that greed is truly indomitable. The moral at the centre of Are You Listening Now? is timeless and pertinent; money is a complex beast that if left unchallenged, will inflict harm and turn us inhumane. Mez’s refusal to obey rules that are designed to subjugate her, is admirable, but without compatriots joining her rebellion, we see that a one-woman movement can amount to nothing more than empty gestures.

www.facebook.com/fixedfootproductions

Review: Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony (Montague Basement)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jan 8 – 19, 2019
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Lucy Burke, Jeremi Campese, Lulu Howes, Annie Stafford
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
The play is structured around title cards of its 1922 silent film forebear, so Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony is more than a little indebted, not only to that German classic, but also to its legitimate point of origin, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is an update of sorts, but also a kind of demystification of the greatest vampire story ever told, for a 2019 audience. Themes of horror, lust and survival, converge with very contemporary concerns that include xenophobia, the me too movement, capitalism, wealth disparity and property ownership, resulting in a new version stripped of old world romance, revealing a more utilitarian dimension of the supernatural tale.

Director Saro Lusty-Cavallari demonstrates artistic innovation alongside an enthusiastic intellect, for this creative, albeit slightly clinical, reinterpretation. The production is at its most mesmerising when allowed to venture into the bizarre. When proffering the political, its approach has a tendency to be obvious. Detailed work on lighting design by Veronique Benett helps to manufacture a sense of visual dynamism, and Justin Gardam’s music brings excellent atmospheric transformations to each surprising scene change.

A motley crew of characters are played by four engaging actors, including Jeremi Campese whose remarkable conviction as the Count, delivers a realistic portrayal of evil that turns the walking dead into a living, breathing rendition of one of the world’s richest men. Lulu Howes’ intense presence gives complexity to the naive Hutton, cleverly resisting our urge to conveniently underestimate her, as we traditionally do all the women in this story. A very enjoyable flamboyance is introduced by Annie Stafford who excels in the show’s more comical and absurd dimensions, and Lucy Burke is relied upon to provide a warmth to this otherwise entirely inhumane milieu.

There is very little that could be done to hold the extremely rich to account; Dracula and Nosferatu are our 1% and they literally get away with murder. In our fantasies, they can be destroyed with a stake through the heart, a reflection of how we are never able to accept their invincibility. Humans are incurably hopeful, for life is in many ways synonymous with hope, but much of our truth, as is evidenced in the pessimism of Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony is beyond repair. To exist however, requires that we continue searching for answers and solutions, even if we never really get anywhere, it is this motion of endeavouring that makes us virtuous.

www.montaguebasement.com

Review: All My Sleep And Waking (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 28 – Dec 22, 2018
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Di Adams, Angela Bauer, Alex Beauman, Richard Sydenham
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Anne has to confront very complicated feelings about her father. As his death approaches, all that had resulted from a troubled family life must finally be attended to. Together with Maria and Peter, the three siblings must get each other through this difficult time, and perhaps work towards a resolution for decades of psychological damage. All My Sleep And Walking by Mary Rachel Brown is a study of broken homes, staggeringly authentic in its observations, and admirably honest with its intentions. Although not a pessimistic work, the play’s realistic rendering of a daughter’s struggle, and of delicate family dynamics, is a refreshing alternative to stories of this nature that always seem determined to be improbably uplifting. Here, just to be able to encounter the unvarnished truth, proves powerful enough to satisfy.

Directed by Dino Dimitriadis, the production is deliciously taut, with meticulous attention on interactions between characters that delivers some very gripping drama. Anne is played by Di Adams, whose work is imbued with integrity, for a very believable, albeit overly serious, portrait of fortification and incredible stoicism. As Maria, Angela Bauer offers an emotional counterbalance, fabulously intense yet astutely humorous, for an outstanding performance that has us mesmerised. Richard Sydenham is delightful as Peter, with quirky mannerisms that prove endearing, and impressive nuance for every line that he dispenses. Anne’s son Josh, is played by a persuasive Alex Beauman whose relaxed naturalism adds valuable dimension to our experience of the show.

Maybe one’s father never did his best, or maybe his best was simply not good enough. Either way, regardless of his intentions, one has to suffer the consequences of an unsatisfactory parenthood, whilst imagining perfect fathers abound in every other household. Self preservation requires that Anne takes on merciless strategies; she vilifies him brutally and spares no thought for his feelings, even as he is ravaged by cancer. The degree of hurt that she suffers is palpable, and from our vantage point, forgiveness would do her a great deal of good, but that is of course, easier said that done. Anne can only access what is available to her, and when we want more for her, we reveal our inability to understand the devastation she has to bear. The miracle lies instead, in her own abilities as a mother. We watch her son grow into a stable and secure adult, and are awestruck by the incredible breaking of a curse.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com

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.

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