Review: Andrew Henry’s Vertical Dreaming (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Dec 5 – 15, 2017
Director: Andrew Henry
Cast: Andrew Henry
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
For Andrew Henry’s Vertical Dreaming, its eponym is for 50 minutes, onstage with songs and poems that have proved significant to his healing process, earlier in the year, at a mental health facility. Depression and bipolar disorder are discussed alongside addiction and lost loves, through a compilation of works by male poets, presented in the form of a monologue. Musical interludes by an accomplished band of four, add colour and breathing space to the production.

Henry reveals that the struggle of psychological disorders is an isolating one, with patients unable to extricate themselves from the constant torment of interminable introspection and self-flagellation. Unable to shift his attention away, meaningfully, to the outside world, that incessant examination of the self becomes perniciously despairing and narcissistic. The show attempts to engage our empathy, but it is our logical responses that are initiated, and we leave with a better understanding of our humanly dysfunctions.

It is a very strong performance by Henry, whose compelling presence and admirable skill as actor, has us spellbound to his adroit storytelling. The vulnerability he puts on display is immense, and it represents the most valuable element in this instance of live drama, but for all the anguish that we do witness, the message it ultimately imparts, is comparatively lacklustre.

Pain can only ever be subjective, but in art, it becomes communicable. To turn one’s suffering into a matter of relevance for another, is not often a straightforward exercise. Each can only perceive existence from their own vantage point, which the artist must negotiate with savvy and ingenuity. Everyone is susceptible to mental illness, but until we experience things firsthand, the chasm between sympathy and actuality, requires the greatest of sensitivity.

Review: Paper Doll (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 7 – 18, 2017
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Martin Ashley-Jones, Lucy Goleby
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
At its most fundamental, theatre is an instrument that wishes to get us together, and have us find consensus, or at least to gain valuable awareness on issues of relevance. We share space and come to an understanding of what each other thinks, when we laugh together, or when we hear people gasp in demonstration of their disapproval or outrage.

Katy Warner’s Paper Doll is a topical work about sexual predation and paedophilia, depicting a grown woman meeting her abuser, years after the fact. Dialogue is well crafted, but the work takes a safe approach, rarely controversial in how the subject is handled. The plot and its characters offer little that is new to how we regard the matter, although individuals who might be personally affected, would probably identify more palpable qualities.

Director Lucy Clements’ obvious attempts at manufacturing dramatic tension vary in effectiveness. The show has many captivating moments, but can at times feel laboured, in its efforts at creating something theatrical out of a quiet piece of writing. Both performers are strong personalities, with impressive stage presences. Lucy Goleby’s intensity dictates the tone of proceedings, while Martin Ashley-Jones brings a more organic interpretation that reads with a better sense of authenticity. We may not always be convinced of the action on stage, but the production makes all of its assertions crystal clear.

In representing the zeitgeist’s hot topics, a conundrum exists when our minds are already made up before entering the auditorium. There can only be one way of considering issues surrounding rape, and unless the production takes exceptional risks, the chances of it being less than predictable, are close to none. Paper Dolls is careful to say all the right things, but we have heard it all too many times before, and it is not fair to expect fabricated controversy where none is permitted. We want our art to be inventive, but it seems that not everything can be talked about in unexpected ways.

5 Questions with Lucy Goleby and Martin Ashley Jones

Lucy Goleby

Martin Ashley Jones: What attracted you to this work?
Lucy Goleby: I have been a long-time admirer of Lucy Clements, our director, and would have agreed to work with her on anything! But when I read Katy Warner’s heartbreaking, poetic, provocative script, I absolutely had to be involved. I think Paper Doll is exactly what theatre, and especially new work, should always be – challenging, insightful and conflicting.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the rehearsal process?
You’d think the content would be the most challenging aspect in this sort of play, but actually we’ve had a very fun – and funny – rehearsal room. It’s primarily just been the three of us – Martin and the two Lucys. I think he’s had the challenge!

What has been the most enjoyable and/or rewarding aspect of the rehearsal process?
Definitely the freedom and space Martin and I have been given by both Lucy and Katy to really discover who these people are, what they want and when they’re lying. We’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with various interpretations of the script, really pushing each other to find the rawest truth possible in every moment.

What do you hope people leaving the play will think about?
I hope they’re as deeply conflicted as we have been. Katy has written a play about a deeply controversial issue and yet has managed to continually shift our allegiances, expectations and assumptions. I’m imagining many conversations about empathy – what it looks like, what is asks and when it’s deserved.

If you had the opportunity to play any Disney Princess which one would it be and would you prefer to play her in a musical, opera, stage play, on ice, multi series TV show or feature film? 😊
Definitely Sleeping Beauty. That’s gotta be the most restful role ever, right?!

Martin Ashley Jones

Lucy Goleby: What attracted you to this work?
Martin Ashley Jones: It’s always a privilege to be a part of bringing new work to life. When I received the audition sides I was captivated by how sparse and simple the text appeared but how complex, dark and disturbing the imagery is. I was intrigued and excited and immediately wanted to get the role.

What has been the biggest challenge rehearsing the play?
Initially I thought that the subject matter could be challenging but working with Katy, Lucy and Lucy has been a very interesting and enjoyable process, so I feel that the journey thus far has been rewarding and challenging only in a positive way.

What do you hope people leave the play thinking about?
The terrible impact one can have on another’s life when trust is violated and abused. To receive someone’s trust is a gift that must be respected and honoured always.

What’s your favourite line in the play?
I did my time. I paid the fucking price. It’s completely honest and such an insipid, disgusting and pathetic justification for the crimes he perpetrated.

Had any dreams lately?
I dream all the time but the most recent and vivid one was that I was at Machu Picchu, but it wasn’t in the Andes it was on the beach with warm water and perfect waves. It was beautiful, one of those dreams that it feels a bit of shame to wake up from.

Lucy Goleby and Martin Ashley Jones are appearing in Paper Doll, by Katy Warner.
Dates: 7 – 18 November, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: A View From The Bridge (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 18 – Nov 25, 2017
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Ivan Donato, Giles Gartrell-Mills, David Lynch, David Soncin, Zoe Terakes, Janine Watson, Lincoln Younes

Theatre review
It is always good to see the bad guy fall. In Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge, Eddie is the patriarch who gets torn down fantastically by his own moral infractions. The dramatic tension is derived however, not from the pleasure of witnessing his ruin, but from the delusions that he suffers, in his inability to see the damage he causes, as he goes about doing what he incorrectly perceives to be good and right.

The work is an indictment of the archaic and unjust systems of social control we continue to endure, but its poignancy lies in the portrayal of fragility and discontentment in those who are thought to benefit most from those infringements. A View From The Bridge is about toxic masculinity, and the destruction that men bring upon themselves by perpetuating traditional notions of gender. Instead of fulfilling their promise of order and prosperity, Eddie discovers that the power he so stubbornly clings to, reveals itself to be of service to none of the people or ideals he holds dear.

The greatest success of this tremendously gripping production, is director Iain Sinclair’s rendering of Eddie as a tragic but unsympathetic character, made to be held accountable for his actions. We see his immense vulnerabilities but are dissuaded from making concessions on his behalf. Miller’s text is romantic in its depictions of the working man, but this is a production that emphasises, appropriately, his culpability and faults.

Actor Ivan Donato is spectacular in the role, simultaneously savage and sensitive, allowing us to view Eddie from the psychological personal and more importantly, as the indefensible villain of the piece, even if Miller’s narrative has a precarious tendency to position him as victim of circumstances. It is important that although we understand the character intimately, we are prevented from ever letting him off the hook. Donato provides all that we require to judge as harshly as he deserves.

The 1950s American melodrama of the piece, is deliciously executed by all the cast, each one intense and exacting in their contributions. It is an incontrovertibly powerful show, magnificently operatic with its exhibition of emotions, forged through meticulous and nuanced deliberation. As individual performers, all are captivating, and as an ensemble, their collective chemistry is quite explosive.

Sinclair’s inventive use of space, across two planes, cross-shaped in its “theatre in the round” format, keeps us thrilled and engaged. Defenceless against the huge personalities and their extravagant exchanges, in these very close quarters, we get involved, in the most meaningful way, studying closely as each scene unfolds, shifting our moral compasses as the plot moves us purposefully through violations and conundrums. There is incredible sophistication in the director’s approach; our hearts and minds are told a story with astonishing expertise. Also remarkable is Clemence Williams’ work on sound design, with its ebbs and flows manipulating at will, every transformation of atmosphere, whether lavish or minute.

Eddie makes repeated demands about being given respect and honour, but does not offer the same to others. His narcissism expects that he alone wears the pants in the house, and everything else falls into place accordingly, as a matter of course. Even when his preposterous behaviour lands him in hot water, he thinks that the world has wronged him. We can tell the misogynists and homophobes that their actions and attitudes need fixing, but like Eddie, most will not acknowledge the evil that they produce. Waiting for broken systems to mend themselves is futile. In a way, A View From The Bridge suggests that radical force is inevitable in real progress, but violence must never be considered the only means to an end, even if it is excellent entertainment, witnessing brutal torture of our enemies.

Review: The Night Alive (O’Punksky’s Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 13 – Oct 14, 2017
Playwright: Conor McPherson
Director: Maeliosa Stafford
Cast: Laurence Coy, Patrick Dickson, Sarah Jane Kelly, John O’Hare, Darren Sabadina
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
In a run-down home in Dublin, surrounded by insidious violence, its inhabitants go about their simple lives, acculturated and unperturbed. Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive begins with Aimee’s bloodied face, and we are struck by the astonishing ease at which everyone is able to recover from the savage episode. These are people who live rough, and we watch them get on with it, like most humans do, trying to figure things out in a world that always seems to be on the verge of turning dystopian.

Director Maeliosa Stafford brings to the stage, the quintessential Irishness of its characters, offering an intriguing glimpse into a culture that oscillates between familiar and exotic. Our Australian sensibilities at times run parallel, but can often seem divergent. With McPherson’s very fascinating dialogue, the other side of the planet is turned immediate, and even though the slow pace at which Stafford allows for things to happen can prove demanding, The Night Alive is a whimsical piece with definite charm.

Tommy is down on his luck, but John O’Hare’s naturalistic portrayal of a man who soldiers on, gives the show its tenacious optimism. Sarah Jane Kelly is spiritedly valiant, in her attempts at preventing the sole female in The Night Alive from dissolving into a subjugated accessory for the men’s stories. It must be said however, that romance blooms unconvincingly between the two.

Laurence Coy and Patrick Dickson are memorable in the play’s quirkier roles, both delightful presences with a sense of precision in their respective approaches. Kenneth is a slightly cliché bad guy type, but Darren Sabadina’s energy is refreshing, and a much needed boost for a production that tends to fall too languorous.

It may be hard out there, but we brave it. There are forces that work against Tommy and his friends, and not a day passes without its challenges, yet they remain hopeful. We can be certain that without hope, all our tomorrows may as well cease to exist. To live, we must keep on dreaming, for it is only in how we manufacture anticipation, that time can derive its meaning.

Review: 4:48 Psychosis (Workhorse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 16 – Sep 9, 2017
Playwright: Sarah Kane
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Ella Prince, Lucy Heffernan, Zoe Trilsbach
Image by Andre Vasquez

Theatre review
A large mirror forms the backdrop, and for much of the show, we watch the actors through their reflections. It is a peculiar sensation, to look into the mirror over a prolonged period and not be familiar with the person therein. In Sarah Kane’s world of mental illness, 4:48 Psychosis is often incoherent, but undeniably truthful. The characters speak, not always for the purpose of communication with an external presence, but to achieve a kind of sentience, or to find a way for things to make subjective sense.

Charged with emotion and an abundance of hopeless desperation, it is the rock-bottom of a dark existence that we encounter, a place where we are able to think of death as salvation. The work is difficult because of the deeply fragile omnipresence of a person’s impending suicide. Director Anthony Skuse is right to steer the show away from any sense of sensationalism or pleasure, so that we remain in the regretful bleakness of a fellow human being’s agony.

There is little that should be enjoyable of the work, but we discover that annihilation is seductive, and that poetry is beautiful, even (or especially) when tortured. It is a polished production, sensual and intense, with memorable design work by an excellent team of creatives. Benjamin Freeman’s music is heard for the entire duration, striking in its exacting sensitivity.

A cast of three women present an extraordinary study of a diseased mind. Thoroughly complex and remarkably focused, what they bring to the stage is replete with authenticity, but also unabashedly dramatic. The extremely well-rehearsed group, Ella Prince, Lucy Heffernan and Zoe Trilsbach are individually captivating, whilst maintaining an impressive cohesiveness that secures our attention, come hell or high water. We may not understand much of what they have to go through, but they are nonetheless demanding, of our concentration, our validation, our empathy.

Public discourse requires that we talk of suicide as fundamentally unacceptable. Forbidden by law and religion, the thing that is most unequivocally owned by the self, is one’s life, yet the decision to end it, is thought of as repugnant. In our refusal to condone suicide, we declare human life to be sacred. It is a social contract, that all must be given care. As Sarah Kane asks repeatedly in the play, “what do you offer your friends to make them so supportive?” the question becomes increasingly irrelevant. For any person to be given support, a currency of exchange is not needed. By the same token however, one can think of being, as essentially personal, and no debt will be owed, when extinguished.

Review: The Telescope (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 4 – 12, 2017
Playwright: Brooke Robinson
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Alison Chambers, Cecilia Morrow, Nicholas Papademetriou

Theatre review
Fighting technological progress is a futile exercise, but we can be certain that not all efforts at advancement are worthwhile. In this short play by Brooke Robinson, a family of four is being forced out of their home, because a giant telescope for the purposes of detecting alien life in space, is scheduled to be installed. Lenny has been fighting hard to prevent the loss of her home, but when the government’s generous compensation arrives, we discover that she is the only one who wishes to remain. Her parents and brother have decided to take the money and run, leaving Lenny to grapple with the fact that she has been abandoned, replaced by cold hard cash.

Replete with cynical wit, the humorous dialogue of The Telescope leads us into a delightful, and misanthropic, probe of the modern family. Kinship is no match for money and technology, but there is little melancholy in this staging, directed by Carissa Licciardello, who pushes her actors to extraordinary lengths of camp and slapstick. It is a marvellous cast, in a tightly rehearsed, exhilarating performance.

Alison Chambers and Nicholas Papademetriou are very charming as parents who cannot wait to fly the coop, both impressive with the accuracy at which their comic instincts are implemented, in this piece of absurdist theatre. There is a lot of exaggeration, but the points it makes ring true. Cecilia Morrow is the sentimental Lenny, and we recognise her helpless devotion to a hopeless cause. Her agoraphobic brother Daniel is portrayed with a goofy exuberance by Tel Benjamin, who brings to mind a generation unable to engage with life outside of the electrical.

It is much too late to lament the proliferation and impact of technology. Our trajectory is fixed, and we must sink or swim. The characters in The Telescope choose between love and realities of the times, but truth is that we have both. On the other hand, we must acknowledge the ridiculous spending of billions in space, while continents of people are left to languish in poverty. No matter how far we evolve, the morals of humanity’s story rarely change. In the discussion of tech and morality, we must always return to the simple idea, that selfishness, in whatever guise, is wrong.