Review: Chorus (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 28 – Sep 21, 2019
Playwright: Ang Collins
Director: Clemence Williams
Cast: Jack Crumlin, Madelaine Osborn, Nicole Pingon, Ella Prince, Eliza Scott, Chemon Theys
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Agamemnon is a pop star enjoying considerable success, but like the mythical king she has named herself after, accomplishments come at a very high price. Ang Collins’ Chorus talks a little about stardom, but is more concerned about a motherhood that never lived up to its promises. The play’s purposeful juxtaposition with the Greek legend also prompts us to think about gendered differences in the way we discuss morality, and how we are more permissive of one gender over the other, especially in matters pertaining to parenthood. It is a powerful context that Collins has formulated, with intriguing characters and exciting dialogue delivering an enjoyable theatrical experience. The story’s climax does however feel slightly underwhelming, due in part to the writing’s subtle approach. In preventing itself from turning exploitative, Chorus unfortunately loses some of its drama when we arrive at the crucial moment of revelation.

Performances are strong, with Ella Prince an appropriately assertive presence in the main role, bringing a wrathful intensity to a personality who has some very serious issues in need of resolution. Chemon Theys is memorable as love interest Cass, and persuasive in her portrayal of an unapologetic Instagram celebrity. The baby’s father is played by Jack Crumlin, marvellously complex and authentic with the emotions he depicts as the deeply conflicted Chris.

Much pleasure is derived from the cast’s wonderfully tight ensemble work, inspired by traditional Greek theatre, but given a contemporary twist, complete with live video projections by Sarah Hadley, that magnify the sense of grandeur introduced by the chorus as stage device. Emma White’s set design is elegant in its minimalism. Lights by Veronique Bennett are dynamic, able to add a hint of extravagance to proceedings. As director and sound designer, Clemence Williams’ sensual calibration of atmosphere makes for an absorbing production that holds us captive for the entire duration.

Agamemnon has every right to reject being defined as a mother, but this does not absolve her of responsibilities. We can be persuaded that love cannot be forced, but not doing one’s best to care for their offspring, is surely unequivocally immoral. We should all be encouraged to dream big, and we should learn to better celebrate those who dare to go out on a limb. Life turns hollow, when one is held back by fear and doubt. To be held back by duty however, is quite another thing.

www.bontom.com.au | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: The Cripple Of Inishmaan (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 11 – Aug 10, 2019
Playwright: Martin McDonagh
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Sarah Aubrey, Alex Bryant-Smith, Laurence Coy, Jude Gibson, John Harding, Megan O’Connell, William Rees, Jane Watt
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
It is the Great Depression, and in the small Irish town of Inishmaan, we meet Billy who has grown up an orphan and with a disability. He is cared for by aunts, and by the town folk who are always in each other’s pockets, but the prejudice that he suffers, although fairly benign, is constant and unrelenting. When Hollywood comes calling, he takes no time at all to pack up and go, certain that greener pastures await. Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple Of Inishmaan is a witty examination of parochial rural societies, looking at the way we can be, when there is little to do but to occupy oneself with other people’s business. In the tension between staying and leaving, Billy demonstrates who we are, as dreamers always seeking something better. Hope is our way out, even if hope does on occasion prove itself empty.

Actor William Rees contributes a gentle innocence to the show. As Billy, his performance is unpretentious, relying only on honest impulses to tell the story. It is an accomplished ensemble. Although not quite as funny as the writing seems to require, there is certainly no lack of authenticity in the personalities they aim to portray. Jude Gibson and Laurence Coy are memorable as a mother-and-son team, with a wicked streak to their dynamic that unnerves and delights. Sarah Aubrey and Megan O’Connell are the aunts, captivating at each appearance with their marvellously sardonic approach, for a couple of sullen pessimists.

Claudia Barrie’s direction depicts a bleakness that accurately conveys the environment under scrutiny, but its lack of vibrancy makes compromises to the play’s humour that can cause the experience to feel underwhelming. Set design by Brianna Patrice Russell is effective in transporting us to a distant time and place, while Benjamin Brockman’s lights bring valuable visual variety to the narrative. Sound and music by Kailesh Reitmans is restrained, with a subtlety that adds a sense of tranquil beauty to the piece.

Sleepy towns are both idyllic and frustrating. They allow us to be slow with nature, but the peace that it promises tends to be short-lived. The corrupting forces so commonly found in urban existences, are not absent when we escape to rustic locales, they simply take on a different form. People will find trouble with one another, no matter where we structure our lives. As long as ignorance persists, and people are unable to recognise their bigotry, or see the consequences of their cruelty, we will struggle to find harmony. We care for Billy, but for him to be well, the world needs to change.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Anatomy Of A Suicide (Sugary Rum Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 12 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: Alice Birch
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Jack Crumlin, Andrea Demetriades, Teale Howie, Charles Mayer, Guy O’Grady, Natalie Saleeba, Anna Samson, Kate Skinner, Contessa Treffone
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Suicide always seems just a breath away for Annie, Bonnie and Carol. Alice Birch’s Anatomy Of A Suicide follows the struggles of three women, all of them skating dangerously close to the ultimate act of self-destruction. The play asks very big questions, but it is the way its provocations are dispensed, that makes it remarkable. The three leads exist in independent chronologies, but their stories are told in tandem, often overlapping, for a theatrical experience highly unusual in its plot structure. Parallels are drawn across narratives from different decades, to examine generational implications, in the way things may or may not change over time, in relation to women’s autonomy over their existences.

There is tremendous pleasure in seeing women lead the play, but it can also feel problematic that their neurotic behaviour is consequently associated with their gender. The only people out of control in the story are these women, and we find ourselves tempted to think of the issues being raised as being specifically gendered, when their femaleness should on this occasion, be a secondary concern.

Director Shane Anthony brings a mesmerising urgency to his staging; the stakes always feel high, and we are seduced by the intensity of his dramatic flair. His set (designed in collaboration with producer Gus Murray) is graceful and efficient, and along with Veronique Benett’s dynamically emotive lights, the visuals are sumptuous, for a deeply satisfying aesthetic that is always in dramaturgical harmony. Damien Lane’s music too, is beautifully rendered, memorable for being appropriately sentimental, able to help us access reservoirs of visceral sensations that resonate at every crucial plot point.

The cast is consistently impressive, with all members demonstrating excellent focus and a sense of disciplined precision reflecting consummate preparedness. Anna Samson is a wonderfully idiosyncratic Carol, convincing in her portrayal of mental illness, always rich with nuance and complexity as the subjugated, and gravely despondent, 60’s housewife. Anna, the addict who resorts to motherhood for salvation, is played by a powerful Andrea Demetriades, who delivers a severity for the character that persists in securing our empathy. A more naturalistic approach by Kate Skinner, allows us to relate to her Bonnie as a contemporary, and therefore more immediate, figure. In the singular scene in which she does turn rhapsodic, the atmosphere erupts and none can escape its poignancy.

More than the women before her, Bonnie is conscious of the forces that work to undermine her autonomy. We observe however, that knowing one’s demons does not necessarily spawn the capacities to defeat them. Being human, we almost always know good from bad, but the eternal conundrum of being able to do the right thing is what haunts us. Bonnie’s determination to outsmart her fate seems almost superhuman. She rejects that which seeks to entrap and define her, and in her story we see how hard it can be, to simply be your own woman.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Cyprus Avenue (Empress Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 15 – Jun 8, 2019
Playwright: David Ireland
Director: Anna Houston
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Roy Barker, Branden Christine, Jude Gibson, Amanda McGregor
Images by Yure Covich

Theatre review
Even though Eric does not run around in a white conical hood, and he takes every opportunity to make grand declarations that he is not a racist, there is no question that our protagonist is the worst kind of bigot. David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue is a confronting, if slightly exploitative, play about a sad old man trapped in the traumatic days of The Troubles. Habitually putting everyone in identity categories, his hate for “the others” seems to know no bounds; even his five-week old granddaughter is not spared. Playwright Ireland makes a powerful statement about prejudice, with his flamboyantly brash approach offering a style of theatre that is full of dramatic tension, as well as ample opportunity for intellectual stimulation.

Direction by Anna Houston appropriately emphasises the quirky quality of Cyprus Avenue‘s comedy, bringing valuable balance to its otherwise brutal nature. Difficult concepts are left undiluted, so that the audience cannot help but examine its challenging provocations. Leading man Roy Barker embodies beautifully, contradictory dimensions of Eric. He is deplorable, but also charming; tender yet full of evil. Unfortunately, the actor’s constant stumbling over lines puts a damper on proceedings, with the disruptions of speech rhythms causing considerable distraction. Other cast members are much more polished with what they present, each remarkable in their respective roles, all of them compelling with what they bring to the stage.

There is profoundly objectionable behaviour in Cyprus Avenue that we must attempt to analyse. The show’s controversial situations make it an imperative that we find ways to process, not only the violence that happens in Eric’s fictitious world, but also the equally heinous hate crimes, of all descriptions, in real life. People will have justifications for every horror they commit, but as a society, we will always have to weigh up compassion and punishment, in our strategies for prevention. Eric has been driven mad by circumstance, and as a result, he perpetuates grievous harm, in a circle of violence that tempts us to keep shifting blame from one to another. There are no easy answers in Cyprus Avenue, perhaps no answers at all, but it allows us to see, in what feels to be a thoroughly honest way, how terrifying humans can be. What we do with that information thereafter, is anybody’s guess.

www.empresstheatre.com.au | www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Lloyd Allison-Young and Branden Christine

Lloyd Allison-Young

Branden Christine: You’ve played an Irish character before, was that a blessing or a curse in developing your character for Cyprus Avenue? 
It’s a little from column A and a little from column B! Last year I had the chance to play Padraig in a production of The Lieutenant Of Inishmore; considering the tonal similarities between David Ireland and Martin McDonagh, slipping back into that world was an absolute blessing; the rebellion, the desperation and ideology-through-paramilitary, it’s all been very enjoyable to revisit. On the other hand, wrangling the dialect has been a battle. Slim is a die-hard northern unionist; unlearning the lilting, lyrical southern and wrapping my mind around the more brash and broad northern has been a fantastic challenge.
 
Were any unexpected political or social aspects of Cyprus Avenue revealed during the rehearsal process?
I’m surprised by how broadly and wholeheartedly I’ve always accepted the story of the Republican Irish as the total Irish meta-narrative. That is to say, when I think of Irish cultural identity, sure it may conjure all the tropes and clichés associated with the Emerald Isle, but part and parcel of those ideas are those of ‘the freedom fighter’ and ‘liberation armies’, the rebel songs and the glory of fighting the unfair oppression of northern occupation. I’d never bent an ear in any significant way to the perspective of the Unionists. I’d always subconsciously cast them as the villains. This play has given me a terrific excuse to really dive into the finer motivations of this ‘other side’ and it has been most illuminating.
Slim actually explores this idea of this narrative ownership on stage and it is absolutely one of my favourite moments in the play.
 
This play employs a unique balance of absurdity, tragedy, and comedy. Did any of these themes in particular attract you to this play?
All three! David Ireland has written play that manages to intertwine all three together so closely, and each scene is written with such agility that more often than not I find myself toeing the line between two or more major thematic elements. And this is the mark of a brilliantly written play! Each moment reflecting and refracting through other moments. The lines that are the funniest are often the most heartbreaking, the situations that are the most absurd are the most revealing.

I found the need for both objectivity and emotional investment from my character quite challenging. Did any juxtaposing traits come up for your character? 
Without going too deep into the philosophy of Slim, I’m compelled by his particular hierarchy of values, which are as rigid and as furious as they are convenient. A violent and volatile scholar of film and philosophy, with a romantic nostalgia for a truly terrible time in his country’s history he never had the opportunity to experience. 
 
During the arduous rehearsal process of Cyprus, did you rely on any specific food groups to get you through?
Fuji apples, almonds, black tea!

Branden Christine

While preparing for the role, you had the opportunity to spend time with a forensic psychologist. Can you describe one or some of the more surprising/insightful takeaways?  
Getting the inside scoop from a forensic psychologist was fascinating for many reasons. For one thing I was quickly made aware of all my preconceived notions based on watching too much Criminal Minds and Law And Order (my personal fave) and thought being judicious and scientific when portraying a psychologist would be a way in. I came to find out, it’s those things but so much more. A criminal psychologist’s job is also about building a relationship, being open to possibilities, and staying curious — a kind of empath who takes on other people’s feelings and energy, while also being still objective and scientific. This insight gave me a nuanced motivation with which to shape my character.  

You play the character of Bridget, a psychiatrist tasked with treating the play’s prejudiced protagonist Eric. Are there any particular qualities that you recognise in Bridget that you would like to integrate into your own life? 
Totally! Bridget has a kind of courageousness that I would love to be able to embrace in my own life. To do the kind of work she does, working with extreme forms of pathology, she must be self-assured enough to let go of ego, i.e., her own beliefs in order to take the plunge and walk hand in hand with Eric down the path of recovery. Although she’s just as fallible as any other character, and is not always successful, the effort alone requires an enormous amount of confidence to face the dark sides of humanity and ask questions that I personally would find too confronting.  

What was the most surprising thing you learned about the conflict in the Northern Ireland while exploring and researching for this production? 
I went in somewhat ignorant about the conflict in Northern Ireland and had a bit of a learning curve in rehearsal. What primarily astounded me in the process, despite the particulars of this story, is the universality and insidious toxicity of nationalism, prejudice, and ideology. I’m from the U.S. so these themes are very present at the moment and hugely relevant given our current political leadership or lack thereof in the States and many parts of the world. 

What are some of the best experiences you’ve had in a theatre over the last twelve months? 
I haven’t been to many shows lately, but I have a good excuse, a new baby and the being in the cosiness of motherhood. So, I’m going to be cheeky and say that working with the wonderful creative team on Cyprus Avenue is the best theatre experience I’ve had in years, let alone the last twelve months. 

Favourite line from the show? 
“How can a baby have a beard?”

Lloyd Allison-Young and Branden Christine can be seen in Cyprus Avenue, by David Ireland.
Dates: 15 May – 8 Jun, 2019
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Alice In Slasherland (Last One Standing Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 18 – May 11, 2019
Playwright: Qui Nguyen
Director: Rachel Kerry
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Jack Angwin, Josh McElroy, Bardiya McKinnon, Mia Morrissey, Laura Murphy, Stella Ye
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Lewis is a regular American teenager, who finds his town suddenly overwhelmed by Lucifer and other spirits of the underworld. With people being slaughtered everywhere, Lewis and his friends have to fight their way to survival. Qui Nguyen’s Alice In Slasherland bears all the hallmarks of a B-grade horror flick; an outlandish storyline, predictable characters and lots of blood and gore, along with a very healthy dose of kitsch and bad taste humour that makes the show more than a little tongue-in-cheek in its references to genre.

The production is messy, but also intentionally trashy. Like every low-budget movie ever made, we can identify all the flaws in this staging of Alice In Slasherland, but its imperfections do not preclude us from enjoying the silly fun that it so passionately delivers. Director Rachel Kerry’s vision for the staging is wonderfully vivid, but her ideas are almost never executed to perfection. The cast is remarkable for being able to embrace the clumsiness of their show, to convey a sense of humour that quite miraculously, works with, or perhaps against, the many technical improficiencies. Alice In Slasherland‘s horror aspects do almost nothing for us, but its comedy is certainly a joy.

Actor Bardiya McKinnonis is a spirited Lewis, appropriately over-the-top with the terror that he depicts. The eponymous Alice is played by Stella Ye, who meets the physical demands of the supernatural being, with a persuasive and dynamic athleticism. Lucifer is a vampy creature, as interpreted by Laura Murphy, whose capacity for camp seems to know no bounds. Her musical theatre abilities prove refreshing in a show that cares little about polish. Justin Amankwah is puppeteer for Edgar the bear, barely two feet tall, but huge in personality, thanks to Amankwah’s beautiful animation and extraordinary voice work.

Depending on one’s own tastes, there is a kind of self-deprecating humour to Alice In Slasherland that can be highly amusing. We vacillate between laughing at it, and laughing with it, trusting that none is expected to take any of this seriously. Over the coming weeks, the production will no doubt lose some of its raw edge, but as long as we can all be encouraged to remain playful for the duration, it would mean a job well done.

www.lastonestandingtheatreco.com | www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Justin Amankwah and Stella Ye

Justin Amankwah

Stella Ye: Justin you are one busy and hard-working human. How is your soul going and what do you do to stay grounded?
Justin Amankwah: My soul is swell! I’m no good at sitting still so I prefer to always have something to do. In terms of staying grounded, all credit is due to my calendar.

What would be your game plan during a demon apocalypse?
Run to the nearest Church & repent. Then grab a rosary & some holy water. If all else fails, I’ll channel my juju and kick some demon ass.

Seeing Edgar evolve during rehearsals has been NUTS. What’s it been like working with puppetry? What has is taught you about yourself as a performer?
It’s quite profound working with a character both inside and outside of my physical self. I’m still wrapping my head around it to be honest. I initially thought I’d just have to get the mechanics of puppeteering correct, but I’ve come to find that the real challenge is to bring myself into him and work towards him moving like I would If I were a talking teddy bear. It’s taught me that I rely very heavily on my body in performance. But mainly that I like to get the work right straight away. & I noticed this while enduring the very slow burn of bringing the puppet to life.

If Edgar had two theme songs, what would they be and why?
‘Battle Without Honor or Humanity’ by Tomoyasu Hotei because it’s a powerful track with grit. & the instrumental for ‘Simon Says’ by Pharoahe Monch because it’s an awesome blend of demonic & straight up gangster, just like Edgar.

What does the show mean to you and why should people come and see it?
This show for me is a great opportunity to entertain through means I’ve never got to before, to play this boisterous & melodramatic character unabashedly is a total joy. I think people should come because it’ll be such a good time at the theatre & my hope is that audiences will be wildly amused by our ridiculous show.

Stella Ye

Justin Amankwah: What were your thoughts when you first read Alice In Slasherland?
Stella Ye: My mind kind of went like this: “!!!!!!!!!!!!” because I found it so wonderful and fun to read. I felt like Qui Nguyen threw all of the ingredients from the fridge into the pan and somehow made the best omelette ever. I loved that it played into all of these familiar American teenage and horror tropes, yet allowed room to see and experience beyond them as well. So yes, shoutout to Qui for creating such a hilarious, vibrant and heightened world.

What are your favourite things about being a part of this show (besides kicking ass)?
Getting to explore crazy ideas. Being with an amazing group of humans also exploring crazy ideas. Using my voice and body in ways that I never have before. Blood capsules.

You face some heavily racist comments as Alice in the show, how do you deal with that, and has it become less challenging as we’ve progressed?
That was definitely a scene that Rachel [Kerry, director] and I talked about after the first read and had to ask exactly how it served the story. High school can be a tough place and I think we’ve all come across a Tommy at some point in our lives. Moving forward with it has been about honouring what’s going on for Alice in that moment, and she’s still demonic and freshly adjusting to life out of hell (cue internal monologue: humans are weird) so I’m learning to sit inside her brain and trust in how she chooses to handle that interaction.

In a world where the action is commonly reserved for men, what are you feeling about portraying a powerful female protagonist battling an even more powerful female antagonist?
Life has taught me that women are incredible and powerful and badass, so it’s been fantastic being able to reflect that on stage through Alice. I love that she gets to be so physically engaged in everything that she does, and those fight scenes are so, so fun to perform. Laura and I especially have a lot of fight moments together in the show, and working with her during rehearsals has really made me appreciate her strength and bravery, as a woman but as a human being really.

Justin Amankwah and Stella Ye can be seen in Alice In Slasherland.
Dates: 18 Apr – 11 May, 2019
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre