Review: Love Song Dedications (Without Richard Mercer) (Ten Tonne Sparrow / PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jul 19 – 28, 2018
Playwrights: Tom Hogan, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds
Directors: Tom Hogan, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds
Cast: Tom Hogan, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds
Images by Freya Ludowici

Theatre review
Love Song Dedications was a longstanding radio program featuring classic romantic pop music, alongside real life accounts of love won and love lost. Tom Hogan and Bonnie Leigh-Dodds’ show is a tribute of sorts, using a combination of triple-threat disciplines to create a work of comedy, that is ostensibly about finding the greatest love song of all time. A prominent characteristic of the radio show was its unabashed earnestness, completely devoid of irony and therefore deeply cringe-worthy, and here, Hogan and Leigh-Dodds play with that raw human openness, almost as an antidote for modern art’s obsession with being too clever, to bring focus away from the head and into the heart.

It is an exercise in honesty, of placing the authentic within the inevitable conceits of a theatre piece that must have a beginning, middle and end. Storytelling will always contain verisimilitude, but degrees of fiction seem fundamental to how things work on stage. Hogan and Leigh-Dodds are best friends, and like those on the airwaves speaking via telephones about matters of the heart, they are here to talk about their relationship. We discover how having an audience would affect this process of connection between the two. Turning a friendship into an artistic partnership could be a precarious exercise, but if art is where they communicate best, then perhaps understanding their relationship through a form like this, is their best bet.

Hogan and Leigh-Dodds are intelligent and effervescent, both youthful specimens, full of beans and big ideas. A good command of their bodies, and of space, ensures that we are held attentive for the 70-minute duration. They create a plot trajectory that is surprisingly varied, manufacturing with considerable ingenuity, a multifaceted approach for what seems a very simple point of departure. There are brief moments of energetic dissolution, but we never lose interest in the overarching project of finding that best song.

Creativity, even at its most commercial, evades objective judgement. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for Hogan and Leigh-Dodds the best song from the 104 in their shortlist, is the one that holds the greatest amount of meaning, and of nostalgic value, to their private selves. Their love story informs their selection, but judging from the warmth radiating from the audience, the popular consensus is that their show is very well-liked indeed.

www.tentonnesparrow.com.au

Review: Wyrd: The Season Of The Witch (Ninefold / PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jun 20 – 30, 2018
Playwright: adapted from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Director: Shy Magsalin
Cast: Aslam Abdus-samad, Erica J Brennan, Jessica Dalton, Victoria Greiner, Matthew Heys, Melissa Hume, Paul Musumeci, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Shane Russon, Brigid Vidler, Tabitha Woo, Luke Yager, Stella Ye
Images by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
Wyrd is a reconstitution of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the eponymous character is now a woman. Also, she no longer has a wife to blame her misdeeds on, only a coven of witches that proves to have a more intimate relationship with Macbeth than we had previously known. The conflation of dialogue originally held by the separate entities of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, depicts a new personality that suddenly seems more believable than before. Her duplicitous nature now conveys an honesty that allows us to relate more closely with her circumstances; the ambition and guilt that define her story, increase in pertinence, since we are no longer able to perceive her sins as diffused and shared responsibility.

The production is wonderfully moody, with Liam O’Keefe’s lights and Melanie Herbert’s music providing a waking nightmare in which the action takes place. Director Shy Magsalin’s work with the ensemble is intricate and dynamic, not always elegant, but certainly very exciting at moments of high energy and sheer terror.

The trio of witches, performed by Aslam Abdus-samad, Erica J Brennan and Paul Musumeci, are thoroughly delightful, impressive with the taut cohesiveness of their offering. Gideon Payten-Griffiths appears late in the piece as Hecate to steal the show, completely mesmerising with the bold avant-garde sensibility that he brings to the stage. The inventiveness with his physicality and voice is quite extraordinary, and the show is elevated at a crucial moment, to give us some very special theatre. Macbeth, known only as Our Lady, is played by Victoria Greiner, not quite as flamboyant, but with more than enough conviction to make invigorating, this centuries-old story.

The Western patriarchal canon so powerfully instilled in us, refuses to be ignored. We can try to pretend to forget everything and foster some sort of replacement, or we can look for means of subversion that can assist with our progress. Reshaping Shakespeare to suit our times, will always contribute to the reaffirmation of his position of dominance, but when we are resolved to decipher the myriad problems of our indoctrination, we can begin to introduce meaningful transformation to how we see the world. Our master’s voice is hard to eliminate, but finding ways to expose his faults, can help set us free.

www.ninefoldensemble.com

Review: Snap*Click*Shot (Karul Projects)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), May 25 – Jun 2, 2018
Choreographer and composer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Cast: Jessica Holman, Thomas E.S. Kelly, Libby Montilla, Amalie Obitz, Taree Sansbury, Kassidy Waters

Theatre review
Accompanying the dance, is a recorded narration about ecology. It provides an Indigenous perspective on our relationship with the environment, particularly memorable for its musings about our responsibilities as custodians of the planet. The message in Thomas E.S. Kelly’s Snap*Click*Shot is sombre, but unifying.

The bodies in motion are simultaneously human and animal, soil and vegetation; the false points of demarcation that separate us are dissolved, for an expression of our existence that is all-encompassing. This is a summation of events that sounds excessively romantic, but when immersed, the show feels authentic, convincing in its depiction of nature as wholistic and incontrovertibly linked to the human experience.

Kelly’s work, as choreographer and composer, is sensitive yet disciplined, elegant yet dynamic. His ability to place in tandem opposing qualities, the hard with the soft, creates a sense of drama that keeps us engaged. It is a strong team of dancers, extraordinarily cohesive, and impressive in their familiarity with Kelly’s idiosyncratic physical language. Their presentation is confident, and very well-rehearsed, with an inexhaustible vigour that fills the auditorium. Costumes and lights are however, inadequately conceived, resulting in imagery that is needlessly monochromatic and repetitive.

At the production’s conclusion, we congregate in a circle, eyes closed, sharing in a moment of silent meditation. Our insecurities from being exposed thus, reach for reassurance, and we find camaraderie in that unusual instance of connection. We often think of independence as a virtue, but it is a falsehood to conceive of any life detached. It is vanity that separates, and narcissism that fuels oppression. The simple exercise of acknowledging others as equals will solve many problems, but we rarely rise to that challenge.

www.karulprojects.com

Review: On The Border Of Things Part One (PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jan 17 – 20, 2018
Creators: Cong Ai Nguyen, James Nguyen
Cast: James Nguyen
Image by Carla Zimbler

Theatre review
In part one of On The Border Of Things, James Nguyen talks about his travels in search of family and his discovery of personal histories. It all begins with the memory of his uncle Cong Ai Nguyen who had left home for a nomadic regional life, working in transient jobs at disparate locations for over twenty years. James’ need to reconnect sparks a three-year odyssey that takes him to country Australia and also to Vietnam, and we catch him as he drives into Sydney, probably momentarily, to talk about his findings.

Essentially a one-man show, with a storyteller proficient in visual arts who rejects the approach of a conventional acting piece, The Border Of Things has a startling immediacy rarely encountered. When our theatres are working well, we are able to come in touch with truths of the world, and here, the first-person narrative is taken to a new level of intimacy. Artifice is stripped away, for an account of adventures recalled not from rehearsals but from actual experience.

James Nguyen’s investigations into the Vietnamese diaspora and his exploration of our farmlands, creates a potent combination that all Australians should find relevant. Discussion points about the migrant experience, along with diverse notions of home as personal and universal conceptions, as well as the meaning of land in relation to commerce and colonisation, all find consolidation and resonance through the Nguyen family’s tales.

The presentation concludes with a short documentary film, as sensitive and tender as the monologue prior, with a quiet melancholia permeating its depiction of new bonds being formed, as uncle and nephew reunite on farms in country Victoria and South Australia. We get a sense that both are black sheep, each able to see himself in the other’s eyes. To know oneself, questions must be asked, and the answers come best, from those we identify with the most. Our protagonist has had to travel afar to reach someone close, but it is evident that the rewards are joyous, and profound.

www.pact.net.au

Review: Brothers Karamazov (Arrive. Devise. Repeat)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Dec 6 – 16, 2017
Playwright: Richard Crane (based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel)
Director: Viktor Kalka
Cast: Alice Birbara, Ryan Devlin, Patrick Howard, and Lucia May
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
There are only so many conclusions a person can come to, when contemplating the existence of God. In Richard Crane’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, an enormous novel is condensed, leaving only its big philosophical ideas feebly accompanied, by futile episodes of theatre that can only seem reductive in their attempts to make a point.

The depiction of religious struggle in Brothers Karamazov is timeworn, although clearly persistent in its relevance to millions, who continue to structure their lives around all things mystical and illusory. It is an attractive production, with ambitious work across all design faculties from Liam O’Keefe’s lavish lighting to Victor Kalka’s evocative set. Often beautiful and alluringly moody, our senses are kept attentive, even when our minds withdraw from engagement.

Four actors play a range of characters, with unfortunately confusing results. Unable to sufficiently identify the personalities we encounter, the show takes an inordinately long time to establish coherence. Nonetheless, it is a compelling cast, each one full of energetic conviction. Patrick Howard is particularly memorable, with an arresting presence, determined to entertain.

A world in which everything is permissible, is doubtlessly frightening. Self-preservation requires that we invest, in the name of safety and order, in social contracts that we think to be noble, but whether state or religion, the institutions we exalt, never fail to overreach with the powers they are accorded. The same instruments we need for protection, are used invariable to oppress. To keep them constantly monitored is paramount and to have them regularly dismantled and refreshed, is arduous but critical.

www.arrivedeviserepeat.com

Review: Shifting > Shapes / Fem Menace (PACT)


Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Nov 22 – 25, 2017

Shifting > Shapes
Choreographer and composer: Thomas E.S. Kelly
Collaborator and performer: Taree Sansbury

Fem Menace
Creator and performer: Cheryn Frost
Co-creators and performers: Cath McNamara, Tahlee Kianda Leeson

Theatre review
Presented as part of PACT’s “Afterglow” season, two works Shifting > Shapes and Fem Menace, feature young women dancing to the beat of their own drums. We watch them finding physical languages that could reveal their identities, that help express feelings and thoughts, to make their mark maybe, to be seen and heard, in a world that is determined to subdue creativity and art.

Shifting > Shapes explores humanity through the idea of shape-shifting, in which a person adopts the consciousness of animals, and begins to think and move like them. When performer Taree Sansbury becomes a goanna (or Dirawong) and a rainbow serpent, she sinks close to the ground. The relationship between body and earth looks never to be more intimate, than when Sansbury takes on the physical specificity of a different species. In the moments that she reverts to human, we observe the discord between being and space, as though we are the only ones alien to our own planet.

Fem Menace is concerned with the anxieties about being contemporary women, in this latest wave of feminism. A key point of its discussion is sexuality, as an essentially social undertaking, private but always in relation with the world outside of the self. In the honest representation of woman as sexual being, the conundrum of objectification seems to be omnipresent. Cheryn Frost, Cath McNamara and Tahlee Kianda Leeson present an uncompromising wildness that dares us to regard their presence as anything other than as intended.

Both pieces are conceived and executed with a sense of purity; faithful and authentic in their transition from inspiration to stage. For Shifting > Shapes, the unapologetically minimalist approach of choreographer and composer Thomas E.S. Kelly, maintains a razor sharp focus on its theme, whilst asserting his Aboriginality as legitimate and authoritative. The women in Fem Menace are experimental, putting their minds and bodies through exhaustive interrogation. The results of which are deeply fascinating, and often very beautiful. There is perhaps no way to look at ourselves with absolute objectivity, but it is in our art, that we can best know each other.

www.pact.net.au

5 Questions with Cheryn Frost and Thomas E.S. Kelly

Cheryn Frost

Thomas E.S. Kelly: What is your show about?
Cheryn Frost: Fem Menace is about how there is a monster inside me. It’s also about women; the fun we have, the fears we face, our lived and shared experiences. 

What made you want to explore this topic?
We wanted to make a work that is about being women, the world in which we live and the monsters we’re constantly facing and fighting. Considering the huge discussion at the moment with how women are being mistreated by monsters in the industry, it reinforces the importance of continuing that dialogue and getting our voices heard by wider audience.

Why now?
Why not?

What can the audience expect watching your work?
You can expect a warped fragmented party, with a slap of reality, a drop knee of what ifs, a shot of confidence and purge of monsters.

Who has helped bring your project to life?
Catherine McNamara & Tahlee Leeson! They are the other two spicy ladies that make up Fish Hook. The three of us met whilst studying at the University of Wollongong and realised that we all wanted to make dynamic kick-ass theatre. Fish Hook was born and here we are finally making our first show that actual people will see!

Thomas E.S. Kelly

Cheryn Frost: What is your show about?
Thomas E.S. Kelly: Shifting > Shapes is about shape shifting. Humans to animals to landforms and back again. Looking at it through an Indigenous and non-Indigenous lens, seeing it culturally and how it sits in today’s society. 

What has been the biggest challenge making the work?
The biggest challenge for this work is simply just time. Making sure that I’ve dedicated enough time to all the elements so that the show works on all levels.

What do you hope your audience will think about when they leave your show?
I always hope that when the audience leaves one of my shows that they find out something about the Aboriginal culture that they didn’t know before and then find a place for that knowledge in today’s society.

Who and or what inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my lineages of the past and future. The lineage of my ancestors, my family, my dance lineage.

You can have dinner with 5 people (living or dead) who do you choose and why?
Nan and Pop on my mothers side because they passed away when I was younger and I have so many questions for them. And a family member from each one of my heritages that is the knowledge keepers to simply listen and learn. 1 Aboriginal 1 Ni-Vanuatu 1 Irish.

Catch Cheryn Frost and Thomas E.S. Kelly in Fem Menace / Shifting > Shapes, part of the Afterglow season at PACT.
Dates: 22 – 25 November, 2017
Venue: PACT