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: Obscene Madame D (Theatre Kantanka)

Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), May 23 – 27, 2018
Novelist: Hilda Hilst
Director: Carlos Gomes
Cast: Katia Molino
Images by Heidrun Löhr

Theatre review
Surrounded by death and dereliction, Madame D is plunged into a deep isolation, where she finds herself examining the meaning of her existence, after suffering the recent bereavement of a longtime companion. Still shaken from the sudden loss, her thoughts are incoherent but belligerent, and her behaviour is increasingly erratic. Her neighbours are perturbed, and so are we. Obscene Madame D is unsettling, an avant-garde work that is unafraid of confusion, determined to embrace the strange and difficult, in its exploration of life at its outer peripheries.

The space is charged with a sense of wonderment, as though something esoteric has taken over Madame D’s depressed home and mind. Video projections by Sam James and lights by Fausto Brusamolino create a gloomy but seductive atmosphere; we never feel at ease, but this mysterious intrusion into Madame D’s sanctuary is a hauntingly beautiful experience. Gail Priest’s music and sound are heard through headphones, so that all the secrets are presented with immediacy, and intimacy, although what we are presented with, never seem to be more than clues or deflections.

Directed by Carlos Gomes, who orchestrates something enchantingly unique for his audience, often intriguing with its penchant for rousing curiosity, though its ability to hold our attention is inconsistent. In the absence of a strong narrative, we drift through dream states, not all of which pertain to the show in progress. Performer Katia Molino cuts a glamorous figure, mesmerising even in various states of dishevelment. In the middle of all the tangential statements, Molino’s unflappable presence provides a reliable centre, that our imaginations can retreat into, and interpretations can be formulated.

When we meet Madame D, it is as though she is encountering freedom for the first time. In pain from the shock of a new independence, she now has to define the world for herself. No longer the passive half of a partnership, Madame D must finally grow up, and as an older woman, the process is understandably excruciating. It is an inevitable metamorphosis, one that can only be unpredictable, but that will ultimately be rewarding, if only for the brutal authenticity that it delivers.

www.107.org.au | www.kantanka.com.au

Review: Get Her Outta Here (107)


Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), Apr 19 – 21, 2018
Creator: Isabella Broccolini
Cast: Isabella Broccolini
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Isabella Broccolini is the lady in red, swathed in an uncompromising colour representative of all things fiery. We see a picture of obstinacy, a woman of dogged determination making single-minded statements about selfhood, and of identity in general. Her red suitcase never leaves her side, like a snail with her home attached, adding to the image of tenacity, but symbolising discontentment, in a performance piece that seems to talk a lot about the unexpected duality of perseverance and relocation.

Get Her Outta Here is wonderfully engrossing, fuelled by the inexorable presence of its creator. Broccolini’s physicality is confident and powerful, with an idiosyncratic style to its movement that has us captivated. Her body is untethered to the homogenising nature of dance training, but offers a clarity and strength to what it wishes to convey, as though disciplined in accordance with her own ideals.

The work is abstract, beautifully so, and audiences will interpret it how they wish. When art refuses to be obvious, it runs the risk of leaving us apathetic, but Broccolini’s enigmatic (and often very funny) approach is deeply alluring. We find ourselves opening up to her, allowing her obscure expressions to provoke and inspire. Music by Grace Huie Robbins moves the show through its various phases with excellent effect, creating shifts in dimensions that help enrich our imagination. Lights however, are under-explored and regretfully monotonous, for a production that is otherwise an aesthetic delight.

Broccolini’s speech is coy, but glimpses of honesty are revealed in her storytelling, to help our minds assemble a sense of truth for the red lady. Under the quirky and jokey, almost camp, deflecting exterior, lies a distinct rage, drenched in blood, perhaps too gory to expose unadorned. Get Her Outta Here is a woman’s fight with territory, even as she resists every place that she finds herself. Outsiders wish to be anywhere but here, and for us, the cliché is especially true, that it is the journey, and not the destination, that fulfils. Our project of reclaiming and redefining space, is not yet able to afford any room for complacency. For the time being at least, the red lady’s adventures with her red suitcase shall not cease.

www.107.org.au | www.isabellabroccolini.com

Review: Don’t Go To This Show (The Leftovers Collective)

Venue: Yellow Umbrella (Potts Point NSW), Nov 25 – 26, 2017
Devisors/Performers: Veronica Alonzo, ​Tom Beynon, Danica Burch, Lauren Clair, Veronica Clipsham, Sabrina D’Angelo, Peter Defreytas, Lakshmi Fernandez, Curly Fries, Claire Giuffre, Tim Kemp, Lana Kershaw, ​Michelle McCowage, Alexander McIntyre, Charlotte Rose Pietsch, Angel Rodriguez, Gemma Scoble, Denis Tarrant, Brendon Ussher, Nick Woods

Theatre review
The show takes the form of an art gallery exhibition. Everything happens in a glamorous white room, with each piece (or scene) assigned its own station. Western art authorities are always ripe for mockery; it is easy to disrupt the way they are determined to take themselves so seriously. The concept of bad language can be thought of similarly. The rationale behind these taboos, so strictly enshrined, are patently flimsy. It takes the collusion of deluded masses to adhere to these behavioural codes, and in Don’t Go To This Show, we take a look at swearing and consider the arbitrary nature of these social contracts.

There are at least 8 “artworks” that constitute the event. We walk from one to another, usually spending cursory time with each. It is a gleeful exercise, playful and absurd in their various manifestations in accordance with the theme. The ideas are simple, as are performances, but the production is well executed, with an irrefutable ability to amuse and fascinate. Although not entirely thought-provoking, the experience is nonetheless delightful, with Claire Giuffre, Lana Kershaw and Gemma Scoble particularly memorable as comedic elements that add a sense of exuberance.

The very purpose of language necessitates concurrence. In that process of communication, we want words to affect, and by the same token we want also to be able to control, how we are to receive them. When words are issued, intention floats in the ether, and can transform at the point of interpretation. We cannot always be sure if and when offence is the objective, and it is not always the objective that dictates offence. Our communities need to be kinder, that is for certain, but it must be incumbent on every individual, not just the polite, to improve how we can live together.

www.theleftoverscollective.com

Review: The Library Of Babel (Sydney Fringe Festival)

Venue: HPG Festival Hub (Erskineville NSW), Sep 26 – 30, 2017
Concept: Claudia Osborne, Emma White
Director: Claudia Osborne
Cast: Evan Confos, Isabella Debbage, Vincent Grotte, Emily Haydon, Holly Friedlander Liddicoat, Anna Hedstrom, Sally Lewis, Amanda Lim, Sean Maroney, Beth McMullen, Sasha Mishkin, Joseph Murphy, Gemma Scoble, Eliza Scott, Isabella Tannock, Rosie Thomas
Image by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
The Library Of Babel takes the form of one big theatrical space, with seven small rooms located within. 16 artists present incongruous and deliberately perplexing pieces of performance art, as we wander through the maze, looking at, and sometimes interacting with, these otherworldly creatures.

In their manufacturing of something that is beyond immediate comprehension, each performer reaches for ideas outside of our shared prosaic existence. To be in contact with inspiration, is to extend consciousness to strange places. Our mind will attempt to form meanings from these disparate encounters, but its tendency to usurp time and space, can be resisted.

It is important that this theatrical experiment insists on the participation of our bodies. The Library Of Babel makes us move around, to forage with our limbs, in addition to the usual deployment of ears, eyes and nervous system. We absorb the experience, and for the hour or so, confusion and disorientation make friends with fascination and intrigue. Trying to achieve an understanding of the work as a conventional theatrical entity, is futile. Intellect should be made secondary, at least temporarily, as it can only be an obstruction to the appreciation of the strange expressions taking place.

The world remains a riddle, no matter how much human interpretation is imposed onto it. We try to shape it into our image, but it always outsmarts us and has the last laugh. In our efforts to become masters of the universe, we get entangled in internal monologues, and lose the ability to find a state of peace, with the greater environment that accommodates us. In The Library Of Babel, we share space and focus on the now. We hold each other in mutual presence, perfectly tangible in our flesh and blood, and we allow time to take on a quality of irrefutable authenticity.

www.kleinefeinheiten.com

Review: Trade (Hurrah Hurrah / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 4 – 15, 2017
Director: Alison Bennett
Cast/Devisers: Alison Bennett, Dymphna Carew, Alicia Gonzalez, Mathias Olofsson, Melissa Hume
Image by Maria Hansson

Theatre review
Corporations exist to make money for its stakeholders, that much is clear. Everything else they claim to do, are undertakings that must be taken with a pinch of salt. In Trade, we examine the nature of these organisations, and their perennial pretensions around social responsibility. If the point of their existence is to maximise profit, we must always hold a sceptical attitude toward their altruistic proclamations. It is a culture that defines itself by taking more than it gives, so our interactions with businesses should always be cautious, and if their people are anything like the vile characters in Trade‘s fictitious world, then the state of our affairs is very grim indeed.

The piece looks exaggerated, but what it communicates feels absolutely real. Its theatrical language is inventive, absurd and hyperbolic; the story is told with faces and bodies in a completely anti-naturalistic way, and through its performance art approach, we discover a surprising accuracy in its grotesque portrayal of greed and megalomania.

Alison Bennett’s direction is spectacularly entertaining while maintaining a raw unconventionality. In the absence of a complex narrative, details are located instead, in all the deliberate gestures of the five flamboyant players, each one presenting their own version of the unhinged corporate cannibal. Elaborate sequences involving an energetic ensemble and its strange movement vocabulary, keeps us fascinated and thoroughly amused. Their cohesiveness is deeply impressive, and the most persuasive element of the show.

It is a strong message that Trade wishes to impart, but for all its passionate assertions, what we do eventually leave with, is a simple and unoriginal idea about the darker sides of humanity. Also less satisfying, is the deficiency in commitment to visual design of the production. The audience’s eyes are thoroughly engaged in this dance of anthropological ugliness, but little is on offer when our sight shifts beyond the performers.

It is easy to want to participate in life with the principle of “eat or be eaten”. We can think of our capitalism as being fundamentally and inevitably cruel, and then allow ourselves to do harm unto others, to keep from falling prey to those who run faster. The fear of not succeeding can be overwhelming, and the voracious appetite for an unending more, is a force that few of us can hide from, but surely there must exist something more generous and compassionate, if not entirely more blissful, in a way of life that is abundantly honest and, dare we say, pure.

www.hurrahhurrah.com.au

Review: The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood (Japan Foundation)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 22 – 23, 2017
Playwright: Suguru Yamamoto
Director: Suguru Yamamoto
Cast: Wataru Kitao

Theatre review
The neighbourhood in question is Nagai, a small Japanese town, unremarkable and forgotten. The stories we hear are disparate, about individuals associated only by physical proximity, but each with an unmistakable sense of isolation. Suguru Yamamoto’s The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood is about the loneliness of modern life, our increasing introversion as a result of technological advancements and the ever-present tensions rendered by our human need to connect.

It is a script with lots to say, and a long, meandering plot. Small narratives pique our interest, but in the absence of a more conventional approach to manufacturing drama, the 90-minute production struggles to sustain our attention. There are inventive elements to its staging methodology that make the show an artistic success in many ways, but its emotional dimensions, although intensely performed, are less affecting.

Wataru Kitao embodies a large number of characters, including a gorilla and a train, in this ambitious one-man show. A highly accomplished dancer utilising both European and Japanese disciplines, along with versatile vocal abilities, Kitao’s portrayals of all ages and genders with no reliance on costume or makeup changes, is clearly impressive. Brilliantly self-assured, his presence is a confident one that keeps audiences gratified.

The Unknown Dancer In The Neighbourhood shows us the problems of modernity but offers no solutions and does not place blame on anyone explicitly. It is a true representation of our experiences, so we know what it refers to, without requiring it to have everything spelled out. As each generation of trains move us faster and faster, we can only be carried away as the times see fit. Our humanity will offer resistance, but as history shows, people will transform along with the machines we build. The past can tell us so much of what to expect in the future, but the mystery of what is to come, will always prevail.

www.jpf.org.au