Review: Hyperdream (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 15 – Jun 5, 2021
Creative Leads: Adriane Daff and Mikala Westall
Playwrights: Matt Abell-King, Adriane Daff, Nat Jobe, Angela Mahlatjie, Josh Price, Mikala Westall
Cast: Adriane Daff, Nat Jobe, Angela Mahlatjie, Matt Abell-King
Images by David Charles Collins

Theatre review
Hyperdream by Adriane Daff and Mikala Westall, takes us on a sci-fi joyride, in which individuals can visit a facility, where memories are replayed in a sort of virtual reality experience, so that one may be able to relive the past. Characters access best days of their lives, in order that they may escape the disappointments of today. Others reach back to traumatic moments, hoping to bring revisions to their personal histories. More than a mode of entertainment, it uses “total recall” to deliver what looks to be a futuristic psychotherapy, for when being in the here and now, is simply intolerable.

The staging utilises a big projection screen, positioned front and centre, with four performers and an omnipresent video camera, creating scenes in different nooks throughout the space. We find ourselves gradually losing sight of reality, as we watch these people in digital pixels and in the flesh, frantically rollicking in their chaotic green screen fantasia. Buoyed by the adventurous musical stylings of Julian Starr, we all get caught up in an undefinable space, half lucid and half catatonic. It is an effervescent work, derived from an incandescent experimental spirit. Although not always coherent or resonant, the atmosphere being generated is full of wonder, with moments of comedy that truly tickle.

Performer Matt Abell-King is especially funny, able to inspire laughter with a twitch of the eyebrow, and a flamboyant flick of a leg. Angela Mahlatjie too is hilarious, most memorably in a delightful sequence in which she flashes back to a cherished time of romance, for a sarcastic look at women’s relationship with love and marriage. Also thoroughly enjoyable, are Adriane Daff and Nat Jobe, whose bold approaches to Hyperdream‘s humour, offer an opportunity for viewers to revel in a brand of absurd extravagance infrequently seen in Australian theatre.

The way me make sense of today and tomorrow, depends entirely on how we understand the past. If one is given the ability to delve back into old narratives, so that they can be re-examined, and be given renewed interpretations, then returning to the now, could mean a complete revitalisation of being. So much of what is broken today, is a result of memories that have taken us, and continue to take us, down the wrong path. The past cannot be changed, but the ways in which we understand it, should always be evolving, in service of a better tomorrow.

www.redlineproductions.com.au | www.thelastgreathunt.com

Review: Goddess: The Elizabeth Burton Story (Old Fitz Theatre)


Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 4 – 8, 2021
Co-creators and Performers: Elizabeth Burton, Betty Grumble, Aaron Manhattan
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
Striptease artist Elizabeth Burton’s career began in the late 1960’s. When she discovered Go-go dancing, doors opened for Burton to travel the world, allowing her to meet people of all kinds, and to put her stamp on an artform that never ceases to be subversive. Now at the grand age of 73, Burton continues to create, and in Goddess: The Elizabeth Burton Story, takes to the stage once again, not only to usher us into the indulgent realm of exotic performance, but also to share anecdotes and wisdom, in a way only someone who has truly lived, can do.

Fearless and boundary-breaking, Burton’s stories are not all triumphant. Instances of tragedy and misfortune are many, as is the case with people who take roads less travelled, but these recollections are told with an astounding sense of objectivity, almost counter-theatrical in approach. Burton is wistful for sweet memories, but it is with a sense of duty, and sometimes humour, that she brings up trauma. There is little wallowing, and certainly no performative pensiveness for dramatic effect. It is clear that the show is intended to uplift, but there is no denying its capacity to devastate. The truth resonates powerfully, no matter how the storyteller wishes to present her account of events.

To have a living legend at close proximity, especially one who seems incapable of pretension or any hint of defensiveness, is to come in contact with the divine. In a culture that persistently celebrates youth, the meaning of time is lost on us. We are taught to cultivate desirous visions of ourselves at half our age, rather than think about what we could be when twice our age. Burton can reminisce about things sordid or wholesome, extraordinary or mundane; there is no end to the details she can offer up, in this attempt to encapsulate an existence too immense, but of greatest value is to look into her eyes, and to see with absolute certainty, that dark as this world can be, everything is simply going to be all right.

Providing on stage support are Betty Grumble and Aaron Manhattan, both looking like faithful disciples to the esteemed one, on hand not only to prompt for stories and to help illustrate them, but also to represent meaningfully, a sense of community. The image being created is anti-establishment and queer. Goddess is about a woman who breaks the rules in the most profound manner. It talks about a person’s worth, not in ordinary terms of success and status, but through the re-framing of one woman’s radical definition of selfhood, Goddess dismantles our priorities as a culture, and adjusts our social values, to one that more accurately reflects the important things in life. We also learn that there is nowhere more edifying, than from our queer elders, especially those emancipated from so many pointless pursuits of conventionality, that we can uncover those very important things in life.

Hierarchies are only of benefit to those on top. This is painfully obvious, yet we live as though unaware, completely invested in systems that exploit our participation at the lower rungs. We are required to endlessly obey, in the faith that rewards are assured, and that those on top are playing by the same rules. Both are empirically false. Goddess provides inspiration, for each of us to search for ways to exist on the outside. Fulfilment can never be dictated, it must only be discovered independently. Elizabeth Burton discovered a love of herself, and today altogether, we bask in her divine glory.

www.redlineproductions.com.au | www.performinglines.org.au

Review: The Rise And Fall Of Saint George (Performing Lines)

Venue: Barangaroo Reserve (Barangaroo NSW), Jan 15, 2021
Music: Paul Mac
Lyrics: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Andrew Bukenya, Jacqui Dark, HANDSOME, Joyride, Brendan Maclean, Ngaiire, Marcus Whale, Inner West Voices, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Images by Bianca De Marchi

Theatre review
English pop music legend George Michael passed away Christmas Day 2016. His death (and life) holds special meaning for the diverse and bohemian suburb of Newtown in Sydney, where a mural was painted soon after by graffiti artist Scott Marsh, on a wall outside the home of musician Paul Mac. Passengers on a busy train line would pass by many times every hour, watching a sanctified commemoration of St George, complete with spliff and beer bottle, as if blessing Sydneysiders from an ironic but unequivocally loving heaven.

It was a difficult time for Australia, leading up to the same-sex marriage referendum in Sep 2017. Our divisions had become severe and overt like never before, but there he was, St George with a Pride flag draped around his shoulders, in a mock religious style, providing comfort and reassurance. The gay icon had left behind an unparalleled legacy. Emanating from the spray painted image, were memories of his achievements, escapades and defiance, a constant reminder that all will be fine, in the midst of daily homophobic attacks on virtually every media platform.

Days after it was made official that marriage equality would come to pass, our beloved St George was defiled. Black paint was smeared all over what had quickly become a landmark, by Christian fundamentalists, who claimed it an insulting portrayal of Jesus Christ. Our community was left reeling. The artists went to work. The Rise And Fall Of Saint George is a collection of songs by Paul Mac and playwright Lachlan Philpott, documenting that assault on Newtown and Sydney’s queer community. It deals with trauma not only of that fateful moment, but is in fact, a meditation on the lifelong persecution suffered by all of us whose sexual and gender identities dare deviate from the straight and narrow.

Like Michael’s own music, the work here is consistently melancholic, whether the rhythms are buoyant or sentimental. Peppered with deeply affecting moments of Mac addressing the audience from his piano, with first-hand accounts of precious memories, the entire experience is a tender one. A choir (conducted by Emily Irvine) and solo singers perform each number with admirable passion, often with flamboyant embellishments, but always sincere in their approach. Video projections by Tony Melov are evocative enhancements offering invaluable flashbacks, that return us to some very emotional days.

From his early days hiding in the closet, afraid of the myriad devastating repercussions if found out, to a rejuvenated existence that is unapologetically loud and proud, the George Michael narrative is one that all in this community is intimately familiar with. Violence is nothing new to us, and the more we have to endure it, the more brilliant we shine.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: Sunshine Super Girl (Performing Lines)

Venue: Sydney Town Hall (Sydney NSW), Jan 8 – 17, 2021
Playwright: Andrea James
Director: Andrea James
Cast: Luke Carroll, Jax Compton, Tuuli Narkle, Katina Olsen, Kyle Shilling
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
Living legend Evonne Goolagong ruled tennis through the 1970s, a remarkable feat by anyone’s standards, but her successes as a young Aboriginal woman can never be underemphasised. Systemic forces put in place through all these years of colonisation, means that any instances of excellence by the Indigenous population of our land, represents a defiant tenacity, whether or not the individual chooses to identify along political lines. In Andrea James’ Sunshine Super Girl, our heroine thinks of herself as apolitical, however there is no mistaking her achievements as anything but an immense source of pride and inspiration for Australians of all stripes.

Written and directed by James, the work is a captivating study of not just the sporting icon, but also the environment in which all Indigenous women have to endure. Sunshine Super Girl‘s discussions of gender and race, although handled with a lightness of touch, does not shy away from the hard realities that women of colour deal with every day and everywhere. The actual narrative of Goolagong’s glory years is uncomplicated and rarely overtly dramatic, but James’ meticulous direction, along with marvelous choreography by Katina Olsen and Vicki Van Hout, work in collaboration to deliver a rich and soulful creation, that many will find genuinely moving.

There is a tender sincerity to the production that makes its 90-minute duration a terrific experience. Music and sound by Gail Priest are intricate and sensitive, while lights by Karen Norris and projections by Mic Gruchy help us reach emotional depths beyond that which dialogue can provide. Set and costumes by Romanie Harper and Melanie Liertz convey contextual information with great efficiency, able to manufacture a sophisticated aesthetic that is elegant, authentic and very pleasing to the eye.

Leading lady Tuuli Narkle is a charismatic and truthful presence, who impresses with the thoroughness of her reflections, and the precision with which she executes her creative ideas. As a young Goolagong, Narkle is confident, nuanced and simply brilliant. The supporting cast comprises Luke Carroll, Jax Compton, Katina Olsen, Kyle Shilling, a formidable team beautifully cohesive at every turn, yet each performer is able to demonstrate distinct strengths that appeal to the audience in varied ways.

The importance of success stories and role models for minority communities, are often overlooked. Without sufficient examples of accomplishments by people like us, it is easy to think that everything is out of reach. On the other hand, these extraordinary personalities draw attention to the irregularity of people like us making it big. We must place attention on structural mechanisms that are hindrances for particular groups. This often means that dominant cultures have to consciously cede power, before parity can ever have a chance to be attained. Not many of us can be Evonne Goolagong, and we should not have to be exceptional in order to walk this earth with joy and dignity.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: Enemies Of Grooviness Eat Shit (Performing Lines)

Venue: The Red Rattler Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Oct 26 – Nov 5, 2020
Creator: Emma Maye Gibson
Cast: Betty Grumble
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
Understanding the power of love does not make one impervious to violence. To love thy neighbour, is a notion that should never have exceptions, but it seems our humanity has a habit of setting limits when it comes to generosity. The title of Betty Grumble’s latest outing, Enemies Of Grooviness Eat Shit feigns a sense of aggression, but its tongue-in-cheekness is evident. At the heart of Grumble’s show is a response to sexual violence, although it must be said that the artist resists constraints of any sort, leading to a nature of work that is stridently post-dramatic and non-linear, eluding categorisations at every juncture. The beauty of it is how one can bring interpretations of all kinds, no matter the viewer’s point of departure, and Grumble’s robust presence emanates a visceral power that rigorously provokes thought, even as our senses are consumed by her outrageous manoeuvres.

The character we come into contact with can be seen as a love warrior, oxymoronic but completely appropriate for our times of division. As North Americans march to their voting stations this week, we see a nation fighting for its survival, even though they may look more to be fighting one another. In truth, no fight is devoid of love. Humanity has been tied to death and destruction since the dawn of time, but all our transgressions are executed in the name of love, no matter how gruesome or savage. Even the Nazis say they kill for the love of their race. In Enemies Of Grooviness Eat Shit we confront the concept that hate seems always to be bred from love, yet if one is to be truly loving, ideas of revenge and justice will only turn painful and messy.

Grumble wrestles with herself and the world, as she tries to make things right. It is essentially a one-person show, but our star is constantly invoking others, most notably and with great veneration the artists Candy Royale and Annie Sprinkle, always naming collaborators and inspiring figures, as she takes charge of our communion. It is a deep understanding that for the world to be better, there can be no room for narcissism. We might only be able to speak one at a time, but efforts must find unity.

Grumble’s theatrical language prevents fissures resulting in us and them, so to talk about enemies, and to tell them to eat shit, always takes the attack back to the self. The violence if not turned inward, is certainly shared. In Grumble’s universe, Gaia and Karma are fundamental to how things are understood, and how things should be carried out. She offers a spiritual experience, but one that is devoid of naivety. If there are solutions, they can be found in guiding principles that the show teaches, not very much in words, but through the sensual and visual manifestations of what she puts her body through for our benefit.

Grumble may not have solved the world’s problems with her show, but she succeeds in introducing a moment of transcendence into each of our lives, and because to meet this artist is unequivocally unforgettable, the messages that she imparts will stick. Returning to spaces less sacred, less sublime, a part of us can sense the lingering presence of what had been witnessed, and we know that if everyone can get in touch with the Betty Grumble within, things will be all right.

www.performinglines.org.a

Review: Anthem (Roslyn Packer Theatre)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jan 15 – 19, 2020
Playwrights: Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas, Irine Vela
Director: Susie Dee
Cast: Maude Davey, Reef Ireland, Ruci Kaisila, Thuso Lekwape, Amanda Ma, Maria Mercedes, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Eryn Jean Norvill, Sahil Saluja, Osamah Sami, Eva Seymour, Carly Sheppard, Jenny M. Thomas, Dan Witton
Images by Victor Frankovski

Theatre review
Much of the action takes place in train carriages around the Greater Melbourne area, where more than anywhere else, an accurate cross section can be obtained of who Australians are today. Rich and poor have to sit together, as do black, brown and white, along with young and old. When extricated from our respective communities, classes and silos, we are forced to look at the real differences that define us, probably more so than the similarities that we like to imagine give meaning to our national identity. In Anthem, it is the very nature of discrepancies, of wealth, power and all that might constitute a person’s cultural capital, that are exposed and very powerfully discussed.

On a land that remains unceded by its Indigenous who make up only an estimated 3.3% of the current population, it is absurd that the rest of us should experience privilege of any description. Director Susie Dee does a splendid job of articulating, not only that injustice, but also the harmful collective delusion driving this nation, that some of us deserve more than others. Anthem makes it clear that no one here can legitimately possess more than others; for as long as Indigenous peoples are marginalised and unable to exercise rights of ownership, the rest of us can only ever be holders of dubious property and position.

The politics of the piece is made saliently resonant by Dee, who imbues every vignette of Anthem with accuracy and urgency, accompanied by a strident level of realism that defies us to ignore the problems residing in the very foundation of our Australian existences. An extraordinary cast keeps us mesmerised for the entirety of these 150 passionate minutes. Tremendously well-rehearsed and unbelievably cohesive, their performance represents some of the most gripping theatre one could ever hope to see. Actor Carly Sheppard is unforgettable, giving voice to Black Australia, able to portray humour alongside a virtuous fury, to make an important and conclusive statement about Indigenous rights.

Ruci Kaisila, Jenny M. Thomas and Dan Witton provide live music over the duration, sensational in their manipulation of atmosphere and emotions, through the very accomplished works of composer and sound designer Irine Vela. Set and costumes by Marg Horwell are intelligently executed, able to convey a sense of veracity for characters and situations, whilst offering theatrical dynamism to our experience of the show. Paul Jackson’s lights too, bring animation to the stage, and is valuable in establishing tone for every nuanced moment of this sensitively rendered play.

As Australians, we have grown accustomed to tolerating inequalities in our social order. It has become acceptable that the rich get richer, at the expense of the poor, who can obviously only get poorer as a result. Marginalised communities, most notably Indigenous peoples, are routinely subjugated and muzzled, as our structures continue to privilege voices that adhere to conditions stipulated by white patriarchy. We have learned to think of the downtrodden as deserving of their lack of position in society. Even when we find ourselves oppressed by those with money and power, we take on the blame in accordance with the conditioning enforced by those at the top. It is no wonder then that James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is invoked in both the prologue and epilogue of Anthem. The only solution is a revolution, if only enough of us can see beyond the lies.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: Hello, Beautiful! (Performing Lines)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 9 – 14, 2018
Playwright: Hannie Rayson
Director: Matthew Lutton
Cast: Hannie Rayson
Images by Andrew Bott

Theatre review
We live in a world determined to render the older woman invisible. Having exhausted her roles as sex object and mother, she is thought to have turned irrelevant, neither madonna nor whore, made to feel as though she has outstayed her welcome. With Hello, Beautiful! Hannie Rayson claims space as that grande dame, in a theatrical landscape that routinely excludes women of a certain age. Rayson represents only herself in this autobiographical work, but her presence is fundamentally political.

Rayson performs stories from her memoirs, beginning with her childhood in 60s suburbia, through to university, activism, parenthood and an ever-increasingly successful writing career. She offers glimpses of a charmed life, not particularly dramatic or eventful, but we find ourselves captivated by her delightful avidity, and share in the joys of her personal reflections. Staged with little fuss, Matthew Lutton’s direction places emphasis on Rayson’s talents and natural allure, for a simple production that achieves all that it sets out to do.

It is without exception, that societies benefit from knowledge and experience of their elders, yet in so much of Australia, we relegate our seniors to distant corners, anxious about the truths they will tell, and fearful of the mortality that they personify. Hannie Rayson’s contributions are significant and ongoing, and it is our privilege to be able to hear her speak. Bright, young things are dazzling to the senses, but it is at our own peril, that we ignore the only true repositories of wisdom.

www.performinglines.org.au | www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: My Urrwai (Belvoir St Theatre / Performing Lines)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 19 – Feb 4, 2018
Playwright: Ghenoa Gela
Director: Rachael Maza
Cast: Ghenoa Gela
Image by David Charles Collins

Theatre review
Ghenoa Gela is a Torres Strait Islander born in Rockhampton. Efforts to keep culture in her veins have always been deliberate and laborious; it is a constant battle for Indigenous Australians to resist colonisation and to retain their own identities. In My Urrwai, Gela shows us what it is like to be a woman of native heritage living in modern Australia, bringing particular focus to the unjust burden that black people have to bear, whilst existing on their own rightful lands, that white people had forcefully usurped.

Part of the tale involves a significant first visit to Gela’s extended family in the Torres Strait Islands, where she finds herself in moments of alienation, as well as extraordinary connection. My Urrwai is, among many things, a deep meditation about the need to belong, and with it, we examine the hugely important themes of displacement and repudiation as experienced by our First Nations peoples for 230 years and counting.

Formative and crucial fragments of Gela’s life are compiled intelligently, for an autobiography that feels impressively comprehensive in its scope. Even though My Urrwai does contain colourful idiosyncrasies, the earnest care with which it discusses issues of race is unmistakable, as it is probably inevitable that this one-woman show would be called upon to represent entire communities. The need for more productions featuring Torres Strait Islander voices, simply cannot be overstated.

As performer, Gela is an outstanding talent, combining years of training in stage disciplines, with an enviable presence, to produce the consummate storyteller. Her remarkably exacting and agile physicality, plus an uncanny ability to speak with great resonance, sonorous and philosophical, are the key ingredients in this wonderfully moving piece of theatre. Proving himself to be equally accomplished, is lighting designer Niklas Pajanti, whose work accurately prompts a wide range of emotional responses, from transcendent beauty to chilling terror. Director Rachael Maza’s sensitive manipulations of space, ensures that each scene is received crystal clear, whether in their inception, intent or purpose.

Unlike most plays we see on the Australian stage, My Urrwai is conscientious about acknowledging the multicultural aspect of our audiences. It understands that we do not all come from the same place, even if we do wish to identify as one. It is welcoming of all peoples, but it certainly does not subordinate those whose culture is on display. The ease with which it addresses Torres Strait Islander viewers, and its ability to establish a theatrical language that rejects white experience as the centre of all our orbits, is admirable. The process of decolonisation in how we do and think about art in Australia is a massively difficult one, but Ghenoa Gela and My Urrwai are jubilant rays of hope, undeniable in their brilliance.

www.performinglines.org.au | www.ilbijerri.com.au | www.belvoir.com.au