Review: Chef (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 25 – Feb 5, 2023
Playwright: Sabrina Mahfouz
Director:
Victor Kalka
Cast: Alice Birbara
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

Her passion for the culinary arts is undeniable, but she talks about her favourite food in the past tense. There is a lot to be unnerved about, in Sabrina Mahfouz’s Chef. A woman is caught between spaces coarse and rarefied, living simultaneously in moments mundane and sacred, for a story that explores issues of class, along with themes about gender. It is a multi-faceted work, with generous doses of abstraction that make for an unpredictable theatrical experience.

Performed by Alice Birbara, under the direction of Victor Kalka, the one-woman show is intricately constructed, especially in terms of the character’s complex emotional condition, and her vacillating mental states. There is an intensity that can feel too unrelenting in the production, but the commitment to authenticity is an admirable one. The difficulty of a traverse stage, when only a single actor is occupying our attention, is successfully addressed by Birbara, who maintains consistent contact, whichever side of the auditorium one finds themself.

Kalka’s set design is palpably accurate, in its evocation of locations relevant to the unnamed woman’s tale. Jasmin Borsovszky’s lights are dynamic and imaginative, effective at providing surprising and gratifying visual variety. Sound by Ryan Devlin bring a sense of drama to the piece, reliable at heightening tension whenever required.

Women are expected to know our way around a kitchen, unless it is a commercial one, with money, status and real power at stake, then we are denied equitable participation, as is the case in every situation where the patriarchy institutes the rules to benefit a privileged few. The word “chef” in French, refers to a leader, a master of their own domain. The woman we meet in the play has all the qualities, and every right, to be the determinant of her own destiny, and an absolute boss in her professional realm, but sadly she is not going to make it on her own.

www.kingsxtheatre.com | www.virginiaplaintheatre.com

Review: Hubris & Humiliation (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 20 – Mar 4, 2023
Playwright: Lewis Trenton
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Mathew Cooper, Roman Delo, Celia Ireland, Melissa Kahraman, Andrew McFarlane, Ryan Panizza
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

Elliott is leaving Brisbane to work in Sydney, and also to find a rich husband, because his mother Bernice has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to a catfishing incident. Much like the Jane Austen oeuvre, from which it takes inspiration, Lewis Trenton’s Hubris & Humiliation is on some levels an examination of class, and on others a frivolous romantic romp. Its plot may unravel to a flimsy conclusion, but the journey is nonetheless satisfying, with witty dialogue and fabulously observed characters, making for a truly wonderful time at the theatre.

Direction by Dean Bryant is unabashedly campy, but laced with an acerbic edge to prevent any sense of hollow affectation. His show is relentlessly effervescent, amusing at every turn, often dazzling with genuine hilarity. Set design by Isabel Hudson is suitably ostentatious, with a commendable versatility that accommodates the play’s many location changes. Hudson’s costumes are brightly hued, to keep our eyes sated and occupied. Lights by Alexander Berlage provide amplification to the brassy quality of the piece, but are also effective at delivering emotional tenderness when required. There is an elegant restraint to Matthew Frank’s sound and music, able to facilitate action and elicit responses, but careful to remain unobtrusive.

Extraordinary work by the cast of Hubris & Humiliation makes it an utterly memorable experience. Elliott is played by Roman Delo, whose exceptional instincts bring impressive elevation to a role that could easily be perceived as banal. Delo’s confident charisma is the unequivocal lynchpin, of this staging’s success. Ryan Panizza plays dual roles Warren and William with conviction, offering strong counterpoint to Elliott’s incorruptibility.

Women performers steal the show, along with our hearts, in a range of supporting parts that give depth and substance, to the irrepressible comedy. Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Celia Ireland and Melissa Kahraman are inventive and joyful, each demonstrating their own admirable talents, in the exalted art of mirthful storytelling. Matthew Cooper and Andrew MacFarlane create fascinating personalities that address our need for progressive versions of masculinity, in this tale of new unions and modern sexualities.

It is funny how we care so much about the sex lives of others. This need to probe and police what people do in private, is however no laughing matter, with many having suffered persecution through the ages, for not following the rules. Hubris & Humiliation takes place not in Austen’s Regency era, but in the here and now, and to see everyone free to make new rules in its emancipatory narrative, is gratifying. Nothing should hold us back from life’s infinite pleasures, as long as we stick to the simple principle, that no one gets hurt, and that enthusiastic consent remains integral to every kind of sexy.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Janet’s Vagrant Love (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 19 – 22, 2023
Playwright: Elaine Crombie
Directors: Kirk Page
Cast: Elaine Crombie
Images by

Theatre review

In between personal anecdotes of love and loss, Elaine Crombie sings incredibly beautiful songs, as she plays her guitar, with accompanist Amaru Derwent on keyboard. The show is entitled Janet’s Vagrant Love, but not for a second do we feel that Crombie conveys anything but her own deepest truths, in these recollections, involving people who have come and gone. We witness joy and pain, seemingly dichotomous but in comfortable juxtaposition, as well as strength alongside vulnerability, such are the complexities and incoherence of existence.

Direction by Kirk Page allows the fractures to remain exposed and unvarnished in the show. The experience is simply about being in the presence of humanity, one that we can feel to be natural and real, with narratives that are as disjointed as those in every person’s life. The presentation may be unpretentious, but there is no denying the skill of Crombie’s vocals and song writing, delivering many moments of transcendence.

Crombie, as a Pitjantjatjara, Warrigmal, South Sea & German descended woman, very generously says that this place is home for all of us. It can only follow, that when one of our family, especially if they are part of a lineage that has grappled with generations of dispossession, takes to the stage and magnanimously shares the contents of her heart, we have to bear witness, and be filled with a deep appreciation, to be offered an opportunity that many do not deserve.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Blue (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 14 – 29, 2023
Playwright: Thomas Weatherall
Directors: Deborah Brown
Cast: Thomas Weatherall
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review

Barely out of his teens, Mark is already facing some of life’s biggest challenges. Having been dealt devastatingly bad hands in quick succession, he is left to pick up the pieces, in a world he is not quite ready for. Thomas Weatherall’s Blue is a work of fiction, but its explorations of despair feel exhaustive and authentic. There is a beauty in his rhythmic arrangement of words, that keeps the darkness from becoming alienating, along with a wistful humour that gently endears. As is perhaps typical of young writing, Blue may not always be sufficiently insightful, but its ability to convey poignancy is unequivocal.

Directed by Deborah Brown, the staging is tender and immediate, consistently intimate in its rendering of a contemplative one-man show. Set design by Cris Baldwin and Jacob Nash evokes a glacial edge, mesmerising with its intricate detailing of surfaces, and effective at transporting us to the oceanic settings that play an important part of the storytelling. David Bergman’s video work is projected onto the entirely white vista, for breathtaking visual transformations that move us beyond the capacity of words. Lights by Chloe Ogilvie are soft and sensitive, helping us connect with the undulating melancholy of the piece. Wil Hughes’ minimal sound design too, is delicate in its efforts to enhance the efficacy of the words we hear.

As performer, Weatherall’s disarming charm lures us into the deeply introspective monologue, to participate in Blue‘s solemn ruminations about the nature of love and loss. Weatherall’s knack for naturalism makes convincing everything that he presents. His ability to inhabit Mark’s intense emotions is compelling, proving successful at drawing sympathy for the character’s very unfortunate circumstances.

Blue showcases a new era of masculinity, one that feels radically different from all preceding generations. It is unafraid of what it feels, and refuses to be humiliated for honouring truth and emotion. It disregards pretences of power, seeking instead genuine manifestations of strength. It values vulnerability, and understands human fallibility to be natural and necessary, in attaining improved lives, for the individual as well as for communities. When men stop denying the sadness that will always figure in being human, they can perhaps chart a new course, by first identifying what it is, that they really need, to make this existence truly fulfilling.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Girls & Boys (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 5 – 15, 2023
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Mitchell Butel
Cast: Justine Clarke
Images by Sam Roberts

Theatre review

The play is at first incredibly banal, with a woman beginning to tell her life story, with no hint of how her experiences may be of any significance or consequence, to anyone but herself. For almost an hour, the unnamed character in Dennis Kelly’s Girls & Boys tries to beguile her audience with mildly amusing tales of love, family and career, only to come across strangely oblivious to the increasingly ordinariness of what she is sharing. A bombshell is dropped however, in the middle of the show, and everything changes drastically.

Kelly’s writing does not begin at the point of trauma, choosing instead to take an inordinate length of time to set the stage, in order to convey a sense of everyday mundanity, before unleashing its drama of catastrophic proportions. It is arguable if the phenomenon of normative domesticity requires such intricate definition, but there is no questioning the theatrical efficacy of the tension and agony that subsequently surfaces. Girls & Boys takes a while to get to its point, but what it wishes to say about gender is certainly valuable.

Mitchell Butel’s direction of the piece is unremittingly sensitive, able to create resonance in every moment, whether they be simple or vivid. For almost two hours, our attention is held entirely captive, even when nothing particularly substantial seems to be happening. Set design by Ailsa Paterson is colourful and curvaceous, helpful in keeping our eyes animated and engaged. Lights by Nigel Levings and sound by Andrew Howard, are elegantly, and sparingly, utilised to manipulate atmosphere, for a show that speaks in nuance.

Performer Justine Clarke is flawless in this one-woman show, so impressively enamouring with her talent, dedication and skill, that we almost disregard the big messages of the show itself. Clarke’s work is thorough and deep, yet it never feels laboured, and along with an exceptional charm, we find ourselves completely absorbed, in everything she wishes to impart.

What Girls & Boys says about gender, is worth repeating, and has certainly been said time and time again. The woman in the play, would have heard those messages of admonishment many times, before encountering the devastating events that will eventually shape her entire life. We can tell each other everything about these profound truths, yet it seems it is in our nature, to only learn from first-hand experience, these hardest lessons of life.

www.sydneyfestival.org.au | www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Amadeus (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Dec 27, 2022 – Jan 21, 2023
Playwright: Peter Schaffer
Director: Craig Ilott
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Katherine Allen, Lily Balatincz, Blazey Best, Michael Denkha, Gabriel Fancourt, Belinda Giblin, Glenn Hazeldine, ‘Ana Ika, Michaela Leisk, Daniel Macey, Arky Michael, Sean O’Shea, Joshua Oxley, Josh Quong Tart, Rahel Romahn, Laura Scandizzo, Toby Schmitz, Michael Sheen, Daniel Verschuer
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was barely 36 when he died an impoverished man in 1791. The influential Antonio Salieri was at the time, director of the Italian opera in Vienna, and although he understood the genius of Mozart’s work, did little to improve the rival composer’s circumstances. In Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, it is suggested that Salieri may even have been responsible for the poisoning and subsequent death of Mozart. The 1979 play explores the human experience of envy, as it relates to art and status, demonstrating the extent to which it can lead a person to destruction.

Almost half a century hence, Craig Ilott’s direction of the piece is memorable for its extravagant incorporation of live music (performed by The Metropolitan Orchestra), which delivers for the production an unmistakeable transcendence, such is the power of Mozart. Also highly impressive are costumes by Romance Was Born and Anna Cordingley, providing remarkable flourish and extraordinary exuberance, against a restrained black stage. Designed by Michael Scott-Mitchell, the set feels appropriately grand, with clever placement of stairs that facilitate many visually satisfying configurations of performers and their kaleidoscopic attire. Lights by Nick Schlieper offer a touch of sophistication, helping us pay attention to the real drama unfolding, in the middle of a lot of hullabaloo.

Actor Michael Sheen is full of mighty vigour, as the hateful Salieri, unrelenting in his assertions of passion and energy, for a story that urges meaningful introspection. More textured in approach is Rahel Romahn, whose Mozart proves endearing and exigently sympathetic. Both Sheen and Romahn bring great nuance and vulnerability to their roles, albeit in wildly contrasting styles. The wonderfully whimsical duo of Belinda Giblin and Josh Quong Tart, are notable as a pair of characters known as Venticelli, representing a more objective perspective in this controversially revisionist take on Mozart’s demise.

Salieri and Mozart wax lyrical about God, acknowledging the presence of divinity in artistic pursuits, but also attributing many of their very human decisions to their Christian deity. If Salieri did inflict harm on Mozart, we can infer that much of it was bolstered by religious faith, as observed in his perverse belief that God does answer his dangerously narcissistic prayers. It is perhaps true that art, especially when sublime and beautiful, comes from an otherworldly realm, but it is plain to see, that there is nothing at all celestial, in all the damage that people impose.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Velvet Rewired (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Dec 22, 2022 – Feb 12, 2023
Director/Creator: Craig Ilott
Cast: Joe Accaria, Jacinta Gulisano, Marcia Hines, Sasha Lee Saunders, Craig Reid, Beau Sargent, Tom Sharah, Sven and Jan, Harley Timmermans
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

Performer Tom Sharah plays someone meek, miserable and lost, inside an exuberant clubland peppered with decadence and brimming with cacophonous life. It is the story of a man’s broken heart, that provides a vague sense of narrative to Velvet Rewired, a theatrical presentation in the form probably best described, as a variety show. Comprising 75 minutes of classic disco hits, and nary a word of dialogue, it is a cornucopia of colour and movement that we are thrust into, along with an old school devil-may-care spiritedness, that hopes to awaken the most wearied of our modern cosmopolitan dispositions.

Created and directed by Craig Ilott, Velvet Rewired provides an excuse for an instance of hedonism, where all the strain of staying alive can be set aside. Ilott urges us to indulge in his fantasy realm, by removing rhyme and reason from our interactions with the staging. Indeed it is when mind-boggling stunts occupy our attention, and we lose our breath gawking at incredible physical feats, by the likes of aerialists Beau Sargent and Harley Timmermans, rollerskating acrobats Sven and Jan, and hula hooping wonder Craig Reid, that the show really lifts us away from the mundane.

Also out of this world, is the singing diva Marcia Hines whose voice and presence help move us somewhere decidedly more transcendent, or rapturous even. Jacinta Gulisano and Sasha Lee Saunders appear to be the hardest working women in showbusiness, onstage for almost the entirety, singing and dancing with great energy and precision, as only the most passionate of artists can. Amy Campbell’s choreography takes care to accentuate the best of this duo’s qualities.

Joe Accaria too is always in sight, as the charismatic DJ perched atop in his secular pulpit, orchestrating the action through his control of the irresistible disco beats. Accaria’s work as musical director for Velvet Rewired is powerful, able to revive the magic of funk and soul music from almost half a century ago, to deliver a sense of timeless euphoria. Lights by Matthew Marshall are dazzling, as they take advantage of the genre’s capacity for limitless ostentation. James Browne’s set design involves a catwalk that makes each member of audience feel part of the action, and his costumes bear a flamboyance and sexiness, that keep our eyes satisfied.

The aforementioned Tom Sharah sparkles when his unnamed character attains his moment of spiritual emancipation. At a show like Velvet Rewired we too are gifted a flash of freedom, where for a few minutes nothing else matters, but the sensual basslines of tried and tested records, that will offer epiphany and redemption, maybe not everlasting, but certain to return when least expected.

www.velvetrewired.com

Review: Boxing Day BBQ (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Dec 5, 2022 – Jan 15, 2023
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Danielle Carter, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Aileen Huynh, Brian Meegan, Jamie Oxenbould
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

Peter takes Boxing Day celebrations very seriously. It is a family tradition that he clings on to desperately, for reasons of nostalgia and of sentimentality, even though the occasion is a frustrating one for all involved. Sam O’Sullivan’s Boxing Day BBQ is a satire on middle class Australia, critical of our values, yet generous in its portrayals of our behaviour. O’Sullivan captures with admirable accuracy, the zeitgeist as it pertains to attitudes about issues like the economy and the climate. Although the work has a tendency to be overly earnest, thus diminishing its comic qualities, Boxing Day BBQ is ultimately politically convincing, which is undoubtedly a favourable outcome.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction of the piece ensures a dramatic tautness, that keeps us invested in the story. Characters and relationships are believable and compelling, and their interchanges are imbued with a sense of consequence and urgency, to sustain our attention. Set design by Ailsa Paterson is a charming representation of the classic suburban backyard, that allows for an abundance of visually pleasing spatial configurations. Genevieve Graham’s costumes help establish personalities quickly, with appropriate colours and shapes that tell us who these people are, even before they begin to speak. Lights by Matt Cox and sound by David Grigg, offer subtle unobtrusive renderings, which honour the art of storytelling above all else.

The cast of five is evenly matched, each with opportunities to shine at centre stage. Danielle Carter, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Aileen Huynh, Brian Meegan and Jamie Oxenbould demonstrate great capacity for listening to one another, forming a team that impresses with its chemistry. There is an integrity to their approach to performance, that makes us receptive to the play’s important message.

Family members in Boxing Day BBQ argue about human civilisation, and its culpability on the state of the world. Some of us will acknowledge all the harm we have caused, and some of us will choose not to. Either way, there should be no dispute about the fact that should we want a bright future, it is incumbent upon us to do all we can, to make it happen. It seems we have not been able to agree on the truth of the past, and worse, there is often divisions about where we are today, but to have no consensus about what tomorrow should look like, is perhaps the biggest danger that we face.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: The Wasp (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 2 – 17, 2022
Playwright: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Director:
Becks Blake
Cast: Cara Whitehouse, Jessica Bell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

Carla and Heather were best friends at school, but things turned awry in Year 7. Reuniting 20 years later, we discover the depth with which those difficult times in their early teens, have affected these now grown women. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s The Wasp is a story of violence, one that relates particularly to the experience of youth violence by girls and women. We explore its enduring effects, looking at how a person is shaped over time, asking questions about the permanence of damage, and how we carry trauma through our lives. Carla and Heather’s stories are told with a thrilling boldness. Endless twists and turns, accompanied by truly scintillating dialogue, make The Wasp an immense delight, albeit a frequently harrowing one.

Directed by Becks Blake, we are given awesome insight into the psychological and emotional mechanics, of these two very unique yet realistic personalities. Blake makes explosive, each and every shocking revelation in the narrative. The drama is delicious, and the comedy consistently wicked, in a show memorable for its grit and edgy intensity. Fun and scary, The Wasp involves high stakes and controversial ideas, to provoke, to entertain and to engage.

Stage design by Axel Hinkley cleverly fuses two distinct spaces, into one harmonious whole. Hinkley’s costumes, like their set, are accurately rendered, to evoke time, place and importantly class, for this tale of two social strata. Lights by Martin Kinnane are simple, if slightly too subtle in the depiction of textural transformations, for how the relationship morphs between the two women. Johnny Yang’s sound design is wonderfully imaginative, and sensitive in its calibrations of atmosphere, as we delve deeper and deeper into the nightmare of old friends and their old grievances.

Actor Jessica Bell is stunning as Carla, hilarious in her portrayal of proletarian coarseness, and masterful with her concoctions of dramatic tension, keeping us wide eyed and slack jawed for the duration. Bell’s work on this occasion is truly a performance to remember. Heather is played by Cara Whitehouse, whose deep submergence into her character’s twisted world, convinces us of all her deranged antics. The pair is beautifully well-rehearsed, with a sense of intricacy that allows us to read infinitely closely to every detail being presented, and emerge feeling we have learned something remarkable.

Violence begets violence, if conventional wisdom is to be believed. It is true that the effects of violence reverberate beyond inciting incidents. Like the nature of karma, a transference occurs, whether from one person to others, or from one unto themselves. In The Wasp we see the trauma finding ways to manifest, always in ugly and horrific ways, extending inward or outward, to prolong its effects. Damage spreads, and it remains a mystery, if deep hurt can ever just go away.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: M’ap Boulé (Urban Theatre Projects)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 6 – 9, 2022
Playwright: Nancy Denis
Composer: Carl St. Jacques
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Nancy Denis (with musicians Victoria Falconer, Mick Stuart and Kween G)
Images by Jacquie Manning

Theatre review
Nancy Denis is a warrior, not only of circumstance, but also of heritage. A woman of Haitian background, a fighting spirit thrives in her blood. Generations of colonial history have not been able to subdue Denis, as she declares in her show M’ap Boulé, or “I’m On Fire” in English. Featuring stirring music composed by the recently departed Carl St. Jacques, M’ap Boulé is a passionate exhibition of one woman’s joy and pain, and a poignant autobiography by a young artist with a lot to say.

An embodiment of dark-skinned queer womanhood, Denis represents so much of what is marginalised. The dominant hegemony that privileges the straight white male, is of course unable to conceive of her as equal. Her lived experience of inconvenient intersectionalities also means, that the various groups to which she should belong, also struggle to contain the seemingly conflicting identities that are ascribed onto her complicated, but perfectly natural body. To say that M’ap Boulé is an important work would be an understatement; it is a voice we rarely hear, yet demonstrates itself to be, quite possibly, the voice we need most to hear.

A warrior’s story is inherently combative and propulsive, but in M’ap Boulé  it is the revelations of weakness and vulnerability, that make its depictions of strength, truly resonate. Directed by Anthea Williams, the show feels unequivocally guided by a sense of integrity, determined to put to the stage, a wholistic perspective of the author and all that she has chosen to share. Set and costumes by Maitê Inaê are celebratory of Denis qualities, as a woman of colour, born of Haitian immigrants, and together with Karen Norris’ lights, the stage glimmers and pulsates, to connect with the most sensual of our beings.

The artist’s charisma and exuberance as a performer, ensure that her audience is kept riveted. Her velvety timbre, especially when singing contralto, is simply exquisite, and a rare gift that brings tremendous amplification, to the soulfulness that underpins every song. Joining Denis on stage are musical director Victoria Falconer, rapper Kween G and musician Mick Stuart, who work in transcendent harmony, to offer our ears access to some place decidedly more exalted.

When we watch Nancy Denis on stage, we understand that she is precisely where she needs to be. There are no inadequacies, just as there is no perfection. We need to learn to see ourselves, beyond capitalistic and patriarchal lenses, to remember that we are human through and through, never to be anything but. For sure, we are capable of more, of better, of something else, but it is integral that we never forget, that today, is the result of having overcome everything before, and it is good.

www.utp.org.au