Review: Ulster American (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 13 – 29, 2021
Playwright: David Ireland
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Brian Meegan, Jeremy Waters
Images by Richard Farland

Theatre review
Ruth has come to London, from Northern Ireland, to begin rehearsals on her play. Unlike the show’s lead actor Jay, and its director Leigh, Ruth the playwright is not a star of the stage, and neither is she a man. This gendered imbalance of power is apparent right from the start, in fact even before Ruth appears, when the two men involve themselves with political conversations, in the absence of anyone who might understand first-hand, any experience of marginalisation. Ruth’s subsequent entrance proves an unbearable disruption, as we witness the savage implementation of patriarchal violence upon the young woman, at her every attempt to exert her rights, as a supposed equal creator in the artistic process.

All of this happens in David Ireland’s satirical Ulster American, a piercing interrogation of the uncomfortable relationship that the privileged have, with what seems to be a trendy phenomenon, of performative virtue signalling. Both Jay and Leigh believe themselves to be on the right side of history, always consciously using language that demonstrate their purported progressiveness, but it is their action that speak louder. In Ruth’s presence, the men cannot help but operate from positions of power and authority, fiercely protecting their status of dominance, and therefore the status quo.

Irreverent and genuinely funny, Ireland uses searing comedy to make palatable, ideas that are usually conveyed too dry and sanctimonious. It is perhaps an ironic choice to have a white man at its helm, but director Shane Anthony injects excellent nuance to ensure that we are always made aware of meanings and intentions. The production is fast-paced, enjoyably so, and Anthony validates that entertainment does not have to come at the price of a valuable message. Additionally, set design by Veronique Bennett and costumes by Claudia Kryszkiewicz, contribute a sleekness to the staging’s imagery, further convincing us of Ulster American‘s dissections of the contemporary bourgeoisie.

Actor Harriet Gordon-Anderson brings to the role of Ruth, a marvellous complexity that prevents her from devolving into a simple victim of circumstance. There is a confidence to her presence that offers fortitudinous juxtaposition against the two hysterical men railing against her. Oscar winner Jay is played by the highly engaging Jeremy Waters, who once again establishes himself as a storyteller of the highest calibre, in a brilliantly amusing and sarcastic take on the vacuous Hollywood monster archetype. Brian Meegan as English theatre director Leigh, is comically imposturous, and wonderfully authentic in its portrayal of a man who imagines himself a much better person than he actually is.

So much of art education, involves a certain inculcation of humility. Whether in the making of, or in the appreciation of it, one learns that the ego, is almost always a destructive force. In Ulster American, we watch egos get in the way, and observe how a person’s sense of aggrandized selfhood, prevents the creation of anything good. This manifests as a fight for space in David Ireland’s play, with the implication that those with privilege can only conceive of justice as a zero-sum game. When under threat, Jay and Leigh scramble to win back lost ground, always thinking in terms of deprivation, instead of dreaming up possibilities of more for everyone. Ruth has to fight tooth and nail, even resorting to unscrupulous means, but that is only because no real recourse is available to the oppressed.

Greed is not good, yet it remains central, in the pursuit of what so many of us perceive to mean success. Our lives need redefinition. Priorities and values need to be adjusted so that justice can prevail. It is debatable if a revolutionary overhaul is the answer, or if small steps and big words can count towards improvement, but to do nothing is without question, reprehensible.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: A Room Of One’s Own (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 6 – 23, 2021
Playwright: Virginia Woolf (adapted by Carissa Licciardello, Tom Wright)
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Anita Hegh, Ella Prince
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was almost a hundred years ago, when Virginia Woolf had given her lectures espousing the importance of championing women writers. Subsequently compiled and published in 1929 as an extended essay, A Room of One’s Own has since become a prominent work of twentieth-century feminist literature, providing language and concepts that have helped advance the cause.

Woolf’s meditations on liberation are, of course, much further-reaching than its immediate academic concerns. Finding ways to empower women writers, as we have discovered, involves an interrogation of how power is fundamentally distributed in our lives. These analyses about the people who do, and those who do not, have the space to think and write, generate a political discourse whereby women can contextualise their experience of freedom, or more likely lack thereof.

Adapted into a theatrical format by Carissa Licciardello and Tom Wright, we discover that Woolf’s words remain potent, even if her approach to these persistent issues can at times seem dated. We also observe that although much of how she had conveyed her thoughts, bear a passion that translates well to the stage, some of her writing is probably more effective when encountered in a book.

Performer Anita Hegh demonstrates a baffling super human memory, completely at ease with the enormous barrage of words she has to deliver. Her graceful gravitas creates for us, a version of Virginia Woolf who is engaging and persuasive, a formidable force of nature that lives up to our imagination, of what the legendary agitator could have been like in the flesh. Hegh’s work is extremely detailed, able to sustain our fascination with the intensity of her depictions, even in moments when one’s intellect falters at trying to keep up.

Licciardello’s direction of A Room of One’s Own introduces a substantial element of abstraction, to provide the show with a sense of elevation. In addition to what remains a lecture by Woolf, is a second performance space, a smaller cube in which a second actor Ella Prince is housed, as she manufactures physical augmentation to what is said and heard. These brief sequences are perfectly conceived, to add much needed theatricality, and to aide digestion of Woolf’s dense words.

David Fleischer’s work on set and costumes, are technically proficient but also surprisingly sensual. Lights by Kelsey Lee too, are soft and almost romantic in quality. The visuals offer a valuable counterpoint, to the understandably militant tone of the text. Music by Alice Chance is luscious, maybe even dreamlike, and along with Paul Charlier’s uplifting sound design, our mind is maintained in a mode of inspiration, as we welcome Woolf’s passionate call for progress.

“500 pounds a year” is the author’s unmissable refrain, reflecting a way of looking at equality that places emphasis on giving to women, what men possess. In the new century, we learn that what men possess, is no longer that which represents a better way of being. Woolf implies that to be rid of menial tasks, is the only way for women to think, but she was wrong. Many of modern feminism’s greatest thinkers were/are never able to leave the trenches of patriarchal oppression.

It is appropriate that both performers in the show are white women. Although much of what Woolf has written is valuable, it comes from a position of privilege that the author was evidently unwilling to confront. There is a deceptive simplicity to her message, and a strong tendency to preserve structures that should be called thoroughly into question. All she wants it seems, is to swap male for female, in these old ways of running things. What we need is to admit that these very systems of running things, are a problem, no matter who occupies positions within.

www.belvoir.com.au

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: Fun Home (Sydney Theatre Company / Melbourne Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 27 – May 29, 2021
Book and Lyrics: Lisa Kron (based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel)
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Gilbert Bradman, Ryan Gonzalez, Emily Havea, Mia Honeysett, Lucy Maunder, Jensen Mazza, Maggie McKenna, Adam Murphy, Marina Prior
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
In the American musical Fun Home, based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, we observe the cartoonist hard at work on her drafting table, looking back at memories of her difficult father. Bruce was a baby boomer, and like many queer people of that generation, never came to terms with being gay. Even as Alison began to come out as lesbian, his personal anguish never diminished, struggling even to offer support to his own daughter at a time when she had needed him most.

Clearly intended to be an emotional theatrical experience, the show’s reliance on an unlikeable character is risky, and even though the music is predictably and relentlessly sentimental, it is doubtful if audiences could ever feel the full impact of the hardship that this family had gone through. Alison goes to considerable lengths to find forgiveness and understanding for her father, but it is arguable if the musical provides sufficiently for us to respond with deep compassion, or even to care enough for these characters, to be able to invest adequately into their story.

The staging is a polished one, with Alicia Clements’ design facilitating efficaciously, the need for frequent oscillations of time and space. Matt Scott’s lights are beautiful, especially when depicting illusory moments during which we see characters suspended in the undefined abyss of Alison’s imagination. Director Dean Bryant introduces an excellent sense of pizzazz to the production, making sure that we are entertained to the fullest of the show’s potential. He ensures that the story is told with clarity, including the unsavoury revelations relating to Bruce’s life.

We see Alison at three periods of maturity, from childhood and her college years, to the grown woman she is today. Child star Mia Honeysett is fantastic as Small Alison, wonderfully nuanced and authentic, in her portrayal of a child navigating complicated family dynamics, as well as her own blossoming homosexuality. Medium Alison is performed by Maggie McKenna whose singing voice proves a divine pleasure, and Lucy Maunder is captivating as Big Alison, bringing a palpable tenderness that underpins the show. The striking Adam Murphy does his best to honestly depict Bruce, warts and all, but it is Marina Prior who leaves a strong impression playing his wife Helen. When she finally breaks her silence and delivers a faultless solo number, Prior’s technical prowess brings momentary elevation to the production, inviting us to luxuriate in the sheer genius of her singing.

It should come as no surprise that humans are sometimes much more troubling, than a 100-minute Broadway musical can accommodate. The formulaic nature of these creations, requires a form of storytelling that follows many rules, and we discover that truth can sometimes become its nemesis. Bruce’s sexual encounters with underaged boys, is not forgivable, especially in this space of commercial theatre. Fun Home requires us to regard Bruce’s past sins with generosity, the way his daughter has to, in order that our emotions may become engaged in accordance with the traditional peaks and valleys of a conventional musical. Bruce’s transgressions however, are much too severe, at least for the old-fashion song-and-dance format.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Honour (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Apr 23 – May 5, 2021
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Lucy Bell, Huw Higginson, Poppy Lynch
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
After 32 years of marriage, George, a renowned writer, suddenly decides that he is no longer in love with Honour. To be more precise, he simply no longer wants a life with her. Unsurprisingly, this change of heart is precipitated by the appearance of a younger woman, Claudia, who had been assigned to interview George for a publication. In Joanna Murray-Smith’s wonderfully contentious play Honour, the meanings of love, marriage and fidelity, are brought under scrutiny.

Some of our most fundamental values come into scintillating question by the work, as good art is want to do. Four characters, with differing perspectives, challenge the way we think about something that seems so often, to be prescribed and immovable. Additionally, a modern approach to the depiction of female desire, encourages us to examine romantic partnerships in renewed ways. Issues around duty and responsibility, as they apply to womanhood (who we care for, and who to care for us) further broaden the scope of how we regard these long-established notions of matrimony and family.

Although never too radical in temperament, Murray-Smith’s work bears intellectual dimensions that are deeply compelling. She presents her ideas in a way that feels accessible, but encourages us to go further with how we consider repercussions (for her characters, and for ourselves) as they appear through her narrative. Directed by Kate Champion, there is no shortage of richness in how the production discusses these topics. In fact, it often appears that philosophy comes before drama, in Champion’s presentation of Honour. The result is a rewarding experience of theatre, even if its dialogue can sometimes move quicker than our minds can keep up with.

Actor Lucy Bell invests heavily into emotional authenticity for her portrayal of Honour, the jilted wife. The human complexities in Honour’s reactions to her predicament are rendered soundly by Bell, who makes believable the extraordinarily cerebral way that this wronged woman processes her trauma. The other woman Claudia is compassionately interpreted by Ayeesha Ash, who prevents the audience from too easily dismissing the role for her problematic actions. It is in our understanding of Claudia, that we can attain a more sophisticated appreciation of the play’s ideas. George is made surprisingly sympathetic by Huw Higginson, a sensitive performer unjudgmental of the celebrity writer’s dubious choices. Honour and George’s daughter Sophie is played by an energetic Poppy Lynch, who succeeds at making substantial, a comparatively small role.

Production design by Simone Romaniuk is elegant and evocative, with a simplicity that complements the show’s performance style, focussing our attention closely on the intricacy of dynamics between characters. Damien Cooper’s lights too, offer generous enhancement to the tone of each scene, gracefully moving us from one mood to another. Music by Nate Edmondson adds a sense of flamboyance to the story’s inherent dramatics, effective at turning every seemingly mundane circumstance into something unequivocally theatrical.

We put so much time and effort into this thing called love, but rarely do we interrogate the impulses that lead us to it. In the play Honour, we can recognise that the experience of love, is influenced so much by factors that relate to social conditioning, or “the way we are brought up”. What feels natural and organic, is so heavily informed by beliefs that have been unconsciously, but actively, cultivated, yet to dare shift parameters around what is and is not permitted in how one chooses to experience love, is often met with disapproval. When George declares that he is no longer in love, in the old-fashioned way, with Honour, the overwhelming pang of betrayal is obvious to all. To want him to stay because of guilt, debt and responsibility however, is not what Honour deserves.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: seven methods of killing kylie jenner (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Darlinghurst Theatre Company (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 7 – May 2, 2021
Playwright: Jasmine Lee-Jones
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Vivienne Awosoga, Moreblessing Maturure
Images by Teniola Komolafe

Theatre review
Twitter is blowing up, and Cleo is unable to go to sleep. The idea that an extraordinarily privileged white woman could be declared a “self-made billionaire” is not just absurd, it is proving completely enraging to the young Black student living in her tiny English flat. When Cleo whips out her phone, and starts to tweet her feelings in response to the announcement of Kylie Jenner’s newly minted status, her words come fast and furious. For those who have nothing to lose, anonymity in the Twittersphere is especially useful, in challenging authority and for exposing injustice. Speaking truth to power is incredibly seductive, as we see in Jamine Lee-Jones’ very twenty-first century play seven methods of killing kylie jenner, until one discovers that the incendiary capabilities of social media, can work in all directions.

Playwright Lee-Jones is so ahead of the curve, one is tempted to label her, an original. Her ability to distil incredibly complex concepts pertaining to discussions around race, feminism and queerness, that have been swirling like confused wildfire in recent years, into a coherent and powerful 90-minute two-hander for the stage, feels so much to be a sort of inconceivable genius. The way Lee-Jones is able to focus all our messy arguments into something persuasive and lucid, is completely remarkable. Also very noteworthy, is the wit that she introduces into every scene, no matter how heavy things get, that demonstrates a deep understanding of how theatre operates. The laughs are incessant, as are the searing hard facts that Lee-Jones exposes unapologetically.

Bringing scintillating life to Lee-Jones’ words of wisdom, is Shari Sebbens’ meticulous yet spirited direction of the work. There is an exuberant boldness to Sebbens’ approach that delivers to the audience an exceptionally jubilant experience; her show is full of infectious joy yet, importantly, we are never let off the hook. Every morsel of difficult truth is driven home with a fierce stridency. seven methods of killing kylie jenner however is not a didactic exercise. One can hardly imagine its tone to be conducive for the conversion of any adversaries, but for preaching to the choir, it is pure gospel.

Actor Moreblessing Maturure inhabits Cleo with unparalleled authenticity, making it impossible to discern any disparity between the performer and the role she brings to the stage. There is not one ounce of fakery in Maturure’s depictions. The intensity with which she conveys every political assertion, coupled with the sheer perfection of her comedic timing, delivers to us a theatre that is nothing less than life affirming. Also very dynamic is Vivienne Awosoga, who plays Kara, the lighter-skinned queer counterpart, offering crucial balance to Cleo’s sometimes sanctimonious beliefs. Awosoga exhibits impressive versatility, for a character who has to traverse a wide range of emotions and intentions within the duration. The pair’s glorious chemistry (along with so much else of the production) is one for our herstory books. They are splendid together, so impossibly tight in sensibility and rhythm, keeping us hopelessly captivated and wishing that their show would never end.

Cleverly paced video projections by Wendy Yu, that display text and imagery from Twitter, play a significant part in the storytelling. Along with sounds by Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, the production never fails to stoke our passions, and to have us riled up at will. Kate Baldwin’s lighting design accurately and sensitively calibrates tone or mood for each sequence, while Keerthi Subramanyam’s set and costumes work with our imagination, to establish time and place for this tale of the Twitterati.

It has taken a long time for a show of this nature to materialise in our city. It has taken so much effort for culture to shift in so many quarters, in order that two Black women could appear on a prominent stage, be supported by other women of colour behind the scenes, to make grand pronouncements aimed at taking down the white supremacy that has plagued this land.

There is no guarantee however, that this seminal occasion will not just be a flash in the pan, that everything would revert to old ways. The worry that all energies have been depleted is not unfounded, as what seems on the surface to be an auspicious beginning, has in fact required years of investment and sacrifice. On the other hand, activists have always been tired. In fact, we become activists precisely because we are tired, of all the nonsense that fills our days. Being tired is not new to us, and our capacity for hope continues to lay beyond the bounds of human possibility, online and in real life.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com | www.greendoortheatrecompany.com

Review: Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 13 – 24, 2021
Playwright: Debra Oswald
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Debra Oswald
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Debra Oswald is a writer who has experienced great successes, but the periods of disappointment in between, are long drawn out and much too frequent. Like most artists, Oswald just keeps persisting, which is probably why she names her autobiographical one-person play, Is there Something Wrong with that Lady? The answer of course is that, it is entirely normal that artists in this country go through extended stints of neglect and even humiliation. In fact it may seem that artists do not require encouragement to be, for we continue to thrive even as conditions worsen in this climate of inescapable economic rationalism. One might be tempted to go so far as to say, that to be an artist in Australia, you will have to be born this way, and a beneficiary of some twisted curse perhaps.

Oswald is unstoppable. She keeps churning out books, plays and teleplays, like her life depends on them, or more to the point, like she has something to say. In her 80-minute solo effort, Oswald is charming, brimming with humour, always affable and delightful. A true blue Australian, she never takes herself too seriously, but it becomes clear that what she stands for, is something worth fighting for. Embracing creatives like Oswald, is crucial in dismantling the old boys club that runs so much of this country. Elevating women of a certain age, will redefine the values we hold as a nation. At the very least, as exemplified by Oswald’s play, we will learn that a person’s worth is not to be measured only by money, but by their imagination, their resilience, and most of all, their capacity to help communities connect.

Lee Lewis’ direction of the work is fairly minimal, demonstrating a sense of confidence that allows the staging to place emphasis completely on the physical presence of Oswald herself. There are minor enhancements in terms of music by Jessica Dunn and lights by Ben Brockman, but it is the inordinate clarity with which we receive the writer’s words that is the most enchanting. Although not the most natural of performers, Oswald is a vibrant personality who holds our attention effortlessly. Her piece may benefit from a slight edit, if only to accommodate our twenty-first century attention span.

Artists work to bring cohesion to society, whether intentional or not. Oswald is a storyteller of the purest kind. Her impulse is to share with the world, the characters and narratives that come through her, as though a sacred duty, so that we can be captivated as groups, to find consensus, instead of thinking incessantly about the divisions in-between. If we understand the importance of finding ways to conceive of the world beyond parameters of money and power, we will understand that those in public office and in private corporations, are not likely to be our answer. Art will set us free, terrifying as it may be.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Dead Skin (White Box Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 2 – 17, 2021
Playwright: Laneikka Denne
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Ruby Maishman, Sarah Jane Kelly, Abe Mitchell, Laneikka Denne, Camila Ponti-Alvarez
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
When high schooler Andie falls in love, it is not only her new girlfriend Maggie who occupies her mind. Visions of her mother Andrea come flooding relentlessly in. Laneikka Denne’s Dead Skin talks about teenage love, in tandem with the complications of a girl coming of age, without the presence of her mother. Young Andie needs to know what it is to become a woman, and in that transitionary process, the urge to understand a mother she never knew, becomes irresistible.

Much of the story is about the things we suppress, in order that we may survive, and the breaking points that occur, to open the gates for the confrontation of truth. As a child, Andie never received satisfactory information about Andrea’s disappearance, only knowing that life has to go on, imperfect as it may be. Things change however, when she is no longer able to experience the world as a child, and the truth of a woman’s being, must come to the fore.

Denne’s ideas are expressed meaningfully in her piece. Abstract concepts are juxtaposed comfortably against naturalistic scenes, using the theatrical form cleverly to explore curious facets of human psychology. The fragmented nature of the writing’s structure however, has a tendency to work against the audience’s capacity to sufficiently invest in its characters. Dialogue for Dead Skin whilst charming in its authentic representation of contemporary youth culture, can expose a superficiality in its efforts to capture painful aspects of emotional growth.

As performer, Denne is intense in the role of Andie. Very believable, if slightly monotonous, in her depiction of the awkward teenager; we never question the authentic voice she brings to the stage. Her new love is played by Ruby Maishman, charismatic and confident as the comical Maggie. Camila Ponti-Alvarez leaves a strong impression as Audrey, an unlikely maternal figure, especially captivating in moments of heightened drama. Sarah Jane Kelly and Abe Mitchell are mother Andrea and father Harry, respectively, both demonstrating excellent commitment, for somewhat perfunctorily conceived personalities.

Production design by Angus Consti offers clean lines on a very black stage, to denote a space that is about accuracy in the mind, rather than somewhere more tangibly material. Lights by Martin Kinnane provide much needed variation to atmosphere, but Chrysoulla Markoulli’s near constant drone for sound design, proves challenging.

Much of the show, directed by Kim Hardwick, feels like a dream state. We fluctuate between different levels of lucidity, with resonances that hit and miss. Dead Skin ebbs and flows, more interested in its own discoveries, than in driving home a point. Let artists do their art, and be grateful in our participation from the perimeters, as we observe and glean what we can. Together at the theatre, let us delight in curiosity, and hold each other safe, in an inevitable evolution of our species, whichever direction it may take us.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: Exit The King (Red Line Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 20 – Apr 10, 2021
Playwright: Eugène Ionesco
Director: Megan Wilding
Cast: Toby Blome, Shakira Clanton, Jonny Hawkins, Rob Johnson, Emma O’Sullivan, Dalara Williams
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
The King has ruled for hundreds of years, but it is now time to retire. His body is failing, as well as his mind, and even though the will remains strong, there is no turning back. The end is nigh in Eugène Ionesco’s 1962 absurdist Exit the King, although it gradually becomes clear that it is in fact, a new beginning that the people really need. It is a timeless tale, an appealing lament that addresses our seemingly ever present desire for institutional change, and for better government.

Ionesco’s writing however, offers the viewer more than an enjoyable narrative. His work goes on endless tangents, often contradictory and deliberately obtuse, but when in the hands of the right creators, a rare form of theatrical magic is delivered. Director Megan Wilding revels in the mischievous and unpredictable qualities of the script, taking care to marry comedy with meaning, for a show that has us engaged on multiple levels, simultaneously. Wilding’s take on Exit the King is often very funny, but even more admirable, is her ability to keep our intellect keenly stimulated through all its jokes.

A highly amusing team of performers, is headed by Jonny Hawkins, who gives a thrilling depiction of King Berenger, the decrepit has-been determined to outstay his welcome. Incredibly nuanced, endlessly imaginative and brimming with generosity, watching the fierce talents of Hawkins in action, is pure inspiration. The divine Shakira Clanton plays a strong, imposing Queen Marguerite, making her support character rumble with danger, whether or not she is positioned centre stage. The devastating drama between a white king and a Black queen, is the immutable focal point of the show, no matter what shenanigans are thrown our way. All other actors in the piece are equal parts idiosyncratic and inventive, working with extraordinary cohesiveness for something that seriously satisfies.

The production is energised by Alexander Berlage’s lighting design, dynamic at every turn, as is Ben Pierpoint’s work on sound and music, reliably enhancing all the wonderful activity taking place on stage. Veronique Bennett transforms the space into a Warhol Factory, silver surfaces everywhere for a set that perhaps evokes flashbacks of facile rulers throughout history, who had done more harm than good for their peoples. The pop aesthetic is extended into costuming by Aleisa Jelbart, very au courant and very tongue-in-cheek.

There is likely no dignified way to overthrow a government, but in Exit the King, the fantasy of nature taking charge, intervening to simply kill off the problem, is certainly enticing. The truth is that although individuals who hold power do die away, structures will sustain themselves, and it appears that the more malevolent those systems, the more likely they will persist. The Black queen waits patiently for her white king to die, and in Ionesco’s fiction, her strategy proves successful. Real life however permits no passivity should we want the pale, male and stale to abdicate. There is a fight underway, and those invested, have no luxury of waiting.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Appropriate (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 15 – Apr 10, 2021
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Wesley Enoch
Cast: Lucy Bell, Joel Bishop, Johnny Carr, James Fraser, Brenna Harding, Ella Jacob, Mandy McElhinney, Robbi Morgan, Sam Worthington
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Three siblings return, after the death of their father, to their Arkansas family home, in anticipation of the estate’s imminent sale. They are an unhappy bunch, and like many classics of stage and screen from the United States, these white Americans squabble and weep in each other’s presence, putting on display interpersonal conflicts and psychological trauma, as though resolution could eventually be found through performative acts of catharsis. In Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate however, characters ignore the most serious problems underpinning their very existence, unable to acknowledge fundamental faults that are more about a legacy relating to their Confederate history, than they are about individual infirmity.

Jacob-Jenkins draws a link between a sick society, and private lives constantly in search of emancipation. We are familiar with the idea that personal anguish compels us to seek remedies, but we rarely think about addressing wider contexts (in the case of Appropriate, both societal and familial), as being crucial in efforts to achieve a sense of well-being, or peace. This is especially true for those in positions of privilege. Jacob-Jenkins’ play features an all-white family, none of whom accept that the racism propagated by their forebears, has anything to do with their disquiet, much less be attentive to the racism that they continue to reinforce in their own daily lives.

This political statement, although a hugely consequential one, is made almost surreptitiously. The characters sweep these things under the carpet, and in the absence of an outside world that includes people of colour, none of what the play wishes to say, is presented explicitly. Director Wesley Enoch too, does not bring abundant emphasis to these matters, trusting instead that the message will resonate for those who want to hear it. Positioning the show as a somewhat conventional family drama however, means that Appropriate is not always satisfying. The reliance on a sense of realism, in efforts to make the narrative engrossing, has a tendency to reduce the drama to something slightly pedestrian. The play is much more than rich people fighting and being upset about their parochial concerns, but we are only provided glimpses of the real stakes that are actually involved.

An unevenness in the cast is largely responsible, for the production not conveying as much nuance and depth as required. Sam Worthington demonstrates good focus and intention, but an unfortunate lack in control over his voice and physicality in the role of Bo, makes for a confused, and confusing, performance that leaves us cold. Doing most of the heavy lifting is Mandy McElhinney, who shines brightly as resentful sister Toni, able to inject exuberance and irony into the dark comedy. Johnny Carr plays the intriguingly ambiguous Franz, proving himself a captivating actor, if a little too convincing as the reformed sex offender.

Work on design aspects is accomplished in general, with the closing minutes showcasing a dilapidating house, without actors, leaving a particularly strong impression. Set by Elizabeth Gadsby, lights by Trent Suidgeest, and sound by Steve Francis, combine to create the production’s most striking moments. We witness the house literally falling into disrepair, ravaged by time and by ghosts. We watch the spectacle unfold, and without words, hear the important questions ring through the chilly air. What had been left unsaid, is finally unleashed, but one wonders if this obtuse conclusion, although beautiful, is enough to drive home the moral of the story.

Observing white people in places like American and Australia, deny their racism, is nothing new for people of colour. It is always someone else at fault, and it is always a problem too big to fix today. There is always disowning of liability, and there is always a diminishment of responsibility. They routinely try to make everything vanish into thin air, as though out of sight, out of mind. They are terrified of being labelled racists, but every day prolong and extend the effects of racism. They say they did not create the system, but refuse to acknowledge that they are often its sole beneficiaries. The people in Appropriate will say that the worst is behind us, but what we see before our eyes, is a tragedy that rages on, only in hushed tones.

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