Review: Night Slows Down (Don’t Look Away Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 9, 2017
Playwright: Phillip James Rouse
Director: Phillip James Rouse
Cast: Andre de Vanny, Danielle King, Johnny Nasser
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
It is no secret that something very sinister is happening to our politics. For a variety of reasons, Australians have gradually become more extreme in our views, increasingly unable to tolerate differences, of opinions, lifestyles and backgrounds. In Phillip James Rouse’s Night Slows Down, a disastrous scenario presents itself, and the dark fantasy of those we call the alt-right or neo-Nazis, becomes reality.

The fascists have taken over, and they run the country by unleashing all the menacing impulses that have hitherto been forbidden. It is a regime based purely on unexamined emotion, where logic and level heads mean little. This is not the first time that we see a Nazi government, but unlike stories from the previous century, Night Slows Down is immediate, urgent and real. We recognise the people and places, and are unable to relegate these atrocities to a hazy past, a distant history that we tell ourselves is all but vanquished. Rouse’s stunning play is about a very near future, when we have taken one too many missteps, and the last straw finally breaks the camel’s back.

It is a fierce indictment of whiteness in cultures like ours; an ethnic majority that continually feels the need to exert its dominance. Even as it retains power, it never stops imagining a demise, and its imperialistic drive seems unable to be tamed. Their war cry in the play is “For The Future” through which enemies are constantly identified, for the now is never enough.

Fascism is not an idealistic state of being, but a never-ending project that discriminates and destroys. It has no meaning unto itself, except as an apparatus of ceaseless segregation and eradication. It pretends to be protecting something pure, but in fact its only true objective is to annihilate. The meaning of white is never stable, and those who seek preservation through its identification, are wholly responsible for their own anxiety.

Actor Andre de Vanny is outstanding as Seth, the racist bigot with no talent except for divisive politics. Like all the idiots in government we know who operate in the same way, it is a pointless exercise trying to reach a satisfactory understanding of their psychology, yet de Vanny has us entirely convinced of the villain’s whys and wherefores. His powerful portrayal of a simpleton overcome with hate, is as thrilling as it is distressing.

Also remarkable is leading lady Danielle King, who has us entranced with a profound capacity for depth and nuance. The emotional and intellectual scope she brings to the role of Sharon, allows us to interpret the story beyond the surfaces of good and bad. We are inspired to investigate the resonance she delivers, to discover for ourselves, what it is that consumes us as a society today, and whether we are able to offer effective resistance to corrupting forces. Johnny Nasser is a quieter presence, but no less affecting a performer, leaving an excellent impression, with a dignified emphasis on delivering authenticity to the role of Martin and his shocking persecution.

Lighting design by Sian James-Holland adds dynamism to proceedings, with a creative intricacy that sets a precise tone for each scene. The set is imagined with appropriate restraint, and cleverly executed by production designers Anna Gardiner and Martelle Hunt, to facilitate optimum showmanship by the very compelling cast. Night Slows Down is a tightly orchestrated work, brilliantly helmed by Phillip James Rouse as writer and director, to tell us something irrefutable and pertinent.

It is a discussion shaped by the most pressing issues of today. So much that is conceptual, buzzing in the ether, is consolidated here, for a catastrophic manifestation of our worst nightmares. It functions as warning and premonition. The drama captivates because it speaks our truth so loudly, even though the circumstances it describes, are grandiose in its fictiveness. We are terrified, because we know that the worst is only a hair away.

http://www.kingsxtheatre.com | www.facebook.com/DLATheatre

Review: Violent Extremism & Other Adult Party Games (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 15 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Richie Black
Director: Michael Campbell
Cast: Thomas G. Burt, Julia Christensen, Dave Kirkham, Jodine Muir, Thomas Pidd, Eleanor Stankiewicz
Image by Josh Mawer

Theatre review
Robert is a reality TV star, known for deplorable and sensationalist views, characteristic of what has come to be known as the alt-right. Richie Black’s Violent Extremism & Other Adult Party Games commences at the point where he meets a young neo-Nazi Twitter celebrity, as they try to leverage each other, thinking that each is able to advance his own agenda by making use of the other’s influence. A comedy of errors ensues, and people are killed in quick succession, as a result of this unholy union.

It is a cleverly written play, consistently funny, and powerful with its social criticisms. Michael Campbell’s direction of the piece is exhilarating, if slightly overzealous in his doggedly high energy rendering of confrontation and chaos. Every scene in Violent Extremism is amusing, with its satire and irony proving to be highly satisfying, but the production rarely resonates deep enough for its political meanings to be truly impactful. We are certainly entertained, but for all its sociopolitical assertions, we struggle to find a breath that will allow us to think intently enough, about the matters Violent Extremism is keen to discuss.

The look of the staging is excessively raw, but we are impressed by a very well-rehearsed cast of six performers. Thomas Pidd is an effective leading man, comfortably orchestrating the hectic activity orbiting around him. Charismatic, and animated in his portrayal of a comical, himbo type character, his ability to have us endear to Robert is crucial, in sustaining our interest for a show full of unsavoury personalities.

On the battlefield, blood is shed on both sides, because both sides are aggressors. It is our nature to decipher good from bad, but as long as we understand that violence is never the answer, we must learn to appreciate that there are no good guys in wars. It is true that there are deranged white Australians who are the cause of damage to much of our social fabric, and although they are currently obsessed with positioning themselves in direct opposition to “Islamic fundamentalists”, it is the similarities, rather than differences, between these groups that should be acknowledged.

www.thedepottheatre.com

Review: Asylum (Brave New Word Theatre Company)

Venue: Comber Street Studios (Paddington NSW), Nov 15 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Ruth Fingret
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Joshua McElroy, Katherine Shearer, David Woodland, Eli Saad, Hannah Raven
Image by David Hooley

Theatre review
Craig is a draconian protector of Australia’s borders, spending his work days assessing the legitimacy of asylum seekers from war torn countries. At home however, he is incapable of caring for those he calls family. Ruth Fingret’s Asylum talks about our national obsession with blaming external factors as the cause of our problems, whilst neglecting obvious and urgent dysfunctions that have nothing to do with the world outside.

It is a simple story, presented in a straightforward manner. Director Richard Hilliar’s refusal of ornamentation in this bare bones staging, creates a clinical atmosphere appropriate for Craig’s coldness, and is indicative of the increasingly brutal approach in how our government operates. Dialogue is dry, often sacrificing nuance for dramatic effect, but strong performances keep the show buoyant.

David Woodland plays Craig as an everyday guy, letting the villainous qualities of his character stay an undercurrent in his portrayal. Joshua McElroy is particularly memorable as Jason, a young offender starved of love, unable to connect without having to resort to drastic measures. Simultaneously intense and vulnerable, the actor’s confidence is unflappable even in the venue’s extremely close quarters.

The Australians we see in Asylum have forgotten kindness. The insecurity of inhabiting a land that was never ceded by rightful owners, makes us paranoid and shameful. Instead of addressing our illicit presence, we channel our disgrace onto those who have a more rightful claim to being here. Guilt is a powerful emotion, that unless managed veraciously, would only exert itself in harmful ways.

www.bnwtheatre.com.au

Review: Silent Night (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 10 – Dec 10, 2017
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Glynn Nicholas
Cast: Amanda Bishop, Richard Sydenham, Aaron Glenane, Michael Denkha
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It is Christmas in the suburbs of Sydney, and the Lickfolds are freaking out, because of course, there is just so much to be done. In Silent Night by Mary Rachel Brown, we take a look at our behaviour during what is meant to be the most sacred time of the year. We may not be a religiously homogeneous nation, but the silly season of December insists that we all act at a surprising degree of uniformity.

Australians take Christmas seriously, but rarely for the right reasons. In the Lickfold household, an occasion for charity and goodwill is turned into an opportunity for exacerbated narcissism and magnified paranoia. Anne wants at all costs, to win her neighbourhood’s annual competition for the best decorated house and yard. Her husband Bill’s doomsday preparations are at fever pitch, fuelled by the incessant talk of diversity, in politically correct representations of Jesus’ birth on rooftops, and other places. Their son Rodney is determined to get in the way of everything; even at Christmas time, he refuses to share his parents’ attention with anyone, God included.

It is a moralistic tale, predictable in its messaging although imaginatively conceived. Clever ideas abound in Brown’s play, but they are not presented well. Its comedy is relentlessly laboured in the first half, and when things get serious later on, its dialogue turns confusing. Director Glynn Nicholas makes sure that we know when punchlines are delivered, but moments of genuine laughter are few and far between. There is no doubting the grace and spirit that motivate the creation of Silent Night, but intentions on their own are rarely insufficient.

Production design is competently rendered, as are performances from the cast of four. Energy and conviction are delivered in spades; we see the actors work hard, and their determination to keep us engaged is, to some extent, effective. Richard Sydenham impresses as Bill, animated and precise in his approach, able to communicate a hint of complexity that is absent from other characters.

It is true that Christmas makes our ugly sides more pronounced. When we compare our lives to the best of the Bible’s stories, we can only see beings contemptible and profane. All the wasteful decadence and hollow frivolity that inevitably take over our celebrations of that sacred dawn, expose our values to be no more than utterly dismal. We are not bad people, but when we are careless, there is little than can differentiate us from the scum of the earth.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Three Sisters (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Nov 6 – Dec 16, 2017
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Andrew Upton)
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Alison Bell, Peter Carroll, Callan Colley, Miranda Daughtry, Harry Greenwood, Melita Jurisic, Brandon McClelland, Eryn Jean Norvill, Rahel Romahn, Chris Ryan, Nikki Shiels, Mark Leonard Winter, Anthony Brandon Wong, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The existential angst in Chekhov’s Three Sisters is timeless; the need to understand what we are here for, and how we can find happiness, are fundamentally human and eternal. Once again, we see Olga, Irina, Masha and all their friends babble on for three hours, about how hard it is to do life. Andrew Upton’s adaptation gives the play a slight refresh, but it is a predictably faithful rendering that takes on the burden of the original’s dreariness, as it ruminates on the tedium of the bourgeoisie.

As is characteristic of director Kip Williams’ style, the show is presented with remarkable polish and an impressive elegance. Alice Babidge’s set design establishes an inescapable air of glamour for the production’s minimalist aesthetic, while Nick Schlieper’s delicate lights bring sumptuous beauty to proceedings. Music by The Sweats and sound by Nate Edmondson help us locate the contemporary relevance in Chekhov’s story, whilst retaining its intrinsic sense of Russian austerity.

It comes as no surprise that this is yet another dry and dreary rendition of Three Sisters. For all the reverence associate with the play, it is at its core, a work about the lifelessness of the privileged. The point is its stasis, that nothing happens for years, and that these women are mysteriously incapable of taking meaningful action.

Williams is inventive in the first half, introducing energy wherever possible, but the depressive quality of the text proves insurmountable. Although some of the flourishes can be distracting and excessive, there is no denying our appreciation for the effort put into injecting animation and comedy, derived from the sheer desire to see some theatricality.

Actor Miranda Daughtry is memorable as Irina, with explosive emotions that are both captivating and genuine. The cast understandably adopts an extravagantly declarative approach to performance, but Daughtry’s way of connecting with her audience is particularly truthful. Alison Bell’s droll humour as Olga shines a light on the often neglected irony in Chekhov’s writing, and Eryn Jean Norvill’s exaggerated comedy as Masha is similarly delightful. We are glad to be spared too much bleakness, but it is arguable if these interpretations are effective, in helping us absorb the philosophies in Chekhov and Upton’s writing.

There always seems to be a Chekhov play on a stage in Australia somewhere. We are so much like the sisters, understanding the concept of progress but unable to extricate ourselves from the old and deficient. We may not be able to create anything without being informed by tradition, but this Three Sisters draws attention to the parts of us that refuse to move on, that are rigid in their worship of a conceptual “home”, undeviating from sacred points of origin. These parts of us that are backward and regressive must be interrogated, if not demolished.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Paper Doll (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 7 – 18, 2017
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Martin Ashley-Jones, Lucy Goleby
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
At its most fundamental, theatre is an instrument that wishes to get us together, and have us find consensus, or at least to gain valuable awareness on issues of relevance. We share space and come to an understanding of what each other thinks, when we laugh together, or when we hear people gasp in demonstration of their disapproval or outrage.

Katy Warner’s Paper Doll is a topical work about sexual predation and paedophilia, depicting a grown woman meeting her abuser, years after the fact. Dialogue is well crafted, but the work takes a safe approach, rarely controversial in how the subject is handled. The plot and its characters offer little that is new to how we regard the matter, although individuals who might be personally affected, would probably identify more palpable qualities.

Director Lucy Clements’ obvious attempts at manufacturing dramatic tension vary in effectiveness. The show has many captivating moments, but can at times feel laboured, in its efforts at creating something theatrical out of a quiet piece of writing. Both performers are strong personalities, with impressive stage presences. Lucy Goleby’s intensity dictates the tone of proceedings, while Martin Ashley-Jones brings a more organic interpretation that reads with a better sense of authenticity. We may not always be convinced of the action on stage, but the production makes all of its assertions crystal clear.

In representing the zeitgeist’s hot topics, a conundrum exists when our minds are already made up before entering the auditorium. There can only be one way of considering issues surrounding rape, and unless the production takes exceptional risks, the chances of it being less than predictable, are close to none. Paper Dolls is careful to say all the right things, but we have heard it all too many times before, and it is not fair to expect fabricated controversy where none is permitted. We want our art to be inventive, but it seems that not everything can be talked about in unexpected ways.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Time Stands Still (Eclipse Productions)

Venue: Tap Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 1 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Donald Margulies
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Laura Dejanegara, Matt Minto, Terry Serio, Emily J Stewart
Image by Katie Barget

Theatre review
After sustaining serious injuries in Iraq, Sarah returns to Brooklyn, under the care of her partner James. For the first time, the independent woman turns reliant, and we watch the nature of their relationship go through a gradual but drastic change.

Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still examines the meaning of modern living for some of the more fortunate people of our times. The action is situated in a New York apartment, where its inhabitants engage in degrees of introspection, never having to worry about money, food or shelter. The play oscillates between concerns that are admittedly frivolous, with international issues that are unquestionably serious. It discusses responsibilities of the world’s rich, as other parts of the globe engulf in flames and disaster, while simultaneously worrying about the dwindling relevance of marriage and monogamy.

The production places its audience quite literally inside Sarah and James’ home. The intimate setting exposes us to the frequently caustic energy that seethes between its characters, although a greater sense of polish for the set, would improve the story’s ability to focus on its concerns regarding class and privilege. Claudia Barrie’s direction is strong for the piece; we are constantly reminded of its deeper resonances even when people are squabbling over the pettier things in life.

Leading lady Emily J Stewart is full of conviction, and effective in providing a quality of heightened sentimentality to the show, although her Sarah seems too persistently vulnerable, with an overemphasis on her role’s fragility, that can interfere with the play’s celebration of female autonomy. Matt Minto is persuasive as James, the journalist determined to retreat from the rough business of war correspondence. The actor is beautifully nuanced in his portrayal of a man struggling to dominate his household. Supporting players Laura Dejanegara and Terry Serio are both delightful and dynamic, adding charming effervescence with every appearance.

Guilt means nothing if it is not an intermediary emotion that leads to proactive action. With the proliferation of information technology, big business sells us news stories about terrible things happening near and far, and we live in a state of constantly feeling bad as a result of this new capitalism. Disaster porn is lucrative, and we pay for it with money and with languishing in sadness, wondering who is left to go and solve the problems.

www.eclipseproductions.com.au