Review: How To Rule The World (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 11 – 30 Mar, 2019
Playwright: Nakkiah Lui
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Gareth Davies, Vanessa Downing, Michelle Lim Davidson, Nakkiah Lui, Hamish Michael, Rhys Muldoon, Anthony Taufa
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
In Nakkiah Lui’s How To Rule The World, the government is trying to pass the Sovereign Territory Bill, a thinly-disguised piece of legislation that further advances the white supremacy cause that is already too much a part of our social fabric. Canberra insiders Vic, Zaza and Chris, are people of colour, all absolutely fed up with the state of affairs. They join forces to install a political puppet, by hiring a white male actor as a shoo-in for the senate, who will subsequently hold the balance of power required to kill off the offending bill.

It is a passionate work, piercingly funny, with an ambitious scope that even at over two-and-a-half hours, can at times feel hurried with its plot. As a result, we may not always understand with great detail, why the people do the things they do, but we nonetheless have an excellent time watching them being unequivocally hilarious. Directed by Paige Rattray, the show is exuberant, but laden with irony, and thoroughly modern in its dissection of power distribution in Australia, making no bones about the white patriarchy that corrupts our country from the inside out.

Lui herself plays Vic, a character central to the play’s advocating of a national treaty that will recognise and institute Indigenous rights, for the past and future. It is a performance memorable for its vulnerable authenticity, effortless at delivering a poignancy that stays with us, long after the laughter has subsided. Michelle Lim Davidson and Anthony Taufa are Zaza and Chris respectively, both endearing and vibrant personalities who ensure that we are always rooting for the right people. The three make a cohesive team, independently effective, but powerful as a singular entity.

The stooge is played by Hamish Michael, who breathes exciting life into an otherwise rudimentary character. His Tommy Ryan is a painfully accurate portrayal of the suits we see everyday on TV; vacuous, desperate and bizarrely comedic. The Prime Minister is a suitably deplorable man, as interpreted by Rhys Muldoon, who shines especially when his true colours are revealed in the latter half, as the going gets tough for the man on top. Gareth Davies appears in a very large assortment of roles, each of them wonderfully imagined and executed with stunning perfection, to earn the biggest laughs of the night. Also in multiple parts is Vanessa Downing, who although creates less of an impact, proves herself a dependable and unwavering source of support for the show’s louder types.

Set design is functional, and appropriately dreary in Marg Horwell’s depiction of our halls of parliament. The decision to do without set changes is a contentious one, considering the play’s frequent location changes, but to keep the action economically contained, encourages its scenes to flow quickly for the audience to remain exhilarated. Lights by Emma Valente are cleverly and efficiently rendered to shift time and space, with little noticeable fuss. Valente’s video projections include an instance of encircling sharks in the PM’s office that is particularly delightful. Paul Mac and Steve Francis provide sound and music, further perking up the proceedings, consistently reliable in their addition to the production’s humour.

We like thinking that the Western societies in which we dwell are democratic, but we also accept that there are people who want to rule the world, and we habitually acquiesce to those desires. At all our election days, each of us casts a vote, feeling as though we are an indispensable part of the most integral of processes, then we walk away letting the powerful carry on with business as usual. They climb their way up, as though determined to leave us behind. When we notice that the interests of those who have made it to the upper echelons are no longer in accordance with our concerns, we become exasperated. Injustices are felt only at the bottom, yet we wait for those on top to lead the change.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You (Green Door Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 8 – 23, 2019
Playwright: John O’Donovan
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Eddie Orton, Elijah Williams
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Contrary to popular belief, love is not for everyone. Sure, Casey and Mikey have found each other, and the mutual attraction is undeniable, but their small town in the west of Ireland is certainly not going to let nature take its course. John O’Donovan’s debut play If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You takes place one night on a rooftop, after the couple had gone on a burglary spree, now trying to lay low and evade persecution. They are of course, hiding not just for the drugs and money that they had stolen, but also for their homosexuality. Leo Varadkar may have been installed as their country’s first gay Prime Minister, but away from the capital, things are less rosy. Discrimination persists, and violence remains normalised for those who dare deviate.

The writing is passionate, exciting in its very contemporary depiction of queer identities, but its vernacular is specific and can prove challenging for those of us who might be culturally uninitiated. The language of politics however is universal, and the young men’s struggle to bring to a tangible actualisation their emotional and spiritual connection, in a climate of dread and fear, needs no translation. Director Warwick Doddrell’s rendering of that crucial quality of intimacy is sublime, for a stage that absolutely burns with desire. Additionally, the amount of tension and dynamism he is able to build onto the restrictive setting of a small roof, is quite remarkable.

Set design by Jeremy Allen is a thoroughly convincing transformation of space that works perfectly in the auditorium’s traverse format. Lights by Kelsey Lee are similarly evocative, and admirable for its sense of accuracy, but the glare of misplaced lamps is unfortunate. Costumes may not be technically demanding for the show, but Stephanie Howe’s keen aesthetic eye for her characters’ looks proves to be very discerning indeed. Melanie Herbert does marvellous work with sound design, painstakingly calibrated to have us submerged in a poetic atmosphere, whilst delivering hints of realism when required.

The production is made memorable by a pair of brilliant performances, both actors wonderfully animated yet soulful, a match made in theatre heaven, for the benefit of our dramatic enjoyment. Eddie Orton is an enthralling presence, tremendously likeable in his portrayal of boyish innocence grappling with toxicity, as we watch his Mikey grow into the kind of masculinity dictated by his parochial environment. Elijah Williams is powerful as Casey, impressive with the depth he is able to convey, for a personality that keeps becoming richer as the show goes on. Chemistry between the two is excellent, and the rigour that they bring to the stage is simply riveting.

The irony of machismo, is the enormous fear that underlies it. Fear of being soft, fear of breaking from convention, fear of ostracism, can lead people to behaviour that betrays their true nature. We make our boys become less human, when we insist that they grow into models of patriarchy. This is immediately observable in our inter-racial gay lovers Casey and Mikey, who are suddenly aware of the threat to their social currency, should they decide to progress meaningfully with their relationship. Choices are inordinately scarce for those young and poor. They can only live according to preexisting structures, ones that are intolerant of difference, disdainful of the new, and it is this inhibition of people’s freedoms that turns us into monsters. As our protagonists wait for the sun to rise, we wonder if this moment constitutes a final glimpse of beauty, before they are robbed of their very essence.

www.greendoortheatreco.com

Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 3, 2019
Playwrights: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Director: Adam Meggido
Cast: Adam Dunn, Connor Crawford, Luke Joslin, Jordan Prosser, Jay Laga’aia, Francine Cain, George Kemp, Tammy Weller, Darcy Brown, Teagan Wouters
Images by David Watson

Theatre review
A sequel of sorts to The Play That Goes Wrong, with the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society this time taking on the boy who wouldn’t grow up, Peter Pan Goes Wrong once again sees a stage production fall to absolute pieces, in the hands of some very unskilled and unprofessional theatre makers. This time with a bigger budget, thanks to a substantial donation from the uncle of an overzealous actor, the set is much more involved, complete with flight rigs, making it virtually impossible for anything to go according to plan.

Cleverly conceived, and thoroughly inventive with its jokes, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is harmless family fun that delivers some very big laughs. Even on occasions when its humour misses the mark, Adam Meggido’s direction imbues the show with a rowdiness that ensures we are kept energised and attentive to its relentless shenanigans. The cast is wonderfully precise and enthusiastic, with an impressive agility in their bodies and minds, determined to amuse and entertain. Performers George Kemp and Tammy Weller are particularly memorable with their extraordinary exuberance, both impeccable in their respective embodiment of deeply flawed characters.

As it had been with The Play That Goes Wrong, it is the production’s technical aspects that truly astonish. Countless cues, all unimaginably complicated are executed to splendid perfection, in what could be considered a show that pays tribute to those who work tirelessly backstage. It is often what lies beyond the surface that is of greatest value, and in Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Stage Manager Stef Lindwall and her team are unequivocal stars.

wwww.peterpangoeswrong.com.au

Review: Metamorphosis (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Franz Kafka (adapted by David Farr and Gisli Örn Gardarsson)
Director: Amanda Stephens-Lee
Cast: Sam Glissan, Victoria Greiner, Julian Lawrence, Yannick Lawry, Hailey McQueen, Madeleine Miller
Images by Deng Deng

Theatre review
It is not entirely clear if Gregor’s transformation was a choice, in David Farr and Gisli Örn Gardarsson’s adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but it would come as no surprise, if we were to discover that he had willed himself into this new state of being, as a response to his previous intolerable existence. The play is in some ways a joke about conservatism, with Gregor’s family incapable of accepting a new life, insisting on keeping truth at bay, in their desperate attempt to maintain a system at home that provides no happiness. Their insistence on sticking with the old and known, for no good reason other than familiarity, is indicative of how we, as ordinary working people in our daily lives, serve to prop up structures that offer us little.

Directed by Amanda Stephens-Lee, the show is often amusing, if slightly hesitant with its own theatrical flamboyance. Lucy McCullough’s set design brings visual focus to the otherwise sprawling stage, but we experience an awkward imbalance with much more action taking place on stage right, while the other half is left feeling somewhat neglected. Music by Adam Jones is noteworthy for giving the production an auditory richness, that assists with the play’s supernatural aspects.

Actor Sam Glissan introduces a strong but tender presence to the abomination, helping us attain an important and greater sense of identification with Gregor than with the rest of his family. Mother is played with great conviction by Hailey McQueen, who applies an admirable precision to her part. Julian Lawrence is the comical standout, larger than life and genuinely hilarious with his inventive take on Fischer, an obnoxious house guest.

In spite of himself, Gregor has evolved a new persona, inconvenient for all involved, but it is one that reveals something honest about his individual being and essence. As everyone struggles to come to terms, we ponder on his rejection, wondering if we can ever find a place for integrity. As we hear Gregor talk only of kindness, and see him intend no harm, it is clear that the monster is no monster at all, and we must conclude that Gregor remains his own person. The story of his ostracism, is a depiction of fear that tells so much about how we construct our values, and how we can be so afraid to love.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.clockandspielproductions.com

Review: Mary Stuart (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre at Walsh Bay (Sydney NSW), Feb 5 – Mar 2, 2019
Playwright: Kate Mulvany (after Friedrich Schiller)
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Fayssal Bazzi, Caroline Brazier, Simon Burke, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Andrew McFarlane, Rahel Romahn, Helen Thomson, Matthew Whittet, Darcey Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Queen Elizabeth I of England must finally decide whether to sign the death warrant of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, after 19 years’ imprisonment. In Kate Mulvany’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s 1800 play Mary Stuart, we look at the final days of this historical feud, paying attention to political machinations, as well as the fascinating psychological processes that the two women would have had to go through, in what is clearly the most difficult and traumatising of human experiences. A highly intelligent work, Mulvany transposes the ancient story into a contemporary tale foregrounding themes that matter today, with renewed focus on the feminist implications of this conflict between powerful women.

Surprisingly funny, featuring witty dialogue that transcends the ages to connect with our everyday ears, Mulvany transforms the royals into flesh and blood individuals that we can easily relate to. With none of the pretension often associated with period pieces about European queens and kings, we are free to examine all the sublimated dynamics between Elizabeth and Mary, to come to our own conclusions about power structures, whether or not one chooses to share the playwright’s feminist lens. Mary Stuart is also effective in delivering drama, powerful in the way it conveys the palpable emotions of a woman compelled to put a loved one to death, and another who faces her own demise.

The vast auditorium is put to good use by Elizabeth Gadsby who situates the action in a suitably grand setting, palatial but austere. Lights by Paul Jackson are especially effective in the graver sections, to facilitate the sensation of mounting pressure as we move toward the inevitable. Music and sound can sometimes be too subdued, especially in the earlier more comedic scenes, but when things turn serious, Max Lyandvert is certainly on hand to heap on the tension. Costumes are a highlight, perhaps predictably, with Elizabeth’s opulent gowns really making an impact. Mel Page’s work on all the women’s looks are unequivocally remarkable.

Director Lee Lewis exercises a stylistic restraint over her stately presentation, determined not to let pomp and ceremony distract from its central concerns. Visuals can sometimes feel sparse and incommensurate with our imagination of both the queens’ worlds, but Lewis’ strength in elucidating rationale behind all manner of human behaviour, is sublime. Actor Helen Thomson is electrifying as Elizabeth, appropriately majestic and piercingly humorous, insisting that entertainment value accompanies all the intellectual stimulation that the play so doggedly provides. Thomson continually reveals layers to the queen throughout the two-hour duration, consistently unpredictable with her depictions, including moments of poignancy that are quite unexpected. Her rendering of Elizabeth as a real and authentic person, is an astounding achievement. Mary is played by Caroline Brazier, whose very deliberate portrayal of grace under pressure is as beguiling as it is intriguing. Her penultimate scene of exposure is truly arresting, as she performs an outpouring of intense and contradictory emotions that gives us a glimpse of the woman under the crown.

Women compete because our power is scarce. We are pit against one another, and we participate in these battles, rarely challenging these absurdly unjust systems and the beliefs that they perpetuate. American Professor Emerita of Sociology and Women’s Studies, Gail Dines suggests that empowerment is a false hope, for to place ourselves within patriarchal hierarchies necessitates the exploitation of many women. Liberation on the other hand, evokes a collectivism that prohibits oppression of any kind. The two queens in Mary Stuart were able to wield power of all kinds, but it is clear that their lives were never their own. Enslaved by their fathers, their states and their religions, we watch them at war, inside a living hell not of their own making, and wonder how much of our own lives are just the same.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Tuesday (Sign Of The Acorn / 25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 6 – 23, 2019
Playwright: Louris van de Geer
Director: Nell Ranney
Cast: Frances Duca, Duncan Fellows, Tom Anson Mesker, Bridie McKim
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Four people in a supermarket, isolated in their own lanes, doing what are probably the most banal of activities, in the most mundane of places. In Louris van de Gerr’s Tuesday, we see ourselves on the most prosaic day of the week, caught up in private thoughts that reveal our truest, most unflattering selves. Structured as four interwoven monologues, these Australians do not interact with each other, but they exhibit common characteristics that serve to represent our identity. They may be of different genders and generations, but what we see in Tuesday are scared white people, filled with anxiety and aggression, completely self-obsessed even at a moment of catastrophe.

Van de Gerr’s writing is astonishingly detailed in its observations, thus able to connect in a way that feels intimate and authentic. Its disarming sarcasm makes for scintillating humour, and along with a subtle but cleverly structured narrative drive, Tuesday proves to be terrifically satisfying. Director Nell Ranney’s emphasis on tension and gravity from the get go, creates a powerful work of theatre that delivers incessant ironic laughter, as well as an undeniable sense of poignancy in its microscopic scrutiny into the everyday.

The production is designed exceedingly well. Isabel Hudson’s precarious placement of full uncapped bottles of milk, in perfect straight rows, insists that our bodies seize up in their presence, in fear of any accidents that might happen. Martin Kinnane’s quiet rendering of lights gives support to that mood of ubiquitous and impending horror, without ever drawing attention to itself. Sound design by Clare Hennessy is a marvellous achievement, heavily relied upon to convey every fluctuating degree of funny and frightening, for a highly sophisticated blend of comedy, drama and thriller.

A splendid ensemble comprising impressive measures of intelligence and creativity, takes us on an exercise in intuitive storytelling, riveting from beginning to end. Frances Duca fascinates us by combining poetic gestures with incisive speech, to emulate and comment on the sad housewife archetype. Equally memorable is Duncan Fellows’ interpretation of the pathetic but still respectable low-rung shop manager, hilarious in his naive perception of the world. Bridie McKim plays a mischievous schoolgirl, painfully accurate and unfettered in her spirited depiction of mindless rebelliousness. Tom Anson Mesker’s controlled and complex portrayal of masculinity at its puerile best and toxic worst, encourages us to examine the little irritations and provocations that can pervade our lives, pretending to be normalised, only to explode spectacularly when you least expect it.

The characters in Tuesday are consumed by annoyance, yet there is no evidence of anything serious actually happening within their personal realms. They are people who have no concerns about food and shelter, but are far away from any semblance of peace or contentment. In Australia, we have everything, in fact we have a great deal more than we need, yet we are endlessly restless, and increasingly selfish, always obsessing over issues like border defence and protectionism, without ever intending to be properly informed about the world beyond our shores. It is easy to see the crazy in others, but to understand one’s own madness is quite another thing.

www.facebook.com/SignoftheAcorn | www.belvoir.com.au

Review: The Rise & Fall Of Little Voice (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 1 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Jim Cartwright
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Kip Chapman, Joseph Del Re, Geraldine Hakewill, Caroline O’Connor, Bishanyia Vincent, Charles Wu
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Little Voice is the name of a young woman who spends her days and nights cooped up in a bedroom, listening to old records left behind by a father who had gone too soon. Her mother Mari too, has been unable to get over that death, hitting the bottle hard, and neglecting her all her responsibilities at home and in life. When it is discovered that Little Voice has an extraordinary ability to mimic the torch singers whom she obsesses over, we wonder if commercial success can finally lift the women out of their perpetual state of mourning.

In Jim Cartwright’s The Rise & Fall Of Little Voice, colourful personalities deliver an amusing plot, buoyed by witty dialogue and the alluring promise of spiritual transformation. Actor Caroline O’Connor is scintillating as Mari, a lost but energetic soul, determined to find a man to rescue her from misery. O’Connor’s magnetism is the highlight of the piece, detailed and humorous; she keeps us totally engrossed. Geraldine Hakewill plays the eponymous role with an admirable intensity, particularly charming in her impersonations of Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday, but it is arguable if her narrative arc is conveyed with sufficient power, for the show to sing with poignancy.

Ray Say is a pivotal character, the dastardly male who brings out the worst of Mari, and the best of Little Voice. Performed by an irrepressible Joseph Del Re, who makes his part vibrant yet surprisingly authentic, with a confident presence that never fails to secure our undivided attention. Also captivating is Kip Chapman, who takes on jester duties as Lou Boo, a club manager of disrepute, brilliantly quirky and very funny. Bishanyia Vincent and Charles Wu shine in their quiet roles (as Sadie and Billy, respectively), both tugging at our heartstrings with gentle restraint.

It is a sumptuously designed production. Isabel Hudson’s striking set cleverly addresses the play’s various requirements for locations, memorable for the use of obsolete audio tape in its rendition of a tinselled backdrop. Lights by Trent Suidgeest are often spectacular, appropriately splashy in this tale of show business and poverty. Sound design is thoroughly explored by Kingsley Reeve, who makes rich and enjoyable, the show’s important auditory dimensions. All these immense talents are brought to an elegant harmony by director Shaun Rennie, for a show that is perhaps less than the sum of its parts, but he does manage to create a consistently entertaining night of theatre, out of a lightweight piece of nostalgic writing.

We find it hard to be moved by Little Voice’s final realisation that she needs courage, because this revelation is of course, no revelation at all. It is true that a woman needs to learn how to roar, in a place that routinely robs you of your worth, but revenge is not the essence of Little Voice’s story. We become great, not because of bad men (or women), but in spite of them. The talents that she possesses had always existed, and to give her nemesis any credit of her burgeoning, is simply uninspired storytelling. The playwright insists that Little Voice is nothing without her father, her talent agent and her love interest. We know otherwise.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com