Review: random (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 18 – Nov 11, 2018
Playwright: debbie tucker green
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Cast: Zahra Newman

Theatre review
A regular family wakes up to another ordinary day, getting ready for their midweek routine. We soon discover that things do not go as planned, when the police appear on their doorstep, delivering news of catastrophic proportions. debbie tucker green’s random is about youth violence in metropolitan cities, a consequence of our incompetence as communities to provide adequate care and guidance. The playwright’s unique combination of slang, patois and poetry, represents a sublime reshaping of the English language, that emerges from the Caribbean migrant experience in England. Keen observations of contemporary life, are positioned alongside nuanced social critique, giving palpable voice to the black working class.

Actor Zahra Newman plays all the characters in this one-woman show, proving herself a force of nature, and a legitimate superstar of the Australian stage. With extraordinary talent and skill, Newman tells the story of random with exceptional dynamism, taking us from jubilation to the extremes of tragedy, for an experience full of complexity and sentimental enthralment. The multitude of voices, emotions and gestures that the actor is able to portray for each and every personality, are administered with an astounding fluency, as we watch her switch flawlessly between states of mind, whether these people appear for a breathtaking split-second or for several bewitching minutes. Newman is an unequivocal genius, and the theatrical magic she dispenses here, is simply divine.

Directed by Leticia Cáceres, the production is sharp, powerful, often awe-inspiring. Hilarious at the start, and later on, turned harrowing, every moment is captivating, fuelled by an urgent confidence, a vehement need to present the play, with all its sociological pertinence and aesthetic glory. Designed with commendable sophistication, the staging features lights by Rachel Burke and music by The Sweats, both restrained in approach but marvellously efficacious, for this brazenly empty space.

There will be some who wish to call the phenomenon universal, but to neglect the racial dimension of violence in random would be callous. We are all capable of heinous acts, but the circumstances around racial inequity must always be taken into account when trying to understand the social ills of any community. Poor outcomes should never be considered random or accidental, when it is clear that the cards are clearly stacked against some. To be blind to the colour of our neighbours, is to be wilfully ignorant of the challenges that they face. We all deserve the same rights and privileges, but to imagine that things are already equal, and to behave as though nobody is ever in need of additional support, is to perpetuate and fortify the devil’s work.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Giving Up The Ghost (Pop Up Theatre)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Oct 17 – Nov 3, 2018
Playwright: Rivka Hartman
Director: Rivka Hartman
Cast: Elaine Hudson, Chris Orchard, Andrew Wang, Madeleine Withington

Theatre review
There is a coffin in Lana’s living room, because her husband Ben had just died. Although the corpse lies securely within, Ben’s ghost is up and about, teasing and bantering with his wife, as they might had done for forty years of marriage. They argue over their daughter Gemma, who is considering giving up a valuable career opportunity for her less than ideal boyfriend. Lana tries to offer surreptitious parental guidance, with Ben interfering in the background, whilst everyone frantically gears up for the funeral.

Rivka Hartman’s Giving Up The Ghost is a screwball comedy about the grieving process. Looking at how we deal with loss, the play examines the consequences that we suffer, when a loved one passes on. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is not the giddy humour, but the serious ideas in Hartman’s show that really engage. Discussions relating to euthanasia are particularly stimulating, and we are left somewhat bewildered that the controversial topic does not occupy a more substantial portion of the plot.

Actor Elaine Hudson’s exuberance as Lana has us charmed. Along with Chris Orchard, who plays the very lively ghost of Ben, both prove to be confident personalities able to hold our attention with little effort. Their performances become palpable when the story turns solemn, allowing for a more naturalistic approach than earlier scenes of quite laboured madcapery. Madeleine Withington demonstrates good capacity for nuance in the role of Gemma, and Andrew Wang plays her depthless boyfriend with a laudable, albeit slightly green, boldness.

Gemma is not a woman completely of her parents’ invention, but it is a pleasure to observe her values reflect those of Lana and Ben’s. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and we delight in the idea that the best of our persons could potentially be bequeathed to future generations. It is true that we are ultimately no more than ash and dust, but all that we do while we walk the earth, whether good or bad, deliberate or accidental, will have reverberations beyond the grave. Only a fool will believe that all of life is within one’s control, but to be careless with the time that we do have, is unconscionable.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: In Waiting (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Oct 11 – 19, 2017
Playwright: Liviu Monsted
Director: Liviu Monsted
Cast: Courtney Adams, Alison Benstead, Alana Birtles, Roslyn Hicks, Nathaniel Hole, Dale Wesely Johnson Green, Steve Maresca, Dean Nash, Katie Regan

Theatre review
In a purgatorial room, the dead wait for their turn to meet Ignus, a psychoanalyst in the esoteric dimension, who provides assistance to move these wandering spirits on to their eternity. It is an appealing allegory that we find in Liviu Monsted’s In Waiting, using the device of psychotherapy to illustrate the need for a certain enlightenment, intellectual and emotional , before life can take on a meaningful course. Monsted sets up an intriguing context, with charming interaction between his ghosts, but substantial portions of the 150-minute production involve two-hander sessions in Ignus’ consultation office, during which the writing often becomes convoluted and self-indulgent.

The work is certainly contemplative, but its dialogue frequently lapses into a dense and obtuse language, that is probably more suited to the form of a short novel than it does the stage. Acting style is uniformly animated, and although rarely authentic, the performers demonstrate a generosity in their prioritising of the text, which helps us decipher the proceedings. Actor Alison Benstead cuts a striking figure as the mysterious Ignus, impressive with the quantity of words she commits so effortlessly to memory. Also showing good commitment is Katie Regan as Estelle, the young woman who has to confront hard memories before she can be released from a state of stagnation.

The waiting room is a necessary space, but some of us can stay too long, in a condition of regret and fear. The future is always in conversation with the past. It might be useful to think that we can close the door on anterior events, but there is nothing we do today, that is not a result of experiences from all the yesterdays. To forget, is only to have it relegated to the subconscious. The characters who do well in In Waiting, are those able to find something that looks like acceptance. Time may not be linear, but no matter how we conceive of its passage, torment is not being able to move with it.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com | www.monsansproductions.com

Review: TickTickBoom (Subtlenuance Theatre)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Oct 10 – 20, 2018
Playwright: Melissa Lee Speyer
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Rose Marel, Emily McKnight

Theatre review
When the story begins, Jodie is seventeen and finishing up high school, but instead of exams and puppy love, it is her failing health that becomes all-consuming. To have her dug out of doldrums, chirpy schoolmate Clara is sent by parents to be the gallant lifter of spirits. In Melissa Lee Speyer’s TickTickBoom, the heart is the subject, literal and figurative, as we observe two young women navigate life and friendship, with a constant and unassailable reminder that death is always around the corner.

Big existential themes are cogently woven together by Speyer, who presents her observations in a manner that is indelibly tender and benevolent. The production struggles to establish an effective sense of humour, but its heavier sections are certainly sensitively rendered. Director Paul Gilchrist’s earnest approach makes for a warm, contemplative experience, and although chemistry between actors can seem inconsistent, both demonstrate undeniable talent, as they proceed to find authenticity, as well as integrity, for their respective roles. Rose Marel brings a valuable vulnerability to Clara, so that we can have an appreciation of the character beyond her shiny exterior. Emily McKnight is convincing in her performance of Jodie’s recalcitrance, for a portrait of teenage angst that we are all familiar with.

Time means nothing to this earth. It is the vanity of our mortal selves that creates the notion of time, and the notion of life running out. When Jodie is fearful of death, she is paralysed, unable to pay reverence to the ticking seconds that she so anxiously counts. To believe in time, is to imbue it with meaning. Species can come and go, but the world will evolve regardless of our individual fates. For each of our personal domains however, to make this fleeting existence bearable, will require a thing we name spirit, whatever one would like for it to mean.

www.subtlenuance.com

Review: The Feather In The Web (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 5 – Nov 17, 2018
Playwright: Nick Coyle
Director: Ben Winspear
Cast: Tina Bursill, Gareth Davies, Michelle Lim Davidson, Claire Lovering
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
At one point in the show, the protagonist declares that she has MS, but of what we are able to observe, Kimberly exhibits no symptoms of multiple sclerosis. We are nonetheless, tempted to pathologise her, to interpret all her absurd behaviour as evidence of some kind of mental disorder, to label her crazy. Nick Coyle’s The Feather In The Web is a tale of obsessive love, but one that is grounded in little reality. It is doubtful if audiences in general will be able to find points of meaningful connection with the play’s outlandish situations, but its wild imagination is certainly entertaining.

Director Ben Winspear’s creation is highly sophisticated, marvellously polished, and very funny indeed. It is a thoroughly engrossing production, full of mystery and always bursting with energy, featuring dynamic and seamless collaborations from an excellent design team. Sophie Fletcher and Mic Gruchy work wonders for a series of backdrops and projections that are as whimsical as they are functional. Lights by Trent Suidgeest are versatile and unpredictable, able to traverse mundane and surreal with ease, and sound by Steve Toulmini is bold and humorous, powerful in its control over the audience’s emotional responses.

The magnificent Claire Lovering is dazzling as Kimberly, exceptional in her ability to simultaneously deliver uproarious comedy with a grave solemnity. Brilliantly amusing, she sweeps us away to places that are completely nonsensical, but all the while, keeping us keenly aware of the troubling psyche that underlies her character’s strangeness. Lovering’s own vivacity and strength, represents a valuable female presence that offers balance, to moments where the text comes precariously close to misogyny. We are bewildered and upset by Kimberly’s incapacity for agency and self-determination, but are won over by her resolute attitude. Ultimately, we have to let a woman want what she wants.

Three supporting players take on a range of kooky types, with Gareth Davies particularly memorable for his unrelenting propensity for insisting on our laughter; his work is enjoyable no matter the personality he assumes. Michelle Lim Davidson introduces surprising depth in later sections, urging us to shift focus to something considerably more poignant. Tina Bursill’s nonchalant cruelty as Regina is acerbic and accurate, deliciously biting in one of the show’s more believable roles.

The Feather In The Web is often unsettling, because we cannot help but feel disturbed by the abnormality put on display. It is true however, that we have no right to want Kimberly to transform into someone normal and palatable. She is non-compliant and non-conformist, and much to our chagrin, she can think of nothing else but for her affections to be reciprocated. Her heart’s desire may be objectionable, but when we look at the things she has absolutely no interest in; conventionality, respectability, mediocrity, and other markers of social acceptability, Kimberly turns into someone quite remarkable.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: An Enemy Of The People (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 7 – Nov 4, 2018
Playwright: Melissa Reeves (after Henrik Ibsen)
Director: Anne-Louise Sarks
Cast: Peter Carroll, Catherine Davies, Leon Ford, Steve Le Marquand, Kenneth Moraleda, Kate Mulvany, Nikita Waldron, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Dr Stockman is wellness consultant at the local spa resort, where business is booming, resulting in great prosperity for the township. When contamination is discovered in the water and patients are developing diseases as a consequence, she proceeds to reveal all in order that harm can be minimised, and that the town can find the right way forward. Her good intentions however, are met with opposition by men in power, who are motivated only by self-interest, refusing to let emerge, the truth that will cost them severely. In Melissa Reeves’ version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, there is the added dimension of Dr Stockman’s gender, that fuels the actions of these deplorable men.

This revision of the 1882 classic arrives at a time of heightened consciousness, in matters relating to the deep-rooted, long-established and systematic deprivation of power as experienced by women everywhere. There is no explicit naming of misogyny in Reeves’ reinvention, but director Anne-Louise Sarks makes it abundantly clear, that what we are talking about here is not only Ibsen’s concerns over democracy and corruption, but also the currently pertinent topic, on the pervasive abuse of women, in this undeniably and resolutely patriarchal world. The show suffers a slow start, with tentative humour and uncomfortable chemistry between personalities, but things escalate for a spectacular second half, enthralling and powerful in its exposition of political ills and challenges that we face as a community.

The addition of a scene involving Stockman’s cleaning lady, Randine chastising the middle classes, along with the theatre-going bourgeoisie, expands our understanding of the body politic. In efforts to make our nations great again, it seems we inevitably become embroiled in discussions that turn increasingly petty in their scope; as we drill down deeper and get closer to the bone of what we think our problems are, we habitually turn exclusionary, always putting ourselves first and forgetting the rest. Intersectionality is not yet the custom, and in Reeves’ An Enemy Of The People, we watch it explained with agonising clarity.

Actor Kate Mulvany is strong as Dr Stockman, particularly persuasive when the role gets emotionally intense. There is an infallible sense of confidence in Mulvany that allows her audience to engage deeply in the arguments being made, and we find our philosophical and ideological selves gratifyingly enriched by the experience. The aforementioned Randine is played by Catherine Davies, who impresses with exquisite nuance and a robust presence. Also memorable is Kenneth Moraleda as the obnoxious Aslaksen, delightfully comical in his animated depiction of a crooked, repugnant undesirable.

2018 could be remembered for the unprecedented number of elected women officials quitting Australian politics, with names like Julia Banks, Emma Husar and Ann Sudmalis making the news, telling stories about bullying and intimidation taking place in quarters where we should be demanding the highest of integrity. The numbers reveal, plain and simple, that women are being deliberately shut out from positions of power, but myths around notions of biology and meritocracy have formed narratives that prevent us from carrying out justice, whether or not we are personally invested. Dr Stockman says she will fight to the bitter end, but our reality demonstrates that her solitary perseverance is no match for the glass ceiling.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Maggie Stone (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 30 – Oct 21, 2018
Playwright: Caleb Lewis
Director: Sandra Eldridge
Cast: Kate Bookallil, Branden Christine, Alan Dukes, Anna Lee, Thuso Lekwape, Eliza Logan
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Maggie is a racist. We know this not only because we see her make racial insults about black people to their faces, but she also admits to not approving loans at the bank where she works, when encountering applicants who are of African descent. Maggie does not feel bad or embarrassed about her behaviour, and part of the pleasure of Caleb Lewis’ Maggie Stone, is to see white Australians being upfront about their racism. The main focus of the play however, is Maggie’s accidental embroilment in Amath’s life, after begrudgingly approving the latter’s loan application. Amath is a recent migrant from Sudan, struggling to make ends meet after the sudden death of her husband. When Maggie begins to see Amath as a real person deserving of compassion, the story turns into one of redemption and reconciliation.

It is hard not to see Maggie Stone as a play suffering tediously from white saviour complex, when a substantial portion of it features the unlikely heroine running around kicking down doors to help fix a black family’s problems, but its central message about white people having to transcend racial ignorance is never out of fashion. The themes are undoubtedly pertinent, but the mediocrity of its perspectives makes the show a predictable one. Everything about it feels derivative, and for a subject matter that is so much a part of our daily consciousness, its inability to proffer fresh or more sophisticated ideas, is disappointing.

The production is adequately assembled, and Sandra Eldridge’s direction, although lacking in innovation, keeps the action moving along swiftly. As Maggie, actor Eliza Logan is a very endearing presence, able to prevent us feeling too alienated by her character’s unforgivable qualities. Branden Christine brings conviction and integrity to her interpretation of Amath, a less than meaty role that has a tendency to feel perfunctorily, or maybe too cautiously, written.

Amath’s story is likely a better one to tell than Maggie’s, but Australian writers who can speak appropriately to that experience, are perhaps still in the process of being nurtured and discovered. When talking about race, it is not often that a white person can present something new to help make meaningful progress. Abolitionists of racism do not all have to be people of colour, but this is a job that cannot be done with black and brown people on the outside. It is a crucial point that none of the white characters in Maggie Stone prove themselves able to satisfactorily acquiesce space, in symbolic or practical ways, in this discussion about racial relations on this colonised land. There is an obvious desire for a clear conscience, but the hard work required of all of us, is not yet invested.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com