Review: Don’s Party (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Dec 6 – 15, 2018
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Travis McMahon
Cast: Dominic Di Paolo, Lachlan Donnelly, Amber Dyball, Ben Hunter, Ramy Moussa. Andrew Murdoch, Katerina Papasoulis, Evan Piefke, Helen Shoobert, Rachel Slee, Kristen Zinghini
Images by Ethan Hatton-Warham

Theatre review
The setting is a house party in 1969 suburbia, where men are arse holes, and women are bewilderingly whiny. David Williamson’s Don’s Party, now approaching half a century old, offers a bleak look at how a modern Australia might have been imagined. The play wrestles with ideas of a progressive future, as characterised by a new social permissiveness; Don asks all his guests to bring along a pornographic object, as icebreaker or more truthfully, to disrupt the banality of his home life with Kath and their children.

The sexual revolution had begun, and down under, it appears we were deeply confused. All the women had apparently become bitches, and they are referred to in the play as such, on more than ten occasions. Wives and girlfriends were starting to have minds of their own, no doubt as a result of advancements in birth control, and according to Williamson, all of civilisation were basically going to hell in a handbasket.

As the old world disappears, what happens in Don’s Party reveals a paralysing fear of what is to come. There is little question that this attitude still prevails. It was feminism’s second wave then, and we are now in the throes of its fourth. The disquiet that accompanies the promise of equality is palpable, and Williamson’s pessimistic vision, borne out of the anxiety of a patriarchy under threat, can now be seen as pitifully limp.

Travis McMahon’s direction presents a straightforward rendition, allowing us to detect that sense of panic inherent in mid-century masculinity. The ensemble consists of actors with varying abilities, and although not particularly inventive with what they bring, each manages to locate moments of theatricality in the writing, that insist on our attention. The production lacks intellectual rigour, but it is clear that much effort has been put into manufacturing a satisfactory naturalism for their performance.

When women grow strong, our relationships have to be put through a process of reshape. Friends and family, love and sex, all face interrogation, as we learn to shift away from traditions that plainly no longer work. In Don’s Party, men are fearful and women are frustrated. They cling on to the past, unable to come to terms with the tides that push for a brighter future, a mighty force that will not tolerate the status quo.

www.chippenstreet.com

Review: The Club (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Dec 7 – 22, 2018
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Tessa Leong
Cast: Jude Henshall, Louisa Mignone, Ellen Steele
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Hundreds of millions of dollars go through Australia’s sporting organisations, and to view the industry as wholesome and virtuous is, to put it mildly, naive. Yet, we routinely attribute our sports stars and their colleagues, with a glow of reverence, and they in turn, present an image of habitual sanctimony. The men in David Williamson’s The Club are exposed of these hypocrisies. It is a story about white boys spoilt by their talent with an olive-shaped ball, who grow into stunted adulthood, and we watch their clumsy attempts at extending the glory days beyond bygone moments on the football field.

The corrupt and inane behaviour of these self-aggrandising men provide a platform for director Tessa Leong’s discussion of sexism and toxic masculinity, within an archetypal setting of a sporting arena, that conveniently encapsulates our nation’s sense of self-image. Three female performers take on all the roles, playing exaggerated versions of maleness, for a subversive exercise that makes statements about gender, and especially about the misguided adoration of what might be termed traditional masculinity. First half of the production is surprisingly conventional, a one-trick pony with a simple concept that quickly loses steam, but the show picks up furiously after interval, and what had felt gimmicky, turns into something far more complex and provocative.

The production is full of grandiose gesturing, not always powerful, but certainly delivered with extraordinary conviction. Actor Ellen Steele is particularly robust with her comedy, extremely cheeky and acerbic, a consistent delight in this portrait of ugliness. Jude Henshall and Louisa Mignone too, are exuberant performers who bring admirable rigour into their farce, for a rewarding study on the machinations of privilege and ignorance, frequently found in some segments of Australian society.

In sport, we celebrate high achievers not only for their accomplishments, but also for the whole of their persons. We want our heroes to be godlike, and imagine them to be infallible, consequently giving them powers, in the form of money and status, that they often exploit to the detriment of our collective good. It is no coincidence that these powerful are predominantly straight white men. Our institutions are structured to benefit a certain idea of supremacy, one that repeatedly exerts its imperialism over all others, and any action designed to take them down is met with disdain and even violence. Oppression requires concession, with the oppressed made to concede to notions of objectivity and meritocracy, that are demonstrably unjust. It is a survival strategy, to play to these rules, but only those willing to sacrifice can hope to foster a change.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.isthisyours.com.au

Review: The Smallest Hour (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 5 – 15, 2018
Playwrights: Phil Spencer, Susie Youssef
Director: Scarlet McGlynn
Cast: Phil Spencer, Susie Youssef
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In a city just like Sydney, Chris and Shelley cross paths on several occasions. Each is having an eventful, if not entirely enjoyable night, in this immense love story about the metropolis. Phil Spencer and Susie Youssef’s The Smallest Hour may not be grand in scale or indeed vision, but it captures the essence of that relationship between busy cities and its inhabitants, in a deeply beautiful way, for an expression of an intimacy that frequently borders on the obsessive. We are individuals who think of ourselves as distinct entities, separate from other humans and segregated from place; the observation here is that most of us are nothing without our towns, and Spencer and Youssef’s play is a splendid tribute to that sense of belonging.

The Smallest Hour is also a romantic comedy, and director Scarlet McGlynn’s ability to infuse humour into all of its romance, with place and with persons, ensures a production that will thoroughly delight every typical urbanite. Our imagination is cleverly manipulated, as the action moves from one location to the next, by Veronique Benett’s lights and Steve Francis’ music, guiding us surreptitiously through a series of familiar situations. There are no props and no costume changes to be seen on Tyler Hawkins’ simple stage design, but all the imagery that we receive, in our mind’s eye, is consistently vivid. The playwrights perform the work, mainly as narrators, but also as impeccable stand-ins for our protagonists. Both are remarkably endearing, and although not yet word perfect on opening night, they prove themselves consummate raconteurs, utterly and completely mesmerising with the tale they so adroitly weave.

The Smallest Hour reveals a love greater than Chris meets Shelley. It documents the way we navigate this environment, showing us how we have absorbed the physicality of this city, to live out existences so dynamic and spirited. Unlike boyfriends and girlfriends, we never ask that places give us their perfection; we understand better, our responsibilities as components of communities big and small, of collective identities that hold so much more promise than the insularity of our private selves. The lovers fixate on each other at conclusion, forgetting all the roads that lead them to one another. Their audience however, is left with evocations much more inspiring than petty concerns. We are asked to deal with matters of our heart, that relate not to any one, but to the entirety of this region; a very lucky love that must be cherished.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Charlie Pilgrim (ATYP)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 21 – Dec 1, 2018
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Jena Prince
Cast: Rose Baird, Maliyan Blair, Stephanie Calia, Aria Ferris, Adelaide Kennedy, Sophie Lewis, Astra Milne, Daisy Millpark, Tobias Purcell, Carmen Rolfe, Callum Macgown, Lucinda Slattery, Noah Sturzaker, Eva Sutherland, Annabelle Szewcow, Mia Williams, Stanley Wills
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Tired of feeling like an outcast at school, Charlie Pilgrim retreats into her bubble, indulging in a love of science. She invents a time travel machine, only to find that it traps her in a time loop, with a new Charlie Pilgrim materialising every 24 hours. A solitary activity quickly becomes a social one, and our protagonists have to find a way to resolve the quickly escalating situation. Sam O’Sullivan’s Charlie Pilgrim (Or A Beginner’s Guide To Time Travel) is an ambitious piece of writing that packs a lot of ideas into its 80 minutes. It is an enjoyable narrative in a familiar sci-fi format, extremely detailed in its rendering, with explorations into a wide variety of themes. There is a density to O’Sullivan’s work that can prove challenging, but the richness of what he offers is quite tantalising.

Wonderfully imagined by director Jena Prince, the production cleverly utilises a large cast of young actors, to create a hive of activity that is irresistibly engaging. Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lights and Maddie Hughes’ sounds are robustly manufactured to provide clearly indicate every plot point, ensuring that we never get confused by all the relentless hustle and bustle. The ensemble is extraordinarily disciplined, yet consistently effervescent with what they bring to the stage. 17 precocious actors delight us with their creativity and charm, keeping us entertained and enthralled by the story that they so enthusiastically tell.

If we understand that the only constant in life is change, then it should follow that time is never as orderly as we assume it to be. Regrets are evidence of a life well lived, and much as we wish to revisit the past to make things right, there is a human capacity that allows us to see that it is never too late for amends to be made, even if oblique approaches are required. Yesterday’s lessons are for today, and learning to live with poor decisions, is crucial in how we can evolve into better people. The meaning of life, lies in the need to make every day an improvement. We are informed only by the past, but to dwell in it is meaningless.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Marbles (Crying Chair Theatre)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Nov 21 – Dec 1, 2018
Playwright: Kate Wyvill
Director: Christine Greenough
Cast: Richard Cotter, Emma Dalton, Melissa Day, Sarah Plummer, Tricia Youlden
Images by Ben Prats

Theatre review
Stanley’s Alzheimer’s disease has advanced to a stage where he is completely incoherent and no longer able to communicate. His original intentions, made in no uncertain terms, of wishing to undergo euthanasia, is of course highly contentious in a country where assisted dying remains illegal. In Kate Wyvill’s Marbles, Stanley’s three daughters wrestle with the prospect of having to fulfil an agreement that now seems too hard to contemplate. Unlike issues around birth, topics dealing with death are rarely spoken of. Australians gladly own up to being less than delicate, and although not generally a prudish culture, bereavement is certainly not a subject we are comfortable with.

Wyvill’s play offers a point of discussion that our society needs. Some of the writing requires a little refining, but the questions that it prompts are urgent ones that affect us all deeply. Directed by Christine Greenough, it is an appropriately thought-provoking production, even if its rendering of humour often feels underwhelming. Actor Richard Cotter brings dignity to the ailing Stanley, along with a quirky vibrancy that proves appealing. Caregiver Natasha is played by Sarah Plummer, who offers a valuable accuracy to the complicated emotions that are at stake. Her convincing portrayal of the long suffering daughter injects heart and soul, to a story that benefits from its sentimentality.

Marble‘s explorations into end of life decisions are made even more complex by Stanley’s energetic disposition. We are confronted with the vision of a very sick man unaware of his own suffering, and as he goes about blissfully ignorant of his own dementia, we have to think about the right thing to do on his behalf. It is evident that achieving consensus on the matter right now is unlikely, but to talk about death, and to build structures as a community that will support that inevitability, is absolutely necessary.

www.cryingchairtheatreco.com

Review: Company (Limelight On Oxford)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 14 – Dec 1, 2018
Book: George Furth
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Heather Campbell, Maree Cole, Grace Driscoll, Emily Dreyer, Lincoln Elliott, Jacqui Greenfield, Michele Lansdown, Michael McPhee, Alexander Morgan, Bridget Patterson, Brendan Paul, Ileana Pipitone, Marcus Rivera, Richard Woodhouse
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Bobby is celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday, with friends who all appear to be married couples, unable to resist badgering him into finding a wife of his own. Stephen Sondheim’s Company is approaching half a century old, and although its conceit seems archaic, we know that the experience it depicts remains resolutely accurate. People are often unwilling to accept single life as a valid and healthy option, and even though the musical does not portray marriage to be comprehensively wonderful, its insistence that Bobby comes to an acquiescence, in spite of his quite fabulous New York City bachelor existence, is representative of our narrow definitions of identity.

George Furth’s book for the 1970 creation might bear an exasperating plot that does not stand the test of time, but Sondheim’s songs continue to be sublime. Directed by Julie Baz, the production is entertaining and spirited, on a very busy stage that although not always visually appealing, is consistently ebullient, with an ensemble cast full of beans. Leading man Brendan Paul does an adequate job of his singing, but it is his radiant high-wattage smile that really charms. Heather Campbell is deeply impressive as Amy, delivering a rendition of the notoriously difficult “Getting Married Today” at an exceptional standard. Another memorable tune, “The Ladies Who Lunch” is performed by the commanding Michele Lansdown, whose interpretation of the socialite lush Joanne, is a delightful contrast to a lot of the squeaky clean goings on. Also noteworthy are the jubilant musicians that make up a sensational six-piece band, led by Antonio Fernandez whose music direction brings us a great deal of class, through his faithful interpretation of a now nostalgic score.

When Bobby finally admits to his loneliness, we question the veracity of his proclamations, wondering if it is a case of peer pressure leading our protagonist, to invent feelings that are not entirely authentic. Sondheim came out as gay in 1998, at the age of 68. Company is essentially a work he had written about the confirmed bachelor, at a time when his sexuality was in the closet, in which the protagonist’s friends are confounded by his refusal to settle with a woman. The incessant nagging leads to Bobby eventual relenting, not by actually marrying a woman, but by performing a ruse of regret and embarrassment, that many gay people have had to carry out, as a strategy in dealing with the heteronormativity that they inevitably have to contend with. Like many LGBTQ people, Bobby probably feels no need to satisfy those traditional expectations, but a big song and dance is always useful in getting them off our backs.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: Love (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 9, 2018
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Rose Riley, Anna Samson, Hoa Xuande
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
In a polyamorous relationship and loved by two, Annie can sometimes feel like the happiest girl in the world. Often, however, things can get very rough for this nineteen year-old. Both her lovers are addicts, and money from Annie’s sex work seems to go only toward their drug habits. Patricia Cornelius’ Love is a portrait of broken lives failing to find salvation from romantic union. It dispels the myth that love will save the day, revealing instead the way we bring our damage into relationships, more likely to tarnish the other, than to attain a miraculous harmony that we all crave.

We watch as flaws of the three compound, each person bringing increasing misery to the others, with Annie’s suffering especially severe as a result of this toxic merger of lost souls. Magnificent direction by Rachel Chant turns this desolate tale into incredibly compelling theatre; even if the personalities feel far removed from our middle class realities, Chant’s exhilarating rigour from beginning to end, insists on our engagement. Design elements are cleverly imagined, by the wonderfully concordant trio of Ella Butler (set), Nate Edmondson (sound) and Sian James-Holland (lights), for a production rich and sophisticated in its impact.

Actor Rose Riley is sensational as Annie, bold and very powerful in her depiction of premature womanhood. No longer naive but still heartbreakingly innocent, Riley’s ability to convey dignity for a character suffering piteous circumstances, is remarkable. The morally confused Tanya is given palpable complexity by Anna Samson, who convinces us quite astonishingly, of a destructive nature that seems unaware of its own capacity for evil. Lorenzo is a user with no real redeeming features, a simpler role performed with brilliant exuberance, and made thoroughly entertaining, by Hoa Xuande. Timing and chemistry between all performers, whether as a “throuple” or in assorted pairs, are marvellously harnessed for a relentlessly provocative show.

There is no right way to be in love, no matter what religions or other experts might say. We watch Annie, Tanya and Lorenzo go about their painful business, wondering if they had been better off separate, but we arrive at no conclusive answer. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people,” and when we think nothing good can come out of dysfunctional partnerships, we have to remember that loneliness is by definition unbearable, and most of us will enter into arrangements against better judgement, for no other reason than that we are human. The mind is rarely a match for the heart, or to coin another cliché “the heart wants what the heart wants”. Romance will make us suffer its consequences, but to deprive oneself of it, is no less tormenting.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com