Review: Mum, Me & The I.E.D. (Collaborations Theatre Group)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 15 – Sep 1, 2018
Playwright: James Balian, Roger Vickery
Director: Kevin Jackson
Cast: Matilda Brodie, Martin Harper, Elaine Hudson, Philippe Klaus, Joshua Shediak
Images by James Balian

Theatre review
Mary Ellen has been an avowed pacifist since the Vietnam war, but still she was unable to prevent her son from aspiring to become a soldier. When we first meet them, Rob is undergoing treatment for PTSD, as part of the discharge process upon leaving Afghanistan. Mum, Me & The I.E.D. by James Balian and Roger Vickery, is an uncompromising look at the psychological damage inflicted on those we send away to war. The play’s anti-war sentiments are unambiguous and passionate, almost too blatant with their chastisements. Early scenes can feel repetitive, but its latter half turns dynamic, becoming more emotionally involving, as we tune in to Balian and Vickery’s reflections on casualties and their politics.

Director Kevin Jackson demonstrates creative use of space, in this story about intersecting dimensions. The protagonist’s mind is a convergence of confused realities, that Jackson’s staging renders coherent for our benefit. Lighting design by Martin Kinnane proves invaluable in conveying, with remarkable clarity, the many unusual spacial and temporal transformations required of the production.

Actor Philippe Klaus turns up the intensity for the show’s various points of heightened drama, but his performance of Rob’s trauma and suffering can seem slightly affected. His portrayal of a young man’s severe mental deterioration resulting from experiences in the battlefield, are full of conviction, but it is the authenticity in his depictions of family discord and the accompanying anguish, that we find convincing. Mary Ellen is played by Elaine Hudson who delivers a compelling and meaningful sense of depth to the character’s tribulations. Her work feels honest and accurately realistic, often with a surprising restraint that makes things even more believable.

The disadvantaged and the naive are perennially targeted for carrying out the devil’s work, and the world can be a shockingly dangerous place for those poised for independence. We want our young to understand that life is for taking chances, but we fear the irreversible consequences of their mistakes. Mary Ellen and her fierce conscientiousness were no match for the narrative of heroic patriotism that all nations rely on. The heartache that her family has to endure, is a phenomenon centuries old, that we seem determined to perpetuate.

www.facebook.com/CollaborationsTheatreGroup

Review: Ich Nibber Dibber (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 15 – 19, 2018
Playwrights: Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose
Director: Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose
Cast: Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose
Images by Jacquie Manning

Theatre review
Three goddesses are afloat in white robes, eternal but not quite ethereal. Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose’s Ich Nibber Dibber features quick-fire conversations between old friends, natural and very candid, as though a verbatim recreation of private moments, collated over two or so decades. Confidences between close friends that are never meant for public consumption, bawdy and reckless, occupy centre stage to claim a position of dominance for the oft-neglected notion of female subjectivity. It is an exercise in rejecting the gaze, and of women asserting a perspective that is wholly about self-determined existences.

Audacious in its imagination of a post-feminist era, its accompanying politics are confident but subdued. Instead of overt investigations into meanings of gender, the play emphasises its comedy, and through that brazen attitude of subversive recalcitrance, Ich Nibber Dibber encourages us to laugh on our own terms, and by inference, to laugh at patriarchy. The show is thoroughly amusing, with its creators proving to be highly persuasive presences, as they jubilantly perform their defiance.

The women are unequivocally real, but they are also otherworldly, with a circularity to their experience of time that offers a glimpse into a future universe beckoning us to catch up. Michael Hankin’s set and costumes, along with Fausto Brusamolino’s lights, orchestrate this magical encounter between profane and divine, presenting imagery that reminds us of the transcendence we are all capable of. Music and sound by James Brown facilitate our connection with the storytellers, and then disturb our peace to keep us thinking.

It is believed that male desire in all its forms, have determined how we conceive of ourselves, but what had seemed inescapable, can now be put through a process of reconditioning. To extricate our own desires from those of the other, is likely an inexhaustible task, and because a woman’s work of resistance is never done, it is that ongoing project of continual redefinition and ever new formations of identities that can lead us to greater autonomy.

www.postpresentspost.com | www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: King Of Pigs (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 1 – Sep 1, 2018
Playwright: Steve Rodgers
Director: Blazey Best
Cast: Mick Bani, Wylie Best, Christian Byers, Ashley Hawkes, Ella Scott-Lynch, Kire Tosevski
Images by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Actor Ella Scott-Lynch plays several characters, in this work about men’s violence against women. She embodies different personalities, but what they encounter in Steve Rodgers’ King Of Pigs, are essentially the same. The current climate of fervent interrogation into matters relating to gendered abuse, requires the male of our species to confront hard truths about their behaviour. It is a time of reflection and re-evaluation, and the play speaks directly to their conscience, asking them to examine the imbalances inherent in heterosexual dynamics.

It is an earnest work, perhaps too simplistic and obvious in style, but the urgency to make a point is certainly evident. Stories in King Of Pigs are very familiar, and although predictable, they still are able to have an impact. Direction by Blazey Best is suitably grave in tone, with a meticulousness to its naturalism that holds our interest. Isabel Hudson’s set and Verity Hampson’s lights collude to offer a sense of theatricality for the intimate situations under scrutiny, both effective in conveying a quality of ominous danger to the plot.

Scott-Lynch is convincing in all of her roles, each one thought-provoking, with little reliance on sentimentality. Kire Tosevski and Wylie Best provide strong partnership in family scenes that offer momentary consolation, through their warm rendering of a loving home, placed precariously alongside damaging relationships. Mick Bani, Christian Byers and Ashley Hawkes play the three perpetrators, each with memorable instances of character vagaries that point to pertinent questions about masculinity.

It is never easy to have those who hold power understand the depravity that results from their dominance. For sexism to be quelled, men have to participate in the feminist project, which although ultimately benefits all, many will perceive to be a threatening relinquishment of power. A world without the problems of gender requires a great number of processes, all of which can only be initiated by epiphanies derived from opportunities like King Of Pigs.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Torch Song Trilogy (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 1 – 26, 2018
Playwright: Harvey Fierstein
Director: Stephen Colyer
Cast: Hilary Cole, Simon Corfield, Imraan Daniels, Tim Draxl, Stephen Madsen, Kate Raison, Phil Scott
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is the perfect time to revisit Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy. The play premiered in New York 1982, right before the AIDS crisis crippled the LGBT community. Fierstein’s vision was full of hope, daring to see queer people break into the mainstream, with portrayals of gay men in serious monogamous relationships, thriving in family units that incorporate legally adopted children.

Almost immediately after the completion of this work, the LGBT movement experienced a setback of at least thirty years, finding itself in a new fight, in many ways even harder than before, with the world laying the blame of AIDS entirely on us. What had been a burgeoning era of equality post-Stonewall was all but decimated. Today’s revival is an appropriate resumption of progress; much of the West has now succumbed to the demand for marriage equality, and that discussion about marginalised identities gaining parity not only of rights, but also respect, can now once again be sincerely salient.

Actor Simon Corfield plays Arnold, a gay Jewish New Yorker, whose resilience forms the centrepiece of this saga. Corfield’s performance is often very moving; his depictions of suffering are absolutely enthralling, ensuring that the show’s politics remain foregrounded. Comedy aspects, however, are less consistently rendered. Kate Raison offers a redemptive energy boost, with her potent entrance in the third act as Arnold’s mother, restoring lustre to the play’s humour. Incidental songs are magnificently presented by Hilary Cole and Tim Draxl, accompanied by Phil Scott’s exquisite piano playing. Both singers use music to their magical advantage and leave remarkable impressions, enhanced by strong acting in their roles as Laurel and Ed.

The production can at times be insufficiently ebullient, but an authentic soulful quality permeates, and sustains, all the action. It is a visually sumptuous staging, boldly lit by Benjamin Brockman, whose extravagant approach for Torch Song Trilogy imbues it with a captivating sense of theatricality. There is a beautiful melancholy to director Stephen Colyer’s style that adds a richness to the play’s concerns; Arnold never dwells on his pain, but Colyer insists that we see all of it.

Back in the day, the idea that gay men could start their own normative family lives, was a completely subversive notion. Today, it can still be a surprising thought, although some of us are more taken aback, by the fact that any queer person would choose an existence that seems so ordinary. For LGBT people in places with adequate legal protection, our choices are broader than ever before. Some want to emulate their parents, others wish to break new ground, and most would probably find their peace somewhere in between the extremes. The whole point of this long battle, is so that people can become whomever they desire. Love thy neighbour as you love thyself, no matter how different they appear to be.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: The Widow Unplugged Or An Actor Deploys (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jul 26 – Sep 1, 2018
Playwright: Reg Livermore
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Reg Livermore
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Arthur Kwick fancies himself a performer but possesses no discernible talent. Nevertheless he does persist with his passion and has devoted his entire life to finding opportunities to jump on a stage, and make a fool of himself. Reg Livermore’s The Widow Unplugged Or An Actor Deploys is a work about an actor, by an actor. It is also a meditation about approaching the end of life, and whether one should go quietly, or to resist the notion of complete retirement. It is not a biographical work, but the parallels are absolutely clear.

The show bears a tone of abstraction, requiring its audience to work hard to decipher whatever it is that is being presented. There is a chance that the incoherence we encounter has more to do with Livermore’s current abilities, than with any artistic intention to confuse its audience in a purposeful or meaningful way, but that of course shall remain a mystery. The comedy is extremely corny, incessantly so, and would probably appeal only to the star’s devotees. Jokes about Chinese people eating their pets, and a Chinese laundry’s success being due to not using any MSG, are only the tip of the iceberg, in two large sections where he decides, with very poor judgement, to lampoon a Chinese woman character in Mosman. There may not be a substantial number of Asian patrons at Livermore’s show, but it still astounds that such insensitivity could find a place in Australian theatre today.

One of the allures of acquiring power, is that those who wield it, suffer little consequence for their actions. We make heroes of people, forgetting that they too are capable of failure, and we find ourselves at a loss when they cause offence using the very platforms we had gifted. Big names and great reputations are intrinsic to our social nature. We want to see people do well, and we want to raise them up as glorious examples of humanity at its best, but every person makes mistakes, and when luminaries disappoint, communities must acknowledge the new epiphanies.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: The Almighty Sometimes (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 27 – Sep 8, 2018
Playwright: Kendall Feaver
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Penny Cook, Brenna Harding, Shiv Palekar, Hannah Waterman
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Anna started medication for mental illness at the age of 8. Ten years later, and no longer a child, she decides, on her own accord, to suddenly discontinue the drugs. The repercussions are dire, of course, and as she unravels, her relationships convulse and deteriorate, revealing the social value of those pharmaceuticals. In Kendall Feaver’s The Almighty Sometimes, we see sickness from the perspective of the one personally afflicted, as well as the wider reverberations of what is usually considered an isolated condition. Much of what the play conveys is not new information, but its characters are extraordinarily conceived, each one authentic and rich in their depiction, with very persuasive scenes of conflict that provide The Almighty Sometimes its excellent sense of drama.

It is a fiery piece of theatre, featuring high stakes and big emotions, that director Lee Lewis integrates powerfully for a tense, affecting experience. The play features a lot of fighting, but it is really the intense love underscoring the strife and angst, that we connect with. Actor Brenna Harding is marvellous as Anna, complex but precise in her interpretation of a difficult personality, allowing us to comprehensively understand and empathise with her plight. Whether delicate or savage, Harding is full of enthralment, and we luxuriate in the diligence she brings to the stage.

Similarly captivating is Hannah Waterman, who plays Renee the long-suffering mother, with an impressive nuance, delivering a realistic and moving portrait of a woman at wits end, but who remains determined to do her best. The resilient spirit being presented is embodied, very convincingly, by Waterman’s compelling presence. Penny Cook and Shiv Palekar offer excellent support, both creating intriguing roles that give the issues at hand, unexpected dimensions, for a show memorable for its intricacy. Also noteworthy is work on music and sound by Russell Goldsmith, who keeps us on tenterhooks, with subtle and steady manipulations to atmosphere that prove to be immensely potent.

We look to medical professionals to fix us, often forgetting that there is no one ideal for how we should live. When discussing mental health, our subjective opinions have to find ways that can accommodate both the patient’s well-being and its impact on the wider community. If what is best for society is incongruous, with what individual sufferers consider to be best for themselves, that negotiation will turn persistently fraught. Anna’s sickness consumes herself, along with all who come in close contact. The Almighty Sometimes demonstrates unambiguously that mental health is a social issue, and if we are unable, as a nation, to focus on both cure and prevention, it will be a failure to truly be ashamed of.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Yarramadoon The Musical (Aya Productions)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 25 – Aug 11, 2018
Book: Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Songs: Matthew Predny, Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Directors: Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Cast: Matthew Predny, Eliza Reilly, Hannah Reilly
Images by Indiana Kwong

Theatre review
Shelly might only be sixteen, but she has had enough of her country town. The bright lights of big city Sydney beckons, but first, Shelly has to deal with forces at home determined to keep her from the freedoms of the metropolis. Eliza Reilly and Hannah Reilly’s Yarramadoon is about a girl daring to dream; a diamond in the rough on her way to discovering her full potential. There is admittedly nothing extraordinary in that well-worn narrative, but the Reillys’ idiosyncratic comedy style proves irresistible, in this joyful take of the musical theatre genre.

Strictly for urban audiences, Yarramadoon is a scathing satire of life in the many backwater corners of Australia, where big mouths and narrow minds reign supreme. Songs by Matthew Predny and the Reillys are exuberant and effectively concise. It is a jaunty show, consistently witty, with many instances of inventiveness that truly delight. Lighting designer Martin Kinnane brings an excellent sense of dynamism to the plot, moving us between dimensions with great efficiency. The cast’s approach to performance is highly mischievous, and we get hopelessly swept up in their very compelling shenanigans. Eliza Reilly is particularly memorable as Shelly, confident in her extravagant sense of humour, and surprising with the depth she is able to convey, in what initially seems to be an unexceptional role.

When Shelly eventually lands in Sydney, there is no guarantee that she will find everything she had longed for, but the satisfaction that will come with her new autonomy is unequivocal. If we tell our girls that the world is their oyster, they must also be encouraged to explore the wilderness. The grass may or may not be greener on the other side; the key is to have the gumption to go and find out.

www.belvoir.com.au