Review: Fangirls (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 12 – Nov 10, 2019
Book, Music & Lyrics: Yve Blake
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Aydan, Yve Blake, Kimberley Hodgson, Chika Ikogwe, Ayesha Madon, James Majoos, Sharon Millerchip
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Edna is head over heels in love with Harry, except Harry is miles away in the UK, and a member of a boy band oblivious to Edna’s existence. Yve Blake’s Fangirls details the experience shared by many, ever since the advent of pop music in the middle of the twentieth century, where teenagers develop crushes on stars the intensity of which can often be overwhelming. They had fainted at Beatles concerts in the 60’s, thrown panties at Tom Jones in the 70’s, and now they write fan fiction as a manifestation of their fantasies, and a declaration of love, to share with vast communities of like-minded youth.

Fiction and reality however, become dangerously blurred in Fangirls, as Edna’s obsession grows completely out of hand. It is admittedly surprising, that what seems to be a pedestrian premise for a show, would emerge being the foundation for one of the cleverest and most entertaining musicals to grace our stages. Its dialogue is inexhaustibly witty, partnered by songs that are as inventive as they are powerful, with a plot structure that casts a hypnotic spell over our heads and hearts. Proving that storytelling does not always require subject matter that obviously resonate, Fangirls enthrals with its colourful yet authentic characters, who navigate the modern world in a way that can be thought of as peculiar, but also unequivocally essential in our understanding of humanity. Perhaps it is precisely in these instances of insanity, that we can locate our true nature.

Directed by Paige Rattray, the show is a joyful exercise in feminine vivacity, deliciously exuberant as it celebrates the foibles of adolescence that define us all. Fangirls is hilarious, even at its darkest moments, always insisting that we laugh heartily at situations that evoke memories that were once deathly embarrassing, but are now freshly endearing. Music direction by Alice Chance and music production by David Muratore, draw inspiration from recent trends in pop, for a remarkably exciting score replete with energy, surprise and fabulous irony. Leonardo Mickelo’s choreography is similarly accomplished, making every number a visual thrill. Video by David Fleischer and Justin Harrison help depict the new media environment that informs the sensibilities of our youth, but it is Emma Valente’s lighting design that delivers spectacle and atmospheric augmentation, which really get us in the mood.

Edna is triumphantly portrayed by Blake, whose skills in acting, singing and dancing, are quite astonishingly on par with what she achieves as songwriter and playwright. She is simultaneously heartbreaking and comical, persistently nuanced even if the performance is relentlessly extravagant in tone. The mononymous Aydan is thoroughly convincing as the object of desire, a marvellous caricature who is clearly in on the joke. Five extraordinary supporting players in a wide variety of roles, leave us hopelessly thrilled by their impressive talents. Chika Ikogwe is absolutely glorious with the sassy humour and parodic hip hop stylings she brings, in addition to the moments of piercing poignancy she introduces as the less than best friend Jules.

Caroline, the mother at wits end, is played by an impossibly versatile Sharon Millerchip. James Majoos is unforgettable as Saltypringl, and for dialling up the camp factor in all his scintillating representations of gender diversity. Very big laughs are delivered by Kimberley Hodgson, who is brilliantly incisive as the naive Briana, and Ayesha Madon takes every opportunity to tickle us with excessive vocal flourishes, along with multiple absurd appearances as an overzealous ribbon gymnast.

We can give our children everything they need and want, and still have to live with the idea that they will inevitably go out and court trouble. In fact, it is probably more accurate to say that when we leave them with nothing to want, is when they would find ways to create havoc. People need to feel in control of their own existences. Adults take it upon themselves to provide every kind of order, so that the young can have peaceful and rewarding lives, but without experiencing chaos and failure, it is hard to imagine that anyone could truly welcome everything that should be cherished. We dread our kids ever having to hit rock bottom, but we know that that is in many ways, absolutely necessary.

www.belvoir.com.au | www.atyp.com.au | www.queenslandtheatre.com.au

Review: Fully Committed (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Oct 11 – Nov 16, 2019
Playwright: Becky Mode
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Contessa Treffone
Images by Prudence Upton
Theatre review
Sam is a struggling actor, working full-time as a reservations clerk at one of Sydney’s swankiest restaurants. It is a difficult job, not only because the joint seems to be at perpetual full capacity, but also due to some extraordinarily difficult personalities, who insist on talking to Sam with no regard at all for any common courtesy.

Becky Mode’s Fully Committed is about life at the bottom rung of a revered institution, where labour is cheap and human dignity is non-existent. It is an entertaining work, that deals with the class divide in a humorous, if slightly disillusioned way. Instead of questioning Sam’s compliance, the play is concerned only with how and when she is going to be able to move up the social order. Fully Committed is about our inevitable participation in a broken economic system, reflecting the acceptance of something that causes as many problems as it solves, and our general sense of impotence in the face of all its failings.

Under Kate Champion’s direction and Jane Fitzgerald’s dramaturgy, Sam’s story of disadvantage is told with unexpected poignancy. In Champion’s efforts to elevate the writing beyond its tendency for surface comedy however, the show lacks the manic energy that could have us further invested. The decision to have a conventional switchboard stylistically transformed into thirty separate telephones, makes for a powerful visual (set design by Anna Tregloan), but often requires the performer of this one-woman piece to delay her delivery of lines.

Contessa Treffone plays Sam, and all the other, more than thirty, characters on the other end of the line, each of them thoughtfully crafted, and vividly depicted. Treffone makes the extremely demanding work look a walk in the park, for a performance remarkable in its elegance and clarity. Although effortlessly comical, the performer can at times feel insufficiently confident, for a script that seems naturally inclined to be madcap and quite hammy in tone. Nevertheless, the production remains tremendously enjoyable, and Treffone’s ability to hold us captive for the entire duration is indeed commendable.

Sam finds herself in an awful situation, but blames no one for her predicament. She has bought into the myth of capitalism, of hard work, of upward mobility, and convinces herself that literally mopping up other people’s shit, is but par for the course, if she is determined to put everything into making her dreams come true. Becky Mode’s play is approaching twenty years old, and it is tempting to now think of the new generation, as young people who know better.

Maybe when we criticise them for being entitled, spoilt and delicate, we neglect to recognise the unjust, unreasonable and sometimes inhumane conditions we have come to accept of our lives. For many years we believed that the system we build, would reward us with fairness, but time has revealed many fallacies. No wonder then, that many of Sam’s age are now turning their backs, and refusing to play by rules that make little sense.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Don’t Hate The Player (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Oct 8 – 12, 2019
Playwright: Laura McDonald
Director: Laura McDonald
Cast: Atharv Kolhatkar, Madelaine Osborn, Cassius Russell, Rhiannon Watson

Theatre review
Darcy and Gabby are involved with big time drug dealers, and although the sisters’ illicit activity happens only in the virtual reality world of computer gaming, the emotions being toyed with are completely genuine. Laura McDonald’s Don’t Hate The Player is a clever piece of writing, with thoughtful ideas and a well-considered plot structure. The play however, is likely to be remembered for its humour, rather than the philosophy it suggests. It is a very funny work, fuelled by McDonald’s wonderfully quirky imagination, that delivers a great number of laughs without ever underestimating its audience.

As director, McDonald does not quite render with sufficient intensity, the poignancy inherent in her piece at its conclusion, but there is no question that the jokes being presented from start to end, are entertaining and impressively idiosyncratic. Four performers, each with a distinctive style, are made cohesive by McDonald’s specific approach to comedy. Madelaine Osborn and Rhiannon Watson play the sisters, both actors delightful with the surprising nuance they unearth from within the script, and marvellously inventive with the highly distinctive characters they inhabit. Chemistry between the two is an absolute joy to watch. Atharv Kolhatkar is energetic as Ashan, man of mystery in this story about mutable identities, and Cassius Russell’s intricate manifestations of Reg the cyber facilitator are an unequivocal pleasure.

As the lines between real and virtual continue to blur, what we deem to be organic and synthetic too, begin to meld. What were once easily differentiated, is now increasingly ambiguous, as we come to terms with humanity’s indivisibility from the thing we call technology. Everything that we dream up, originates from us, no matter how wildly alien they eventually evolve. Nature is never stagnant, and being a part of it, we are always learning to live with all its new permutations. There is no need to try figuring out what is natural and what is not, but to know the difference between good and bad, is an endeavour we must forever persist with.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Bondi Legal (Bondi Theatre Company)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Oct 11 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Tony Laumberg
Director: Richard Cotter
Cast: Valentino Arico, Michael Arvithis, Jadie Bastow, David Evan Samuels, Tricia Youlden
Images by Lightbox Photography

Theatre review
Brad thinks himself an average lawyer at best, and when he has to fight a court case at short notice, we see him quite literally fall in a heap, overwhelmed by fear of failure. His client Frances however, has enough confidence for the both of them, and proceeds to be a formidable driving force that pushes Brad to do his very best work. Written by Tony Laumberg in 2009, based on personal experiences from the mid 90’s, Bondi Legal is an unremarkable narrative presented in an old-fashioned style, but its humour, although obvious, could certainly appeal to those with a taste for something traditional.

Directed by Richard Cotter, the production is appropriately rambunctious, and thankfully fast-paced. In the absence of an engaging story, Cotter aims to keep us invested by foregrounding some very broad comedy. Michael Arvithis demonstrates himself to be a reliable performer; skilful, agile and extremely energetic in the lead role. His determination to entertain, forms the anchor of the show, keeping things buoyant and amusing. Frances is played by Jadie Bastow, a prudent counterpart who provides steady, and generous, support to her irrepressible co-star.

Theatre is often more about how a story is told, than what the story actually is. The court case at the centre of Bondi Legal is unlikely to resonate with many, but the rowdy goings on make for a stage that holds our attention. When artists work together to assemble elements that could make large groups of people laugh as one, they are both reflecting and defining our culture. They identify who we are, and then have the opportunity to shape us into what we should be. Theatre can be regressive or progressive. It can hold us back, or move us forward, even if in the moment, all we can perceive is harmless laughter.

www.bonditheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Rogues Double Bill (Fringe HQ)


Venue: Fringe HQ (Potts Point NSW), Oct 9 – 19, 2019

Gravity Guts
Playwright: Sophia Simmons
Director: Erica Lovell
Cast: Naomi Belet, Angie Brooke, Kathryn Edmonds, Jessica Loeb, Emily McKnight, Monika Pierprzyk, Monica Sayers

Ginger.Black.Brunette.Blonde.
Playwright: Peter Maple
Director: Simon Thomson
Cast: Jessie Lancaster, Emily McKnight, Nell Nakkan

Images by Robbi James, Christopher Starnawski

Theatre review
In two separate plays, actor Emily McKnight plays two young women, both trying to grow out of their parents’ shadows. In Sophia Simmons’ Gravity Guts, a young Sophia wishes to become an astronaut, because her intelligence refuses to be contained by the planet, and also because she needs to flee as far away as possible, from an angry alcoholic father. Peter Maple’s Ginger.Black.Brunette.Blonde. features Sarah, traumatised by her mother’s death, and unable to establish a selfhood independent of painful, cancerous memories. Both plays are spirited and imaginative, with Simmons’ work memorable for its thoroughly realistic depiction of a triumphant character, while Maple’s writing goes very melodramatic and abstract, perhaps too pretentious for meaningful resonance.

Directed by Erica Lovell, Gravity Guts boasts excellent use of a chorus, comprised of six energetic women, perfectly choreographed to enhance its protagonist’s story of defiant resilience. McKnight is convincing as Sophia, very passionate with the way she presents the role’s irrepressible ambitions. As Sarah however, her emotions are similarly intense but rarely authentic. Directed by Simon Thomson, Ginger.Black.Brunette.Blonde. is appropriately heightened in style, although sound and lighting requires greater finessing. Jessie Lancaster and Nell Nakkan make the most of this opportunity of an unusually flamboyant piece, both performers leaving good impressions with their interpretations of powerful personalities.

It is likely that there is no surer way for a person to mature, than when they come to accept their parents’ flaws. When one is able to completely recognise their parents to be unremarkable humans, capable of the worst behaviour, one can begin to develop a true adulthood. Some believe that we are all damaged, no matter how well-intentioned the ones who bring us up, but we must believe that old wounds can heal. Whether permanent or not, the problems we inherit, must be thought of as amendable, even if they require a lifetime’s attention.

www.companyrogues.com

Review: Hair (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 3 – 6, 2019
Book & Lyrics: James Rado, Gerome Ragni
Music: Galt MacDermot
Director: Cameron Menzies
Cast: Stefanie Caccamo, Angelique Cassimatis, Emma Hawthorne, Luke Jarvis, Joe Kalou, Julian Kuo, Louis Lucente, Matthew Manahan, Sun Park, Paulini, Keshia Paulse, Callan Purcell, Monique Salle, Hugh Sheridan, Prinnie Stevens, Harris M. Turner,
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Hair debuted 1967, in the middle of the anti-Vietnam war movement. An icon of the peace-loving hippie counterculture era, the musical contains many anti-establishment elements that remain its defining feature, including the incorporation of profanity, illicit drugs, and nudity. It is the story of a New York City bohemian tribe, culminating in tensions that bring strain to the group when it is discovered that a member, Claude is being conscripted.

Act One is an exuberant cornucopia, of mischievously colourful expressions pertaining to ideals and identities of the flower power generation. Director Cameron Menzies and choreographer Amy Campbell manufacture a joyful visit to an optimistic past, enjoyable not only for its nostalgic value but also for an innocence, that proves so moving in the current bitter climate. Act Two turns serious, with the narrative shifting more firmly onto the Vietnam war, but sound engineering, although beautifully optimised for the cast’s vocalisations, does little to enhance diction in the reverb of the auditorium. Without clear enough access to dialogue and lyrics, the drama is unable to resonate. Lighting by Paul Lim on the other hand, is innovative and exciting, and together with James Browne’s spirited work on costumes, the production is a delight for the eyes.

A marvellous ensemble, full of conviction and vigour, gives us a cohesive gang of personalities, remarkably convincing in their depiction of an adopted family affair, powerful with the warmth they emanate. Matthew Manahan is a charming presence as Claude, commendable for the complexity he brings to the role. An imposing Harris M. Turner is the show’s unequivocal scene-stealer, equally impressive whether singing or dancing as Hud, the militant black rights activist. The astonishing Paulini sings some very big notes, reliably bringing the house down at each appearance. The group’s alpha male Berger is played by a tremendously likeable Hugh Sheridan, whose vivacity knows no bounds, even if completely unbelievable as a high school student.

When psychologist and LSD advocate Timothy Leary said half a century ago, to “turn on, tune in, drop out”, many were persuaded by his statement of subversion, and sought an alternative to socioeconomic and political systems that had revealed themselves to be oppressive and unjust. It seems all these years later, we are once again at a breaking point. A new generation, fuelled by the same disillusionment, is now trying to find new answers to old questions. Bell bottoms and patchouli may no longer be en vogue, but we still want peace, equity and a restorative love for mother earth, and with any luck, our efforts will have a permanent impact this time round.

www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) (Futura Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 20 – Oct 5, 2019
Playwright: Lulu Raczka
Director: Hannah Goodwin
Cast: Michelle Ny, Caitlin Burley
Images by Jarryd Dobson, Indiana Kwong

Theatre review
The city has been experiencing frequent blackouts, during which women and girls would disappear, many of whom would be subsequently found murdered. 16-year-old Steph is out looking for her best friend who has gone missing. She is certain that Bell, a young woman working in a bar, is withholding valuable information. Lulu Raczka’s A Girl In School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) sees those two characters imagining the fate of a vanished girl. They play out scenarios by pretending to be male perpetrators of violence, thereby revealing the dangers that women know themselves to be subject to.

In the many blackouts that occur during the course of the production, the audience is repeatedly thrust into a state of anxiety, made even more unnerving by Hannah Goodwin’s very taut direction. Fear is always in the air, with the audience positioned to confront the constant threat that defines daily reality for most women. It is that sensation of when we walk into a bar, and our awareness of being looked upon as a piece of meat, is instantly heightened. The show is incredibly well designed, with Sophie Pilcher’s lights and Jessica Dunn’s sound wonderfully precise in manipulating our visceral responses for this gritty journey. Ella Butler’s work on set and costumes too, is highly accomplished. There is a sharpness to the aesthetic of A Girl In School Uniform that translates as a certain brutal coldness in how the world can be, even for young girls.

Actor Michelle Ny brings sass as well as dramatic intensity to the part of Bell, demonstrating impressive versatility in a role that requires of its performer, a wide range of attitudes and emotions. Steph is brought to life by the strong stage presence of Caitlin Burley, marvellous in conveying both innocence and fortitude for the role. The pair is exceptionally well rehearsed. Their chemistry and timing for this extremely technical two-hander has us agape in amazement, leaving us firmly persuaded by all that they present.

In the play we observe the dark to be infinitely more harrowing for women, but the incessant power failure is allowed to become a new status quo, exposing the ease with which society disregards our safety. We are comfortable with the idea that there is a weaker sex, and continue to foster behaviour and beliefs to reinforce that repugnant imbalance. We make things harder for women, often through the disinformation that women are naturally more challenged, usually due to bogus notions of biology or religion. The system will insist that we accept our fate, that we must respond to blatant injustice with resignation. Realising that acquiescence is almost always a choice, is how we can begin to address these issues of gender.

www.futurafilms.co