Review: Distorted (Fixed Foot Productions)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 10 – 22, 2020
Playwright: Xavier Coy
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Michael Arvithis, Xavier Coy, Emma Louise, Poppy Lynch, Lex Marinos, Tristan McKinnon, Kate Rutherford, Jack Walton, David Woodland, Sheree Zellner
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Xavier Coy’s Distorted comprises short episodes, involving ten main characters, all of whom are connected, and all of whom have less than joyful lives. They look like people from any Western city, who have struggles that look ordinary, yet none of which can be easily dealt with. Life is hard, by Coy’s estimation, but what he presents is perversely delightful. There is a veiled humour to the despondent scenarios being enacted, that feels like a bitter irony acknowledging that our complaints can only ever feel haughty when there are roofs over heads, and no shortage of food in bellies.

In Distorted, we observe the all-consuming nature of these personal problems, whilst forming a perspective that reveals these frustrations to be ultimately inconsequential and somewhat narcissistic. Director Richard Hilliar does an excellent job of depicting both the accuracy of these egocentric experiences, and a wider view that it all amounts to little. The show is captivating in every moment, with Hilliar’s knack for drama keeping us mesmerised.

Stage design by Hamish Elliot is gracefully rendered, and effective in facilitating the quick scene changes that happen throughout the duration. Jasmin Borsovsky’s lights too, help us instinctively navigate spacial transformations, as do Martin Gallagher’s sounds that work with our subconscious to make sense of the many abrupt shifts in time. A strong cast performs the piece, with each character believable and realistic. The team tells a cohesive story, remarkable with the even focus they provide so compellingly, to have us invest in every little detail that is being conveyed.

Most of the people in Distorted find the world a difficult place, but they do little to seek to change it. One of them spends considerable time in psychotherapy, where he tries to find ways to fix himself, even though the play gives no evidence of the young man suffering any illness. We have become conditioned to always think that it is the individual who needs improvement, that when things go wrong, we need to fix ourselves, without ever questioning if it is the external environment that requires interrogation. Happiness must come from within, but when we encounter anxiety and exasperation, we must not forget to transcend the self, and identify first, the structures we operate under that are determined to beat us down.

www.facebook.com/fixedfootproductions

Review: Cusp (ATYP)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 11 – 28, 2020
Playwright: Mary Anne Butler
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Stevie Jean, Josh McElroy, Nyasha Ogden
Images by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
In a Northern Territory rural town, three young people are about to leave their teenage years behind. Unlike many of their counterparts in big cities, Elvis, Maddie and Rosie have no time to waste. Mary Anne Butler’s Cusp tackles the worlds of those who do not have the luxury to slowly figure things out. It is a story about class and poverty, an exploration into structures we have to operate under that are manifestly unjust and inadequate, yet are rarely questioned. At seventeen or eighteen, characters in the play have to deal with matters as severe as pregnancy and incarceration, with little support and guidance from those who should know better.

Butler’s scintillating dialogue keeps us engrossed in the personalities she introduces. Director Fraser Corfield brings sincerity and honesty to the play, creating a show with genuine resonances, even though its staging can at times feel static and visually repetitive. Lights by Jessie Davis and sound by Brad Fawcett are sensitively designed, for a remarkably elegant style of presentation.

Three impressive actors bring passion and conviction to their roles, all of them adept at having the audience spellbound. As Rosie, Nyasha Ogden is a captivating presence, warm and very believable as the Indigenous girl trying to reconcile wishes of her community with personal desires. Stevie Jean depicts Maddie’s loss of innocence with a charming boldness, effective in helping us contemplate how a very young woman can exercise her agency. A memorable Josh McElroy is detailed and delicate as Elvis, a familiar juvenile type with troubling anger issues.

The sentence “some people get better choices to choose from” is uttered twice in Cusp. There is overwhelming evidence that wealth inequality in Australia has risen to an unprecedented level, with the general population experiencing over half a decade of stagnating wages, while constant reports of GDP growth fool us into thinking that the country is being managed well. We continue to think of ourselves as an egalitarian people, but are simultaneously, completely comfortable with ignoring the fact that only a small percentage is reaping the rewards of a strong economy. The rest of us are stuck with the indoctrination, that if life is not working out well, we only have ourselves to blame. We are in fact kept in the dark, whilst the few who are much better off, steal everything they can, in broad daylight.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Everybody (Cross Pollinate Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 6 – 21, 2019
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Gabriel Fancourt
Cast: Kate Bookallil, Caitlin Burley, Annie Byron, Giles Gartrell-Mills, Isaro Kayitesi, Mansoor Noor, Kate Skinner, Samm Ward and Michael Wood
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The idea is to think of that one thing you can take with you, when you die. Everybody by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins talks about the most common of denominators. A woman named Death has come knocking, and is asking Everybody to bring along one other, to meet their maker. It is worth pointing out that Everybody is played by any one of five actors, determined at each performance by lottery. As we watch ourselves shuffle off this mortal coil, leaving behind all things material, we are urged to consider a certain distillation of being, that occurs in the final hour, and come to a conclusion of what it is that might accompany the departure of each spirit.

It is a cleverly structure play, featuring thought-provoking and immensely enjoyable dialogue. Its raison d’etre may ultimately feel somewhat prosaic, but the journey Everybody takes us on, is a very satisfying one. Dynamic work by lighting designer Morgan Moroney and sound designer Felicity Giles, ensure that the production is consistently energetic and vibrant. Set design by Stephanie Dunlop makes effective use of space, with a simple solution that keeps us all engaged with every stage activity.

Gabriel Fancourt’s direction delivers a show that entertains from start to finish, able to position a compelling sense of theatricality alongside earnest explorations of the text’s philosophy. A charming cast, including five brave performers who allow a nightly act of chance decide their fate, collaborate on a presentation unique to the live form. When playing the part of Everybody, Isaro Kayitesi is tremendously impressive, with a glorious combination of vulnerability, complexity and authenticity, that she renders with apparent ease. Giles Gartrell-Mills is our usher, comfortably authoritative in the role, but also disarming with a sincerity that he exudes quite naturally. Death is a comical character when portrayed by Annie Byron, whose unremitting joviality brings splendid contrast to the grim notions that she embodies.

God is omnipresent in Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing, but Nature scarcely gets a mention. In 2020, it is our natural world and environment that has become a major factor in how we conceive of mortality and the future. Perhaps God has all along been indivisible from Nature, yet so many of our minds have learned to have them separated. There is a lot of truth in saying that we create God in our image (and vice versa), and for those of us who think of God and Nature as different, this must be the day of reckoning, the final opportunity for us to come to grips with the fact that it is us who are at the mercy of Mother Earth.

www.crosspollinate.com.au

Review: Hamlet (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 29 – Apr 4, 2020
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Peter Evans
Cast: Jeremi Campese, Tony Cogin, Jack Crumlin, James Evans, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, James Lugton, Jane Mahady, Lisa McCune, Robert Menzies, Aanisa Vylet, Sophie Wilde
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Having very recently lost his father, the young prince is understandably grief-stricken. Hamlet obsesses over his mother’s quick remarriage to the new King Claudius, almost as a form of distraction, but when the ghost of the dead king arrives to reveal that it was his own brother Claudius who had killed him, Hamlet becomes overwhelmed with fury. More than a revenge story, Shakespeare’s Hamlet examines the meaning of death, from the vantage point of a man obsessed with bereavement.

It is a handsome production, with Benjamin Cisterne’s lights giving a glamorous finish to the staging, and designer Anna Tregloan’s 1960’s costumes adding a sense of whimsy. Tregloan’s cyclorama depicts a beautiful Danish snowscape, but an awkward house-shaped frame sits centre stage, doing little more than to confuse with its lack of purpose. Video projections by Laura Turner helps us empathise with Hamlet’s tragic circumstances, as does Max Lyandvert’s restrained music compositions.

Director Peter Evans’ conservative style may not deliver anything unexpected, but his rendition is likely to appeal to fans of Shakespeare who favour a more conventional approach. Actor Harriet Gordon-Anderson is insufficiently charismatic as the lead, but displays clear dedication to her craft. What she offers as the Danish prince is not always convincing, due in part to her slight stature, although there is no questioning her conviction and focus for the role. The two problematic women in Hamlet, Gertrude and Ophelia, are played by Lisa McCune and Sophie Wilde respectively, both performers able to convey a certain level of power and integrity, in spite of Shakespeare’s intentions to portray them as useless. Robert Menzies leaves a strong impression as Polonius, animated and entertaining as the court’s chief counsellor.

In the twenty-first century, it is easy to take issue with the representation of women in Shakespeare’s work. We are far less likely to accept as reasonable, the extremely unbalanced way in which gender is expressed in his oeuvre. The current trend of placing women actors in key male roles does, to some extent, soften the blow of insults to half of humankind, but the strategy is rarely if ever, able to comprehensively address the gender problem that figures so centrally in all of Shakespeare’s narratives.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

Review: Hello Again (The Factory Theatre)

Venue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Feb 20 – 28, 2020
Words & Music: Michael John LaChiusa (after La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler)
Director: Jerome Studdy
Cast: Denzel Bruhn, Lyndon Carney, Grace Driscoll, Stacey Gay, Charlie Hollands, Brendan McRae, Kate O’Sullivan, Anna-May Parnell, Harrison Vaughan, Emelie Woods
Image by Junior Jin

Theatre review
When first staged in 1920, La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler remained a scandalous work even though it had taken 23 years to go from initial publication to a theatre in Vienna. It dared to depict progressive sexuality as somewhat natural, and certainly spoke about promiscuity as as a phenomenon far less reprehensible than was the convention. A century later, there is little left in the work that feels even naughty, thankfully as a result of substantial advancements over time, in attitudes about sex.

Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again is a 1993 reiteration that transforms the ten dialogues from Schnitlzer’s original, into songs for the musical format. LaChiusa’s music is often experimental and infrequently melodic, with lyrics that now seem unsophisticated and lacking in wit. Each chapter takes us through the decades of the twentieth century, but direction by Jerome Studdy never makes that at all clear. The production feels rough around the edges, admittedly clumsy at points, but an enthusiastic cast almost holds everything together. Without microphones, the acoustically challenged auditorium proves demanding of those with smaller voices, but it must be said that the ambition of all involved is admirable.

La Ronde is about class as much as it is about sex. It represents an effort to look at humans at our most vulnerable and essential, stripped of all ornamentation and pretence, trying to understand ourselves at what should be our purest. Using sex as a common unifying mechanism, and hypocrisy as a theme through which we can access notions of manufactured identity, Schnitzler urges us to be honest, in the belief that truth will set us free.

www.facebook.com/HatTrickProductions

Review: Australian Open (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 14 – 29, 2020
Playwright: Angus Cameron
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Di Adams, Gerard Carroll, Miranda Daughtry, Patrick Jhanur, Tom Anson Mesker, Tom Russell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Inspired by her son Felix, Belinda decides to change the nature of her marriage, in order to try out new things. Felix adamantly objects, even though it is his own open relationship with Lucas, that had acted as the very catalyst for his mother’s radical transformation. Australian Open by Angus Cameron looks at the way we let our most personal lives be dictated by others, and how we in turn feel at liberty to intervene with other people’s private business. It is a wonderfully progressive piece of writing, that takes the discussion of sexuality and marriage into the twenty-first century. Framed by some fabulously mischievous wit, the play is often hilarious, with its strengths clearly residing in dialogue rather than in plot.

Relentlessly camp, the show is directed by Riley Spadaro, whose penchant for grand gestures makes the experience a vivaciously engaging one. Spadaro is meticulous with the comedy of the piece, never letting any opportunity for laughs go wasted, although it must be said that more serious moments at the end, can in comparison, feel perfunctorily handled. There is a sense of refinement to the staging, with Grace Deacon’s work on set and costumes proving enchanting with her refreshing palette. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights too, bring an exuberance to keep us in the mood for all the bubbly goings on.

An extremely adorable cast keeps us enthralled in their slightly naughty story, with Di Adams particularly charming as Belinda, full of pointed nuance and jubilant playfulness, for a character luxuriating in being able to get back her groove. Felix is played by Tom Anson Mesker, whose proficient comic timing establishes pace for the proceedings. Also very funny is Gerard Carroll as Peter, able to portray vulnerability whilst bringing cheeky humour to the role. The millennial tennis star Lucas is given a surprising authenticity by Patrick Jhanur, who hits the mark effortlessly, both in terms of his acting and allure, for the very sex-positive part. Miranda Daughtry is appropriately stern as Annabelle, a commanding presence who offers a valuable counterbalance to her flighty family members. Finally, Tom Russell is memorable in the smaller role of Hot Ball Boy, simultaneously playing clown and eye candy, for a delighted and appreciative crowd.

As demonstrated by Felix, the hardest part about love and sex, is the discovery for oneself, what it is that one really wants. The inundation of messages relating to those subjects makes it nigh on impossible to know, if one is acting in response to influences, or if one’s true nature or essence is actually being expressed. As children, we are given explanations about partnerships and gender, that are at best interpretations of phenomena. There comes a time in adulthood, that each individual must determine for themselves, and themselves only, what those things should mean.

www.presentedbybub.com

Review: Our Blood Runs In The Street (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 19 – Mar 21, 2020
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Andrew Fraser, Cassie Hamilton, David Helman, Eddie Orton, Sam Plummer, Ross Walker, Tim Walker
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Violence is an indelible part of LGBTQI history in NSW. In the many years leading up to the decriminalisation of homosexuality and then the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Sydney’s gay men and trans women especially, have suffered physical harm, to the extent of murder, as a result of homophobia and transphobia.

Our Blood Runs In The Street is a work of verbatim theatre, composed of accounts by victims, as well as “family members, witnesses, historians, police officers, journalists and researchers,” presented alongside contemporary dance and physical theatre, for an examination of the prejudice and brutality that has shaped the community.

With stories mainly from the last three decades of the previous century, director Shane Anthony and his team have collated a meaningful text from which we can better understand that past. We are additionally informed that investigations are ongoing, in case new revelations should surface as a result of the show. It is a heavily fragmented work, and although able to convey the severity of incidents, struggles to elicit emotional involvement.

Visually enticing, with imaginative choreography throughout, and lights by Richard Whitehouse bringing constant colour and movement, our eyes are kept entertained. Auditory capacities are attended by composer Damien Lane and sound designer Nate Edmondson, who move us seamless from scene to scene, as they maintain an uncompromising gravity for these harrowing tales.

Seven performers, each one earnest and passionate, deliver testimonials with indisputable conviction. David Helman is particularly impressive with his clever blend of words and movement. Imagery and dialogue in the show do not always work well together, but Helman makes us watch and listen with coherence, without distraction from one or the other. A powerful speech is given by Cassie Hamilton, captivating in her stillness, recounting the serious under-estimation of violence against trans people, as reported by Eloise Brook of The Gender Centre.

The times are slowly changing, but problems for LGBTQI Australians continue, now most notably for ethnic minorities in suburbia. That the stage for Our Blood Runs In The Street is filled with white bodies, is indicative of the disparity that exists between cultures. People of colour have benefited from the work of Western activists, but there remains challenges, specific and nuanced, yet to be addressed. Pride has functioned as an effective war cry for many queers, but it is still a concept that eludes some, for which shame is still the default experience.

www.redlineproductions.com.au