Review: The Visitors (Moogahlin Performing Arts)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 22 – 26, 2020
Playwright: Jane Harrison
Director: Frederick Copperwaite
Cast: John Blair, Damion Hunter, Colin Kinchela, Nathan Leslie, Leroy Parsons, Glenn Shea, Kerri Simpson
Images by Jamie James

Theatre review
Seven men gather on the shore of Gadigal land, debating whether to welcome or to repel those arriving on ships from overseas. It is 1788, but in Jane Harrison’s The Visitors, these Aboriginal leaders are dressed in three-piece suits, and they speak an English that sounds more like characters from Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, than even any of us would today. Indeed, Harrison’s writing assumes not only the style of classic white theatre, its narrative structure is modelled after the conceit of that 1954 play, involving a council being disrupted by the doubts of a single cautiously deliberative soul.

As though purposefully addressing a Western audience, The Visitors pulls out all the stops so that there is no mistaking the Aboriginal work’s intent to question and to confront. With both content and form shaped in a way that is unequivocally understandable to colonisers, we watch these Indigenous characters painstakingly discuss an appropriate response for what they had imagined to be temporary entrants. Their compassionate struggle with the matter is only made more moving, by the enormity of the fallout that remains unbeknownst to them, that is to become the daily lived experience of all their descendants.

Directed by Frederick Copperwaite, the staging is as polished as it is passionate, with important arguments delivered in ways that are precise and affecting. Visually satisfying, with Lisa Mimmochi’s exacting set and costumes, along with Chloe Ogilvie’s elegant lights, providing a sense of sophisticated dynamism to the story. Sound design by Phil Downing, with additional music by Tim Gray, too are instrumental in transporting us deep into the psyche of rightful land owners past and present.

The ensemble is marvellously cohesive, unwavering in their dedication to this powerful tale. John Blair and Glenn Shea are particularly memorable for their exquisite timing, both performers turning on the charm, having us absolutely captivated by their effortless humour. An impressive gravity is contributed by Leroy Parsons, very convincing and engrossing as Walter, the brave one who dares go against the tide. The show is brought to an intense conclusion by Damion Hunter’s disarming soliloquy as Gordon, who in the crucial moment reveals emotions that are just as raw today as they were at the dawn of this catastrophe.

It may seem that our Indigenous are always meeting us halfway. In The Visitors, they dress and speak like their oppressors, almost like a last-ditch attempt to get people hearing. Characters in the play fail to understand why the whites feel the need to steal; that basic question so many continue to evade today. Colonisation in Australia has been a ruthless project ongoing for over two centuries, and its pace only ever gets more ferocious. One of the men in the play expresses bewilderment at the felling of just one tree in the hands of the whites. Little did he know the true depth of destruction that was to come.

www.moogahlin.org

Review: Anthem (Roslyn Packer Theatre)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jan 15 – 19, 2020
Playwrights: Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas, Irine Vela
Director: Susie Dee
Cast: Maude Davey, Reef Ireland, Ruci Kaisila, Thuso Lekwape, Amanda Ma, Maria Mercedes, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Eryn Jean Norvill, Sahil Saluja, Osamah Sami, Eva Seymour, Carly Sheppard, Jenny M. Thomas, Dan Witton
Images by Victor Frankovski

Theatre review
Much of the action takes place in train carriages around the Greater Melbourne area, where more than anywhere else, an accurate cross section can be obtained of who Australians are today. Rich and poor have to sit together, as do black, brown and white, along with young and old. When extricated from our respective communities, classes and silos, we are forced to look at the real differences that define us, probably more so than the similarities that we like to imagine give meaning to our national identity. In Anthem, it is the very nature of discrepancies, of wealth, power and all that might constitute a person’s cultural capital, that are exposed and very powerfully discussed.

On a land that remains unceded by its Indigenous who make up only an estimated 3.3% of the current population, it is absurd that the rest of us should experience privilege of any description. Director Susie Dee does a splendid job of articulating, not only that injustice, but also the harmful collective delusion driving this nation, that some of us deserve more than others. Anthem makes it clear that no one here can legitimately possess more than others; for as long as Indigenous peoples are marginalised and unable to exercise rights of ownership, the rest of us can only ever be holders of dubious property and position.

The politics of the piece is made saliently resonant by Dee, who imbues every vignette of Anthem with accuracy and urgency, accompanied by a strident level of realism that defies us to ignore the problems residing in the very foundation of our Australian existences. An extraordinary cast keeps us mesmerised for the entirety of these 150 passionate minutes. Tremendously well-rehearsed and unbelievably cohesive, their performance represents some of the most gripping theatre one could ever hope to see. Actor Carly Sheppard is unforgettable, giving voice to Black Australia, able to portray humour alongside a virtuous fury, to make an important and conclusive statement about Indigenous rights.

Ruci Kaisila, Jenny M. Thomas and Dan Witton provide live music over the duration, sensational in their manipulation of atmosphere and emotions, through the very accomplished works of composer and sound designer Irine Vela. Set and costumes by Marg Horwell are intelligently executed, able to convey a sense of veracity for characters and situations, whilst offering theatrical dynamism to our experience of the show. Paul Jackson’s lights too, bring animation to the stage, and is valuable in establishing tone for every nuanced moment of this sensitively rendered play.

As Australians, we have grown accustomed to tolerating inequalities in our social order. It has become acceptable that the rich get richer, at the expense of the poor, who can obviously only get poorer as a result. Marginalised communities, most notably Indigenous peoples, are routinely subjugated and muzzled, as our structures continue to privilege voices that adhere to conditions stipulated by white patriarchy. We have learned to think of the downtrodden as deserving of their lack of position in society. Even when we find ourselves oppressed by those with money and power, we take on the blame in accordance with the conditioning enforced by those at the top. It is no wonder then that James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time is invoked in both the prologue and epilogue of Anthem. The only solution is a revolution, if only enough of us can see beyond the lies.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: Six (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 4 – Mar 5, 2020
Creators: Toby Marlow, Lucy Moss
Directors: Jamie Armitage, Lucy Moss
Cast: Kiana Daniele, Kala Gare, Loren Hunter, Vidya Makan, Courtney Monsma, Chloé Zuel
Images by James D. Morgan
Theatre review
King Henry VIII of England is famous for having had six wives, and each of those women are in turn remembered only for her short reign as queen, having to share that position with many others. To tell the story of quick successions between the years 1509 and 1547, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss create a work of musical theatre, by having the queens form a pop group in the tradition of the Spice Girls; each member bears a distinct personality type, but are collectively a cohesive whole. The show takes the form of a pop concert, comprising solo numbers during which each individual provides an account of her instalment in the narrative arc, and two group songs bookending those episodes.

Cleverly conceived, but insufficiently witty, Six feels to be squarely targeting a teenage crowd, complete with a multitude of bleeped out expletives. Composition and arrangement of music is undoubtedly joyful, and completely scintillating, and like most pop concerts, Six relies on a connection of instincts, rather than appealing to our analytical capacities. At just 75 minutes, many stones are left unturned, but the show is probably satisfying enough for those seeking light entertainment without a lot of nuance and complexity.

The six Australian performers present an imaginary girl group so dynamic and technically proficient, one can hardly recall ever seeing the real thing anywhere near this level of expertise. Kiana Daniele and Chloé Zuel are sassiest of the bunch, with presences so strong, one often wishes that the staging focuses only on their two characters, Cleves and Aragon. Funny ladies Kala Gare and Courtney Monsma bring on the laughs, as Boleyn and Howard, both with splendid timing offering a sense of much needed theatricality to proceedings. Big sentimental ballads are sung by Loren Hunter and Vidya Makan, memorable for knocking our socks off with some truly remarkable vocal acrobatics.

Six tries to offer an opportunity for the queens to reclaim power, even if they seem destined to remain in their king’s shadow. It is now the dawn of 2020, and the Duchess of Sussex has announced intention to “step back” from responsibilities as a senior royal. This comes after persistent abuse by the English press since announcement of her ascendance in 2017. It can be interpreted that Meghan Markle is in fact taking charge of her personal destiny in the most daring and radical way. We have all operated within systems not of our own choosing, but few of us have been willing to cut our losses, and go where our integrity tells us. For women, this is the difference between yesterday and today. It might be true that we continue to find ourselves inadvertently falling into situations that we recognise to be unjust, but for many of us, to disengage is now a realistic option.

www.sixthemusical.com | www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: Black Ties (Ilbijerri Theatre Company / Te Rēhia Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Town Hall (Sydney NSW), Jan 10 – 18, 2020
Playwright: John Harvey, Tainui Tukiwaho
Director: Rachael Maza, Tainui Tukiwaho
Cast: Brendan Boney, Jack Charles, Mark Coles Smith, Mayella Dewis, Lana Garland, Laughton Kora, Tawhirangi Macpherson, Lisa Maza, Tuakoi Ohia, Brady Peeti, Tainui Tukiwaho, Dalara Williams, Dion Williams
Images by Luke Currie-Richardson

Theatre review
Love is in the air, but Hera is a Māori woman and Kane an Aboriginal man, each with strong connections to their respective families and lands. When the pair decide to marry, the place at which they choose to settle down, becomes a matter of serious contention for all their kin. As colonised peoples, Hera and Kane’s relations take with utmost seriousness, the manner in which their roots are to be planted. Each group is determined to maintain its own bloodline, and from the many conflicts that soon arise, it would appear that love may not conquer all so easily.

Black Ties by John Harvey and Tainui Tukiwaho tackles meaningful subjects, but does so with glorious humour. The play is endlessly amusing, impressive in its ability to balance serious with silly, for an experience that is at once poignant and hilarious. Directed by Rachel Maza and Tukiwaho, the production has a tendency to feel somewhat haphazard, but the enormity of its ambition is truly remarkable. Jacob Nash’s set design is a huge undertaking that thrills us with its capacity to surprise, effectively assisted by James Henry’s video projections that move us quickly between New Zealand and Melbourne. Live music by Brendon Boney, Mayella Dewis and Laughton Kora is consistently delightful, and a real highlight of the presentation.

Performers Mark Coles Smith and Tuakoi Ohia are the adoring couple, both very likeable, and appropriately wholesome in their depiction of the young innocents. Scene stealers include Jack Charles and Brady Peeti, who bring exquisite timing and captivating presences to this staging. Lana Garland and Lisa Maza play maternal roles, each one as strong and commanding as the other. Playwright and director Tukiwaho proves himself a compelling comic, delivering a great number of laughs as Hera’s oafish father.

We can hold firm to our cultural identities, but there must always be room for evolution and compromise. Thinking about our ancestors as monolithic is unhelpful and probably inaccurate. Allowing ourselves to progress with the times, in a manner decided upon by ourselves, and not by colonisers, is a realistic way of retaining valuable aspects of our heritage. Our only option is to adapt, and to trust in the fact that after centuries of diasporas and imperialism, we are still here.

www.ilbijerri.com.au | www.terehiatheatre.com

Review: Black Cockatoo (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jan 4 – Feb 8, 2020 | Riverside Theatres (Parramatta NSW), Feb 18 – 22, 2020
Playwright: Geoffrey Atherden
Director: Wesley Enoch
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Luke Carroll, Chenoa Deemal, Aaron McGrath, Colin Smith, Dubs Yunupingu
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
When Johnny ‘Unaarrimin’ Mullagh went to England in 1868 as part of Australia’s ‘First XI’, he probably never expected to become our first international cricket star. A century and a half later, his descendants probably never expected that the legend would today be so easily forgotten. Black Cockatoo by Geoffrey Atherden reintroduces the historical figure as a true Indigenous trailblazer, an Aboriginal example of black excellence that the white patriarchy of our sporting arenas seems so determined to wipe away from memory. The play has a tendency to feel overly wholesome, as though sanitised for public consumption, but its importance as cultural emblem cannot be understated.

Directed by Wesley Enoch, the show is a sincere and tender proclamation, paying tribute to Indigenous identities past and present. The complexity of black experiences as colonised peoples, is meaningfully, albeit politely, portrayed in Black Cockatoo. We see our protagonist in a state of conflict, able to recognise his privilege as star on the field, but never ignorant of injustices that befall himself and those he considers his community.

Set design by Richard Roberts establishes elegance for the production’s overall visual aesthetic, but requires greater versatility to help us imagine dramatic shifts in time and place. Lights by Trent Suidgeest and music by Steve Francis are sensitively rendered, both proving effective in conveying poignancy for the piece.

Actor Aaron McGrath is full of charm as Mullagh, dignified and beautifully nuanced in his depiction of a true blue hero. Black Cockatoo‘s narrative does not offer very much that is emotional or surprising, but McGrath makes us fall for the central character effortlessly. In the role of Lady Bardwell is the noteworthy Chenoa Deemal, who brings to the stage an august presence. Also impressive is Colin Smith as coach of the team, remarkably convincing as an ethically dubious Charles Lawrence.

Our Indigenous continue to have to navigate the absurdity of being seen as exotic on their own land. The ‘First XI’ went to England to play cricket, but often found themselves perceived as a circus act, a curiosity that robbed them of their humanity, a persisting strategy that provides legitimacy to mistreatment at the hands of colonisers. We need to hear the voices of minorities, because an understanding of their autonomy is fundamental to the betterment of all our lives. We no longer want our stories told by others. We want the right to talk about ourselves, whether or not the others are willing to listen.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Blue Christmas (New Ghosts Theatre Company)



Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Dec 11 – 22, 2019
Images by Clare Hawley

Good People
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Laura Djanegara, Sasha Dyer, Chika Ikogwe, Jane Watt, Emma Wright

Shandy’s Corner
Playwright: Gretel Vella
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Clementine Anderson, Meg Clarke, Laura Djanegara, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Zoe Jensen, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash

Theatre review
It is Christmas time, when things come to a boiling point for two groups of women. In Katy Warner’s Good People, old friends have their holiday in Indonesia cut short by a state of emergency, as violence breaks out and tourists are corralled and confined to an airport. These Australians have witnessed the true face of poverty, and are now confronting the brutal implications of their privileged first world lives. Shandy’s Corner by Gretel Vella takes place in a women’s shelter, in first world Australia, where the consequences of our patriarchal systems are on full display, with broken individuals trying to regain their agency and a sense of dignity.

Both hour-long works are sensitively written and immensely contemplative, offering valuable perspectives on the kinds of lives we currently inhabit. Directed by Lucy Clements, the double-bill presentation grips from start to end. Good People is provocative, able to instigate meaningful conversations, while Shandy’s Corner is fabulously entertaining, with a dark humour that proves deeply satisfying. Clements injects an infectious passion into every scene, for a theatre that communicates with efficacious power.

An excellent impression is left by a very strong and cohesive cast, remarkably engaging in their delivery of two ensemble pieces, with not a single weak link. Clementine Anderson and Laura Djanegara perform in both stories, taking the opportunity to demonstrate versatility, but are especially memorable in Shandy’s Corner for their compelling portrayals of women overcoming adversity in wildly different ways. Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Emma Wright bring complex characterisations and excellent drama to the staging, intense with the emotions they convey. Funny ladies Meg Clarke and Zoe Jensen are thoroughly enjoyable in comedic roles, each actor with approaches as bold as their imaginations.

It is appropriate that the Christmas message here relates to the inherent injustices of our way of life. To respond to these plays, we can do no better than to think, “what would Jesus do?” in the face of these man-made tragedies. Christianity proclaims to be about caring for the poor and the oppressed, as it preaches in Proverbs 31:8-9, to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” When we look around us, there is little that can be construed as holy, but good art remains, and it is eternally sacred.

www.newghoststheatre.com

Review: The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot (Gamut Theatre Co)

Venue: Darlo Drama (Darlinghurst NSW), Dec 8 – 17, 2019
Playwright: Stephen Adly Guirgis
Director: Glen Hamilton
Cast: Edgar Antonio Atienza, Nicole Florio, David Hodgkins, Melinda Jensen, Erica Nelson, Stephanie Reeves, Hugo Schlanger, James Sugrue, Paula Williams, Mark J. Wilson
Images by Craig O’Regan

Theatre review
Cunningham is a lawyer in the celestial realm, working hard to get Judas out of hell. The courtroom in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, is situated in purgatory, where all things are undecided, and fates can be reversed. Themes of betrayal and regret feature prominently in this Christian story, as we imagine the fallout after Judas’ deathly kiss. It is a humorous piece, although never sacrilegious and consequently predictable, with its meditations on the ancient narrative.

Directed by Glen Hamilton, the production is faithful to Guirgis’ writing style, playful but also searingly earnest. Some scenes pack more punch than others, for a show that struggles to be consistently engaging. An ensemble of eleven take on twenty-seven roles, with varying levels of effectiveness. Stronger performers include Melinda Jensen and Stephanie Reeves, particularly memorable for their moments in drag, playing Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas the Elder respectively, both suddenly powerful with their interpretations of fossilised men.

A scene involving Cunningham in a fiery exchange with Satan, is a stand out, with actors Erica Nelson and Nicole Florio bringing vigour and authenticity to the play’s climax. James Sugrue is somewhat hesitant as Judas, but leaves a good impression with his exacting portrayal of Sigmund Freud.

However we might choose to think of Judas, has no bearing on the man himself, and can only ever be a reflection of how we regard our own lives. We rely on religion to help us turn chaos into order, so that a semblance of peace can be attained, for few of us can bear to look reality squarely in its eye. Villains allow us to think of ourselves as good, so that we may walk the earth with resilience and fortitude, but to be able to see fallibility in the self is emancipatory, and necessary in finding the capacity to love.

www.judasplay.com