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

Review: Krapp’s Last Tape (Red Line Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 26 – Dec 14, 2019
Playwright: Samuel Beckett
Director: Gale Edwards
Cast: Jonathan Biggins
Images by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Another grumpy old man takes to the stage in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. He brings along a sense of confusion, perhaps disillusioned and defeated by a world that never lived up to its promises. A wall of filing cabinets containing a lifetime of voice recordings that he has made, an ongoing project representing a memoir that is both self-important, and self derisive. Indeed, it charts the man’s ageing process, from idealistic to despondent, as we find him in a state of decrepitude.

Most of the show involves Krapp listening to his tape machine, playing a collection of narrations that could only ever mean more to him than to anyone else. We observe past and present converge as he sits attentive to his personal oral history. Directed by Gale Edwards, the staging bears an affecting melancholy, with Veronique Benett’s lights and Brian Thomson’s set design providing just the right ennui. Actor Jonathan Biggins is confident and a sturdy presence, able to convey degrees of regret for a role that seems to be about little besides. He provides a charming wistfulness that translates as a sort of gentle comedy, more likely to elicit empathy than it would laughter.

Krapp looks back in anger and in pain, making us wonder about the way we regard the past, as it relates to today and tomorrow. On the occasion of his 69th birthday, he demonstrates that the older we get, the less we are able to be buoyed by the future. The anguish he experiences, as he hits playback on the tape, is a result of poor choices and bad luck. Decisions can be made every which way; right, wrong, indeterminate, bearing in mind that regret is valuable only as a concept for future use.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Coram Boy (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 7, 2019
Playwright: Helen Edmundson (adapted from the novel by Jamila Gavin)
Directors: Michael Dean, John Harrison
Cast: Rebecca Abdel-Messih, Lloyd Allison-Young, Violette Ayad, Andrew Den, Ryan Hodson, Joshua McElroy, Tinashe Mangwana, Suz Mawer, Emma O’Sullivan, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Ariadne Sgouros, Annie Stafford, Amanda Stephens-Lee, Petronella Van Tienen, Joshua Wiseman
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The story revolves around the “Coram Hospital for Deserted Children” in 18th century London. Babies are abandoned, with some subsequently rescued and many others allowed to die, in Jamila Gavin’s novel Coram Boy, adapted for the stage by Helen Edmundson. The epic features unfeeling landowners, ruthless criminals, desperate mothers, music prodigies and George Frideric Handel, all woven into a very big play with narratives that all concern themselves with the welfare of children.

Wonderfully imaginative and often very touching, Coram Boy is written almost like a screenplay, with short scenes taking place in a myriad different places. Directors Michael Dean and John Harrison orchestrate the action marvellously, adventurous in their efforts to help us suspend disbelief inside a small black auditorium, allowing us to see in our mind’s eye, old streets, stately homes and the deep blue ocean. Lighting design by Benjamin Brockman is instrumental in manufacturing these impossible visions, extravagant and evocative with everything he presents. Similarly rhapsodic is Nate Edmondson’s sound design, an unbelievably rich aspect of the show, thoroughly assembled to cover all bases for a luscious rendering of this period drama.

Fifteen passionate members of cast bring soulful life to a huge roster of personalities, all of them imbued a sense of authenticity under the strict supervision of Dean and Harrison. The powerful Lloyd Allison-Young is captivating with the flamboyance he brings to the baddie Otis Gardiner, as is Gideon Payen-Griffiths who plays Handel, and other roles, with a delicious sense of theatrical ostentation. Annie Stafford takes care to introduce valuable nuance to the ingenue Melissa Milcote, while Joshua Wiseman impresses with musical talents that measure up beautifully to his considerable acting abilities.

Ariadne Sgouros is unforgettable with the emotional intensity she provides Mrs Lynch, a complex character with severely conflicting qualities that the actor makes truthful. Equally genuine in presence is Violette Ayad as Isobel Ashbrook, whose subtleties never fail to catch our attention, even in a sea of persistent cacophony. The noteworthy Emma O’Sullivan takes on a range of smaller parts with gusto, remarkably persuasive with all of them.

The greatest inspiration one would take from Coram Boy relates to the immense ambition on display. A grander project could not be envisioned for a smaller space, yet all three hours of the experience is entrancing, satisfying and fruitful. The rich people in the story have every resource to do good, but they do only bad. It may not be true that money will only bring forth evil, but it is clear that on this occasion, necessity has become the mother of invention. Endless shows have been put on costing more, but have delivered far less. When we feel as though in the gutter, looking at starry affairs of the wealthy, it is important to remember that the problems that money can solve for our individual lives, are not often as exhaustive as they seem to promise. When a lot is done with very little, is when we know that something truly great has been achieved.

www.kingsxtheatre.com

Review: The Odd Couple (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Nov 22 – Dec 29, 2019
Playwright: Neil Simon
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Laurence Coy, Katie Fitchett, Robert Jago, James Lugton, Brian Meegan, Nicholas Papademetriou, Olivia Pigeot, Steve Rodgers
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Felix has left his wife, and is moving in with Oscar who is himself also a divorcee. The two are good friends, but also vastly different personalities, which means that their newly single lives are proving to be less harmonious than either had hoped for. Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple is over half a century old, but much of the comedy, largely based on laddish antics, still works. It would appear that the man-child trope still resonates, in fact its interest in the immature adult is probably more pertinent in our age of high tech comfort and reduced responsibilities. A pervasive and perpetual state of arrested development seems to be taking hold, and the farcical childishness of characters in Simon’s play becomes surprisingly relevant.

Energetic and entertaining, Mark Kilmurry’s crowd pleasing direction revives the work for an audience hankering for 1960s American nostalgia. Costumes and a set by designer Hugh O’Connor are effective contributions to the overall vibrancy of the production, along with Christopher Page’s lights maintaining a sense of joviality for the staging.

Actor Steve Rodgers is endearing as the fun-loving easy-going Oscar, able to turn the slob into someone disarmingly likeable. Felix the neat freak is played by Brian Meegan, who demonstrates unexpected range for the role, delivering charming humour alongside the portrayal of someone struggling with the difficulties of divorce. Stage chemistry is enjoyable, not just between the two, but also for all other members of cast. The group of eight embodies a cohesiveness that ensures solid comic timing from start to end, with Katie Fitchett and Olivia Pigeot particularly remarkable, in their ability to manufacture hilarity for scenes involving a couple of very poorly written female characters.

The success of relationships should be judged by their quality, and not in accordance with duration, yet we obsess over the number of years that people stay together, ignoring all the times those individuals may be suffering inside unhappy unions. Divorces are celebratory occasions, as they mark an end to one’s hardship, allowing them to begin again and find ways to welcome better days, that may have been elusive for considerable lengths of time. Narratives determine so much of our behaviour and emotions. If we know to make better sense of our stories, how we feel about our lives can be correspondingly improved.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: Kasama Kita (Aya Productions)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 20 – Dec 7, 2019
Playwright: Jordan Shea
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Kip Chapman, Jude Gibson, Kenneth Moraleda, Monica Sayers, Teresa Tate Britten

Theatre review
It is 1974, and we follow three student nurses, as they leave the chaos of Marcos’ Philippines, for Whitlam’s newly progressive Australia. Jordan Shea’s Kasama Kita is a look at success stories of the Asian migrant experience, featuring colourful characters making unexpected and diverse journeys, in the land of their adopted country. Perhaps inevitable with its focus on adversity, Kasama Kita is however, remarkably humorous, and fascinating in its depictions of the different ways in which individuals are able to be of value to society.

The play’s unmistakable sentimentality is showcased powerfully by director Erin Taylor, who does not shy away from moments of melodrama. Its comedy too, is vigorously explored to deliver thoroughly satisfying entertainment, as it works simultaneously, on a separate quieter level, for a more heartrending result. Design aspects are fairly minimal, but the production’s subtle approach for sound and visuals, proves effective in keeping us attentive and emotionally invested.

In the role of Nancy is Monica Sayers, whose strong presence provides a sense of gravity to the model citizen narrative. Teresa Tate Britten plays the less honourable but equally impressive Cory, with excellent sass and dignity. Memorable, and very endearing, is Kenneth Moraleda who brings on the laughs as Antero, wonderfully authentic in his proud portrayal of a gay Filipino. Kip Chapman and Jude Gibson are delightful in multiple parts, both actors highly accomplished and full of conviction with all that they put on stage.

After 45 years, Nancy, Cory and Antero are still required to justify their place as Australians. Their achievements have far exceeded expectations, including their own, but their legitimacy still feels questioned, by a colonial establishment that itself struggles to be persuasive with its own validity. We can get into all kinds of discussions about prejudice and injustice, as we have done for many lifetimes, but it is evident that for as long as we do not adequately address the issue of land rights and ownership, all talk that pertains to race can only be rendered erroneous. If only 3% of Australians are Indigenous to this land, the 97% of us needs to find new ways to understand our positions here, in relation to the rightful custodians who must, for the foreseeable future, always be centred and prioritised.

www.ayaproductions.com.au

Review: The Beauty Queen Of Leenane (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre at Walsh Bay (Sydney NSW), Nov 18 – Dec 21, 2019
Playwright: Martin McDonagh
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Noni Hazlehurst, Hamish Michael, Shiv Palekar, Yael Stone
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Maureen is full of resentment, because she has to live at home to care for her incapacitated and very demanding mother Mag. After a passionate night with Pato however, Maureen starts to think of a brighter future, and in Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, we wonder how much of destiny is indeed predetermined, as our protagonist navigates what appears to be a new shift in luck.

The play is savage in its depictions of hard lives. Maureen and Mag are Irish women of the lower classes, and fending for themselves is nigh on impossible, as made abundantly clear in this painful story, about the compounding disadvantage of living with disability and poverty, as well as the structural sexism that functions as a major component keeping them at the bottom of the pile. McDonagh’s comedy is of the darkest variety, becoming pitch black as we approach its end.

It is a magnificently accomplished production that director Paige Rattray has assembled. Humour and drama are balanced exquisitely against dread and revulsion, for an entirely mesmerising experience at the theatre. Production design by Renée Mulder offers sensational rendering of the Folan’s home, both inside and out, for a vision of unimaginable decrepitude, reminiscent of the stuff nightmares are made of. The Beauty Queen Of Leenane is a masterpiece in the style of the modern Gothic horror; although devoid of supernatural elements, its atmosphere is unmistakably ominous.

Stunning performances by all four actors have us absolutely riveted. Maureen is played by Yael Stone who dances on a knife’s edge, in an intoxicating portrayal of a woman at the end of her tether, having us on the edge of our seats, with the psychological thrill of witnessing someone on the brink of losing her mind. Our perception of mother Mag oscillates precariously between humour and terror, as the fantastic Noni Hazlehurst masterfully manipulates her role to offer us immense entertainment.

Shiv Palekar has us amazed with his exceptional comic timing, as the puerile and very laddish neighbour Ray, able to deliver huge laughs with every one of his precise and intuitively executed punchlines. Maureen’s object of affection Pato too is a funny character, made tender and surprisingly earnest by Hamish Michael, who brings valuable sentimentality to the often brutal narrative.

Maureen’s world is a horrible existence, one that she has been taught to never leave. Poverty keeps people in their place. It works as a form of indoctrination that hopes to make large numbers feel a sense of acceptance of their stations, so that they can remain exploited for generations, if not for eternity. The two women are stuck at home, languishing and never daring to move beyond the familiar. They will not be rescued, but the rules are there ready to be broken, if only they were to choose defiance.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au