Review: Art V Garbage (Dumpster Divas / Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 26 – Mar 1, 2019
Creators and Cast: Salem Barrett-Brown, Danni Paradiso, Rory Nolan
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The Dumpster Divas have a very passionate social conscience. Like many of their generation, these young Australians have a certitude about what is right, the people we need to become, and how things should be run. They are idealistic, and in their 45-minute production, convincing with their perspective of the world that we share. Comprised of short sketches, Art V Garbage is variously themed, but each segment is united by a distinct queer sensibility, all flamboyantly conceptualised and slightly anarchic in approach.

The exuberant humour of Art V Garbage is thoroughly enjoyable, with the trio proving themselves to be as adept in the art of comedic performance, as they are in writing and directing their own material. Creative and clever, the work encompasses virtually all that is resonating within our immediate zeitgeist, effectively shaping itself into a condensed representation of our life and times, as things stand at the moment. Its absurdist style allows us to take its meanings beyond the obvious. We are able to look at art, politics, society and economics from new angles, maybe not to reach completely unexpected conclusions, but its refreshing take on important issues are definitely provocative.

From sanctimonious single mothers to the Prime Minister, the iconoclastic trio cuts them down to size, in a spirited exercise that re-focuses our mores through an improved, more equitable lens. The gay rights movement feels to have past its prime in Australia, but the queer principles and values we have engendered through the last forty or so years, continue to serve in the unending expansion of democracy in our ways of life. Queer refuses hierarchies, and is always quick to disseminate power. It protects the weak, and insists on challenging every convention. Salem Barrett-Brown, Danni Paradiso and Rory Nolan demonstrate in their sketches, the virtues of the new Australian; more egalitarian than before, more intelligent, more caring. They work for the good of everyone, even when we think of them as outsiders.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: Dead Cat Bounce (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 22 – Apr 6, 2019
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Mitchell Butel
Cast: Kate Cheel, Lucia Mastrantone, Johnny Nasser, Josh Quong Tart
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In Mary Rachel Brown’s Dead Cat Bounce, Gabriel is a moderately successful novelist, a middle aged alcoholic, and also it seems, quite the ladykiller. Two women are madly in love with him, in this story of addiction and redemption, but we spend most of the duration trying instead to figure out his appeal, wondering what it is that his current and ex beaus are actually drawn to. This of course, is not a wholly uncommon experience, for those of us who have watched our friends (and ourselves) fall for the wrong people, bewildered by the things a human heart is capable of making us do. In this play however, those dynamics are unconvincing, and worse, neither its narrative nor characters are capable of keeping us meaningfully engaged.

Little of the comedy manages to be truly amusing, and where we hope for poignancy, or at least some valuable depth to its observations of quite serious themes, we find only cliché and banality. People are often stupid, that is unassailable, but our storytelling must bring insightful illumination to our nature, even if it is idiocy that is placed under scrutiny. The production is fortunately, a fairly polished one, with Alexander Berlage’s lights and Nate Edmondson’s music providing a great deal of elevation, even if only on a cosmetic level.

Although lacking in substance, the show is undoubtedly energetic, with director Mitchell Butel maintaining a bold pitch in performances, insisting that we pay attention. Josh Quong Tart is accurate in his portrayal of the unremarkable Gabriel, intentionally unlikable but clearly committed to the part. His young lover Matilda is played by Kate Cheel, who demonstrates great inventiveness in her efforts to find creative dimensions within this unenviable task. Lucia Mastrantone takes every opportunity to bring the drama, for which we are grateful, even if her character Angela’s choices prove to be relentlessly frustrating. Equally intense is Johnny Nasser, whose personal charisma almost compensates for the flimsiness of Tony, a ridiculously whiny and small man, rendered with too much unnecessary kindness.

The women in Dead Cat Bounce are suckers for punishment, but it is not hard to figure out why they stand firm on playing the fool. Girls are taught that they are worthless without children and a husband. Society seems obsessed with instilling a sense of inadequacy in us, always finding ways to say that we are not good enough, and we seem never to be able to entirely escape from these systems of control. Matilda is smart enough to read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but somehow finds herself happily planning to raise a family with a drunk twice her age. Angela is a powerful woman in the publishing business, but is addicted to toxic men and all their unreasonable demands. From our vantage point, we can only conclude that they should simply have walked away, and learned to be unafraid of independence. If one should think that this is easier said than done, then that is indication of where much of the problem lies.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: The Things I Could Never Tell Steven (Whimsical Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 20 – Mar 2, 2019
Music & Lyrics: Jye Bryant
Directors: Ghassan Kassisieh, Katherine Nheu
Cast: Julia Hyde, Joey Sheehan, Suzanne Chin, Tim Martin
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Steven is constantly evasive, nowhere to be seen, because he had done the wrong thing. After their recent nuptials, Steven’s wife finds that he often disappears, and we discover that he chooses to spend time instead with an ex, a male lover happy to rekindle the relationship, unaware of Steven’s change in marital status. Steven however would only stay for the sex, and vanish in between coitus, unable to extend intimacy beyond the flesh. Jye Bryant’s The Things I Could Never Tell Steven tells an intriguing story about sexual orientation for our times, to provoke questions about identity, and to discuss the quickly evolving meanings of marriage under our newly egalitarian legislation.

Bryant’s musical features songs that are beautifully melodic, with witty lyrics that offer plentiful amusement. Musical direction by Ghassan Kassisieh, who provides accompaniment on keyboard, is precise and pleasant. The production is minimally designed, but directors Kassisieh and Katherine Nheu offer elegant staging solutions that keep meaningful emphasis on the songs. Performer Julia Hyde is very impressive as Steven’s unnamed wife, with a wonderful voice that delivers considerable dynamism to the show. Her mother-in-law is played by Suzanne Chin who brings an excellent measure of comedic energy to proceedings. Joey Sheehan is less effective with the humour, but as Steven’s ex his falsetto is a real auditory joy, and Tim Martin who, although not sufficiently dramatic in approach, is nonetheless convincing in his portrayal of the reliably stoic father.

Steven is not present to plead his case, but he is clearly not the marrying type. In times past, we would have conveniently attributed his misbehaviour to him being a closet case, but now we are free to examine his tale as one about the relevance and purpose of marriage. It is possible that Steven’s regret is simply about attachment, of having to sacrifice his selfhood for no good reason, regardless of the genders at play in the musical. He should have known to interrogate rules around monogamy and fidelity before taking that solemn vow, and more importantly, he should have challenged notions of conformity and conventions, that have brought him to this point of dilemma.

www.whimsicalproductions.com.au

Review: How To Rule The World (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 11 – 30 Mar, 2019
Playwright: Nakkiah Lui
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Gareth Davies, Vanessa Downing, Michelle Lim Davidson, Nakkiah Lui, Hamish Michael, Rhys Muldoon, Anthony Taufa
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
In Nakkiah Lui’s How To Rule The World, the government is trying to pass the Sovereign Territory Bill, a thinly-disguised piece of legislation that further advances the white supremacy cause that is already too much a part of our social fabric. Canberra insiders Vic, Zaza and Chris, are people of colour, all absolutely fed up with the state of affairs. They join forces to install a political puppet, by hiring a white male actor as a shoo-in for the senate, who will subsequently hold the balance of power required to kill off the offending bill.

It is a passionate work, piercingly funny, with an ambitious scope that even at over two-and-a-half hours, can at times feel hurried with its plot. As a result, we may not always understand with great detail, why the people do the things they do, but we nonetheless have an excellent time watching them being unequivocally hilarious. Directed by Paige Rattray, the show is exuberant, but laden with irony, and thoroughly modern in its dissection of power distribution in Australia, making no bones about the white patriarchy that corrupts our country from the inside out.

Lui herself plays Vic, a character central to the play’s advocating of a national treaty that will recognise and institute Indigenous rights, for the past and future. It is a performance memorable for its vulnerable authenticity, effortless at delivering a poignancy that stays with us, long after the laughter has subsided. Michelle Lim Davidson and Anthony Taufa are Zaza and Chris respectively, both endearing and vibrant personalities who ensure that we are always rooting for the right people. The three make a cohesive team, independently effective, but powerful as a singular entity.

The stooge is played by Hamish Michael, who breathes exciting life into an otherwise rudimentary character. His Tommy Ryan is a painfully accurate portrayal of the suits we see everyday on TV; vacuous, desperate and bizarrely comedic. The Prime Minister is a suitably deplorable man, as interpreted by Rhys Muldoon, who shines especially when his true colours are revealed in the latter half, as the going gets tough for the man on top. Gareth Davies appears in a very large assortment of roles, each of them wonderfully imagined and executed with stunning perfection, to earn the biggest laughs of the night. Also in multiple parts is Vanessa Downing, who although creates less of an impact, proves herself a dependable and unwavering source of support for the show’s louder types.

Set design is functional, and appropriately dreary in Marg Horwell’s depiction of our halls of parliament. The decision to do without set changes is a contentious one, considering the play’s frequent location changes, but to keep the action economically contained, encourages its scenes to flow quickly for the audience to remain exhilarated. Lights by Emma Valente are cleverly and efficiently rendered to shift time and space, with little noticeable fuss. Valente’s video projections include an instance of encircling sharks in the PM’s office that is particularly delightful. Paul Mac and Steve Francis provide sound and music, further perking up the proceedings, consistently reliable in their addition to the production’s humour.

We like thinking that the Western societies in which we dwell are democratic, but we also accept that there are people who want to rule the world, and we habitually acquiesce to those desires. At all our election days, each of us casts a vote, feeling as though we are an indispensable part of the most integral of processes, then we walk away letting the powerful carry on with business as usual. They climb their way up, as though determined to leave us behind. When we notice that the interests of those who have made it to the upper echelons are no longer in accordance with our concerns, we become exasperated. Injustices are felt only at the bottom, yet we wait for those on top to lead the change.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You (Green Door Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 8 – 23, 2019
Playwright: John O’Donovan
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Eddie Orton, Elijah Williams
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Contrary to popular belief, love is not for everyone. Sure, Casey and Mikey have found each other, and the mutual attraction is undeniable, but their small town in the west of Ireland is certainly not going to let nature take its course. John O’Donovan’s debut play If We Got Some More Cocaine I Could Show You How I Love You takes place one night on a rooftop, after the couple had gone on a burglary spree, now trying to lay low and evade persecution. They are of course, hiding not just for the drugs and money that they had stolen, but also for their homosexuality. Leo Varadkar may have been installed as their country’s first gay Prime Minister, but away from the capital, things are less rosy. Discrimination persists, and violence remains normalised for those who dare deviate.

The writing is passionate, exciting in its very contemporary depiction of queer identities, but its vernacular is specific and can prove challenging for those of us who might be culturally uninitiated. The language of politics however is universal, and the young men’s struggle to bring to a tangible actualisation their emotional and spiritual connection, in a climate of dread and fear, needs no translation. Director Warwick Doddrell’s rendering of that crucial quality of intimacy is sublime, for a stage that absolutely burns with desire. Additionally, the amount of tension and dynamism he is able to build onto the restrictive setting of a small roof, is quite remarkable.

Set design by Jeremy Allen is a thoroughly convincing transformation of space that works perfectly in the auditorium’s traverse format. Lights by Kelsey Lee are similarly evocative, and admirable for its sense of accuracy, but the glare of misplaced lamps is unfortunate. Costumes may not be technically demanding for the show, but Stephanie Howe’s keen aesthetic eye for her characters’ looks proves to be very discerning indeed. Melanie Herbert does marvellous work with sound design, painstakingly calibrated to have us submerged in a poetic atmosphere, whilst delivering hints of realism when required.

The production is made memorable by a pair of brilliant performances, both actors wonderfully animated yet soulful, a match made in theatre heaven, for the benefit of our dramatic enjoyment. Eddie Orton is an enthralling presence, tremendously likeable in his portrayal of boyish innocence grappling with toxicity, as we watch his Mikey grow into the kind of masculinity dictated by his parochial environment. Elijah Williams is powerful as Casey, impressive with the depth he is able to convey, for a personality that keeps becoming richer as the show goes on. Chemistry between the two is excellent, and the rigour that they bring to the stage is simply riveting.

The irony of machismo, is the enormous fear that underlies it. Fear of being soft, fear of breaking from convention, fear of ostracism, can lead people to behaviour that betrays their true nature. We make our boys become less human, when we insist that they grow into models of patriarchy. This is immediately observable in our inter-racial gay lovers Casey and Mikey, who are suddenly aware of the threat to their social currency, should they decide to progress meaningfully with their relationship. Choices are inordinately scarce for those young and poor. They can only live according to preexisting structures, ones that are intolerant of difference, disdainful of the new, and it is this inhibition of people’s freedoms that turns us into monsters. As our protagonists wait for the sun to rise, we wonder if this moment constitutes a final glimpse of beauty, before they are robbed of their very essence.

www.greendoortheatreco.com

Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 3, 2019
Playwrights: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Director: Adam Meggido
Cast: Adam Dunn, Connor Crawford, Luke Joslin, Jordan Prosser, Jay Laga’aia, Francine Cain, George Kemp, Tammy Weller, Darcy Brown, Teagan Wouters
Images by David Watson

Theatre review
A sequel of sorts to The Play That Goes Wrong, with the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society this time taking on the boy who wouldn’t grow up, Peter Pan Goes Wrong once again sees a stage production fall to absolute pieces, in the hands of some very unskilled and unprofessional theatre makers. This time with a bigger budget, thanks to a substantial donation from the uncle of an overzealous actor, the set is much more involved, complete with flight rigs, making it virtually impossible for anything to go according to plan.

Cleverly conceived, and thoroughly inventive with its jokes, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is harmless family fun that delivers some very big laughs. Even on occasions when its humour misses the mark, Adam Meggido’s direction imbues the show with a rowdiness that ensures we are kept energised and attentive to its relentless shenanigans. The cast is wonderfully precise and enthusiastic, with an impressive agility in their bodies and minds, determined to amuse and entertain. Performers George Kemp and Tammy Weller are particularly memorable with their extraordinary exuberance, both impeccable in their respective embodiment of deeply flawed characters.

As it had been with The Play That Goes Wrong, it is the production’s technical aspects that truly astonish. Countless cues, all unimaginably complicated are executed to splendid perfection, in what could be considered a show that pays tribute to those who work tirelessly backstage. It is often what lies beyond the surface that is of greatest value, and in Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Stage Manager Stef Lindwall and her team are unequivocal stars.

wwww.peterpangoeswrong.com.au

Review: Metamorphosis (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Franz Kafka (adapted by David Farr and Gisli Örn Gardarsson)
Director: Amanda Stephens-Lee
Cast: Sam Glissan, Victoria Greiner, Julian Lawrence, Yannick Lawry, Hailey McQueen, Madeleine Miller
Images by Deng Deng

Theatre review
It is not entirely clear if Gregor’s transformation was a choice, in David Farr and Gisli Örn Gardarsson’s adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but it would come as no surprise, if we were to discover that he had willed himself into this new state of being, as a response to his previous intolerable existence. The play is in some ways a joke about conservatism, with Gregor’s family incapable of accepting a new life, insisting on keeping truth at bay, in their desperate attempt to maintain a system at home that provides no happiness. Their insistence on sticking with the old and known, for no good reason other than familiarity, is indicative of how we, as ordinary working people in our daily lives, serve to prop up structures that offer us little.

Directed by Amanda Stephens-Lee, the show is often amusing, if slightly hesitant with its own theatrical flamboyance. Lucy McCullough’s set design brings visual focus to the otherwise sprawling stage, but we experience an awkward imbalance with much more action taking place on stage right, while the other half is left feeling somewhat neglected. Music by Adam Jones is noteworthy for giving the production an auditory richness, that assists with the play’s supernatural aspects.

Actor Sam Glissan introduces a strong but tender presence to the abomination, helping us attain an important and greater sense of identification with Gregor than with the rest of his family. Mother is played with great conviction by Hailey McQueen, who applies an admirable precision to her part. Julian Lawrence is the comical standout, larger than life and genuinely hilarious with his inventive take on Fischer, an obnoxious house guest.

In spite of himself, Gregor has evolved a new persona, inconvenient for all involved, but it is one that reveals something honest about his individual being and essence. As everyone struggles to come to terms, we ponder on his rejection, wondering if we can ever find a place for integrity. As we hear Gregor talk only of kindness, and see him intend no harm, it is clear that the monster is no monster at all, and we must conclude that Gregor remains his own person. The story of his ostracism, is a depiction of fear that tells so much about how we construct our values, and how we can be so afraid to love.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.clockandspielproductions.com