Review: Fun Home (Sydney Theatre Company / Melbourne Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 27 – May 29, 2021
Book and Lyrics: Lisa Kron (based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel)
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Gilbert Bradman, Ryan Gonzalez, Emily Havea, Mia Honeysett, Lucy Maunder, Jensen Mazza, Maggie McKenna, Adam Murphy, Marina Prior
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
In the American musical Fun Home, based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, we observe the cartoonist hard at work on her drafting table, looking back at memories of her difficult father. Bruce was a baby boomer, and like many queer people of that generation, never came to terms with being gay. Even as Alison began to come out as lesbian, his personal anguish never diminished, struggling even to offer support to his own daughter at a time when she had needed him most.

Clearly intended to be an emotional theatrical experience, the show’s reliance on an unlikeable character is risky, and even though the music is predictably and relentlessly sentimental, it is doubtful if audiences could ever feel the full impact of the hardship that this family had gone through. Alison goes to considerable lengths to find forgiveness and understanding for her father, but it is arguable if the musical provides sufficiently for us to respond with deep compassion, or even to care enough for these characters, to be able to invest adequately into their story.

The staging is a polished one, with Alicia Clements’ design facilitating efficaciously, the need for frequent oscillations of time and space. Matt Scott’s lights are beautiful, especially when depicting illusory moments during which we see characters suspended in the undefined abyss of Alison’s imagination. Director Dean Bryant introduces an excellent sense of pizzazz to the production, making sure that we are entertained to the fullest of the show’s potential. He ensures that the story is told with clarity, including the unsavoury revelations relating to Bruce’s life.

We see Alison at three periods of maturity, from childhood and her college years, to the grown woman she is today. Child star Mia Honeysett is fantastic as Small Alison, wonderfully nuanced and authentic, in her portrayal of a child navigating complicated family dynamics, as well as her own blossoming homosexuality. Medium Alison is performed by Maggie McKenna whose singing voice proves a divine pleasure, and Lucy Maunder is captivating as Big Alison, bringing a palpable tenderness that underpins the show. The striking Adam Murphy does his best to honestly depict Bruce, warts and all, but it is Marina Prior who leaves a strong impression playing his wife Helen. When she finally breaks her silence and delivers a faultless solo number, Prior’s technical prowess brings momentary elevation to the production, inviting us to luxuriate in the sheer genius of her singing.

It should come as no surprise that humans are sometimes much more troubling, than a 100-minute Broadway musical can accommodate. The formulaic nature of these creations, requires a form of storytelling that follows many rules, and we discover that truth can sometimes become its nemesis. Bruce’s sexual encounters with underaged boys, is not forgivable, especially in this space of commercial theatre. Fun Home requires us to regard Bruce’s past sins with generosity, the way his daughter has to, in order that our emotions may become engaged in accordance with the traditional peaks and valleys of a conventional musical. Bruce’s transgressions however, are much too severe, at least for the old-fashion song-and-dance format.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Honour (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Apr 23 – May 5, 2021
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Ayeesha Ash, Lucy Bell, Huw Higginson, Poppy Lynch
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
After 32 years of marriage, George, a renowned writer, suddenly decides that he is no longer in love with Honour. To be more precise, he simply no longer wants a life with her. Unsurprisingly, this change of heart is precipitated by the appearance of a younger woman, Claudia, who had been assigned to interview George for a publication. In Joanna Murray-Smith’s wonderfully contentious play Honour, the meanings of love, marriage and fidelity, are brought under scrutiny.

Some of our most fundamental values come into scintillating question by the work, as good art is want to do. Four characters, with differing perspectives, challenge the way we think about something that seems so often, to be prescribed and immovable. Additionally, a modern approach to the depiction of female desire, encourages us to examine romantic partnerships in renewed ways. Issues around duty and responsibility, as they apply to womanhood (who we care for, and who to care for us) further broaden the scope of how we regard these long-established notions of matrimony and family.

Although never too radical in temperament, Murray-Smith’s work bears intellectual dimensions that are deeply compelling. She presents her ideas in a way that feels accessible, but encourages us to go further with how we consider repercussions (for her characters, and for ourselves) as they appear through her narrative. Directed by Kate Champion, there is no shortage of richness in how the production discusses these topics. In fact, it often appears that philosophy comes before drama, in Champion’s presentation of Honour. The result is a rewarding experience of theatre, even if its dialogue can sometimes move quicker than our minds can keep up with.

Actor Lucy Bell invests heavily into emotional authenticity for her portrayal of Honour, the jilted wife. The human complexities in Honour’s reactions to her predicament are rendered soundly by Bell, who makes believable the extraordinarily cerebral way that this wronged woman processes her trauma. The other woman Claudia is compassionately interpreted by Ayeesha Ash, who prevents the audience from too easily dismissing the role for her problematic actions. It is in our understanding of Claudia, that we can attain a more sophisticated appreciation of the play’s ideas. George is made surprisingly sympathetic by Huw Higginson, a sensitive performer unjudgmental of the celebrity writer’s dubious choices. Honour and George’s daughter Sophie is played by an energetic Poppy Lynch, who succeeds at making substantial, a comparatively small role.

Production design by Simone Romaniuk is elegant and evocative, with a simplicity that complements the show’s performance style, focussing our attention closely on the intricacy of dynamics between characters. Damien Cooper’s lights too, offer generous enhancement to the tone of each scene, gracefully moving us from one mood to another. Music by Nate Edmondson adds a sense of flamboyance to the story’s inherent dramatics, effective at turning every seemingly mundane circumstance into something unequivocally theatrical.

We put so much time and effort into this thing called love, but rarely do we interrogate the impulses that lead us to it. In the play Honour, we can recognise that the experience of love, is influenced so much by factors that relate to social conditioning, or “the way we are brought up”. What feels natural and organic, is so heavily informed by beliefs that have been unconsciously, but actively, cultivated, yet to dare shift parameters around what is and is not permitted in how one chooses to experience love, is often met with disapproval. When George declares that he is no longer in love, in the old-fashioned way, with Honour, the overwhelming pang of betrayal is obvious to all. To want him to stay because of guilt, debt and responsibility however, is not what Honour deserves.

www.ensemble.com.au

Review: seven methods of killing kylie jenner (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Darlinghurst Theatre Company (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 7 – May 2, 2021
Playwright: Jasmine Lee-Jones
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Vivienne Awosoga, Moreblessing Maturure
Images by Teniola Komolafe

Theatre review
Twitter is blowing up, and Cleo is unable to go to sleep. The idea that an extraordinarily privileged white woman could be declared a “self-made billionaire” is not just absurd, it is proving completely enraging to the young Black student living in her tiny English flat. When Cleo whips out her phone, and starts to tweet her feelings in response to the announcement of Kylie Jenner’s newly minted status, her words come fast and furious. For those who have nothing to lose, anonymity in the Twittersphere is especially useful, in challenging authority and for exposing injustice. Speaking truth to power is incredibly seductive, as we see in Jamine Lee-Jones’ very twenty-first century play seven methods of killing kylie jenner, until one discovers that the incendiary capabilities of social media, can work in all directions.

Playwright Lee-Jones is so ahead of the curve, one is tempted to label her, an original. Her ability to distil incredibly complex concepts pertaining to discussions around race, feminism and queerness, that have been swirling like confused wildfire in recent years, into a coherent and powerful 90-minute two-hander for the stage, feels so much to be a sort of inconceivable genius. The way Lee-Jones is able to focus all our messy arguments into something persuasive and lucid, is completely remarkable. Also very noteworthy, is the wit that she introduces into every scene, no matter how heavy things get, that demonstrates a deep understanding of how theatre operates. The laughs are incessant, as are the searing hard facts that Lee-Jones exposes unapologetically.

Bringing scintillating life to Lee-Jones’ words of wisdom, is Shari Sebbens’ meticulous yet spirited direction of the work. There is an exuberant boldness to Sebbens’ approach that delivers to the audience an exceptionally jubilant experience; her show is full of infectious joy yet, importantly, we are never let off the hook. Every morsel of difficult truth is driven home with a fierce stridency. seven methods of killing kylie jenner however is not a didactic exercise. One can hardly imagine its tone to be conducive for the conversion of any adversaries, but for preaching to the choir, it is pure gospel.

Actor Moreblessing Maturure inhabits Cleo with unparalleled authenticity, making it impossible to discern any disparity between the performer and the role she brings to the stage. There is not one ounce of fakery in Maturure’s depictions. The intensity with which she conveys every political assertion, coupled with the sheer perfection of her comedic timing, delivers to us a theatre that is nothing less than life affirming. Also very dynamic is Vivienne Awosoga, who plays Kara, the lighter-skinned queer counterpart, offering crucial balance to Cleo’s sometimes sanctimonious beliefs. Awosoga exhibits impressive versatility, for a character who has to traverse a wide range of emotions and intentions within the duration. The pair’s glorious chemistry (along with so much else of the production) is one for our herstory books. They are splendid together, so impossibly tight in sensibility and rhythm, keeping us hopelessly captivated and wishing that their show would never end.

Cleverly paced video projections by Wendy Yu, that display text and imagery from Twitter, play a significant part in the storytelling. Along with sounds by Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers, the production never fails to stoke our passions, and to have us riled up at will. Kate Baldwin’s lighting design accurately and sensitively calibrates tone or mood for each sequence, while Keerthi Subramanyam’s set and costumes work with our imagination, to establish time and place for this tale of the Twitterati.

It has taken a long time for a show of this nature to materialise in our city. It has taken so much effort for culture to shift in so many quarters, in order that two Black women could appear on a prominent stage, be supported by other women of colour behind the scenes, to make grand pronouncements aimed at taking down the white supremacy that has plagued this land.

There is no guarantee however, that this seminal occasion will not just be a flash in the pan, that everything would revert to old ways. The worry that all energies have been depleted is not unfounded, as what seems on the surface to be an auspicious beginning, has in fact required years of investment and sacrifice. On the other hand, activists have always been tired. In fact, we become activists precisely because we are tired, of all the nonsense that fills our days. Being tired is not new to us, and our capacity for hope continues to lay beyond the bounds of human possibility, online and in real life.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com | www.greendoortheatrecompany.com

Review: Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 13 – 24, 2021
Playwright: Debra Oswald
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Debra Oswald
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Debra Oswald is a writer who has experienced great successes, but the periods of disappointment in between, are long drawn out and much too frequent. Like most artists, Oswald just keeps persisting, which is probably why she names her autobiographical one-person play, Is there Something Wrong with that Lady? The answer of course is that, it is entirely normal that artists in this country go through extended stints of neglect and even humiliation. In fact it may seem that artists do not require encouragement to be, for we continue to thrive even as conditions worsen in this climate of inescapable economic rationalism. One might be tempted to go so far as to say, that to be an artist in Australia, you will have to be born this way, and a beneficiary of some twisted curse perhaps.

Oswald is unstoppable. She keeps churning out books, plays and teleplays, like her life depends on them, or more to the point, like she has something to say. In her 80-minute solo effort, Oswald is charming, brimming with humour, always affable and delightful. A true blue Australian, she never takes herself too seriously, but it becomes clear that what she stands for, is something worth fighting for. Embracing creatives like Oswald, is crucial in dismantling the old boys club that runs so much of this country. Elevating women of a certain age, will redefine the values we hold as a nation. At the very least, as exemplified by Oswald’s play, we will learn that a person’s worth is not to be measured only by money, but by their imagination, their resilience, and most of all, their capacity to help communities connect.

Lee Lewis’ direction of the work is fairly minimal, demonstrating a sense of confidence that allows the staging to place emphasis completely on the physical presence of Oswald herself. There are minor enhancements in terms of music by Jessica Dunn and lights by Ben Brockman, but it is the inordinate clarity with which we receive the writer’s words that is the most enchanting. Although not the most natural of performers, Oswald is a vibrant personality who holds our attention effortlessly. Her piece may benefit from a slight edit, if only to accommodate our twenty-first century attention span.

Artists work to bring cohesion to society, whether intentional or not. Oswald is a storyteller of the purest kind. Her impulse is to share with the world, the characters and narratives that come through her, as though a sacred duty, so that we can be captivated as groups, to find consensus, instead of thinking incessantly about the divisions in-between. If we understand the importance of finding ways to conceive of the world beyond parameters of money and power, we will understand that those in public office and in private corporations, are not likely to be our answer. Art will set us free, terrifying as it may be.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Dead Skin (White Box Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 2 – 17, 2021
Playwright: Laneikka Denne
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Ruby Maishman, Sarah Jane Kelly, Abe Mitchell, Laneikka Denne, Camila Ponti-Alvarez
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
When high schooler Andie falls in love, it is not only her new girlfriend Maggie who occupies her mind. Visions of her mother Andrea come flooding relentlessly in. Laneikka Denne’s Dead Skin talks about teenage love, in tandem with the complications of a girl coming of age, without the presence of her mother. Young Andie needs to know what it is to become a woman, and in that transitionary process, the urge to understand a mother she never knew, becomes irresistible.

Much of the story is about the things we suppress, in order that we may survive, and the breaking points that occur, to open the gates for the confrontation of truth. As a child, Andie never received satisfactory information about Andrea’s disappearance, only knowing that life has to go on, imperfect as it may be. Things change however, when she is no longer able to experience the world as a child, and the truth of a woman’s being, must come to the fore.

Denne’s ideas are expressed meaningfully in her piece. Abstract concepts are juxtaposed comfortably against naturalistic scenes, using the theatrical form cleverly to explore curious facets of human psychology. The fragmented nature of the writing’s structure however, has a tendency to work against the audience’s capacity to sufficiently invest in its characters. Dialogue for Dead Skin whilst charming in its authentic representation of contemporary youth culture, can expose a superficiality in its efforts to capture painful aspects of emotional growth.

As performer, Denne is intense in the role of Andie. Very believable, if slightly monotonous, in her depiction of the awkward teenager; we never question the authentic voice she brings to the stage. Her new love is played by Ruby Maishman, charismatic and confident as the comical Maggie. Camila Ponti-Alvarez leaves a strong impression as Audrey, an unlikely maternal figure, especially captivating in moments of heightened drama. Sarah Jane Kelly and Abe Mitchell are mother Andrea and father Harry, respectively, both demonstrating excellent commitment, for somewhat perfunctorily conceived personalities.

Production design by Angus Consti offers clean lines on a very black stage, to denote a space that is about accuracy in the mind, rather than somewhere more tangibly material. Lights by Martin Kinnane provide much needed variation to atmosphere, but Chrysoulla Markoulli’s near constant drone for sound design, proves challenging.

Much of the show, directed by Kim Hardwick, feels like a dream state. We fluctuate between different levels of lucidity, with resonances that hit and miss. Dead Skin ebbs and flows, more interested in its own discoveries, than in driving home a point. Let artists do their art, and be grateful in our participation from the perimeters, as we observe and glean what we can. Together at the theatre, let us delight in curiosity, and hold each other safe, in an inevitable evolution of our species, whichever direction it may take us.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: Exit The King (Red Line Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 20 – Apr 10, 2021
Playwright: Eugène Ionesco
Director: Megan Wilding
Cast: Toby Blome, Shakira Clanton, Jonny Hawkins, Rob Johnson, Emma O’Sullivan, Dalara Williams
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
The King has ruled for hundreds of years, but it is now time to retire. His body is failing, as well as his mind, and even though the will remains strong, there is no turning back. The end is nigh in Eugène Ionesco’s 1962 absurdist Exit the King, although it gradually becomes clear that it is in fact, a new beginning that the people really need. It is a timeless tale, an appealing lament that addresses our seemingly ever present desire for institutional change, and for better government.

Ionesco’s writing however, offers the viewer more than an enjoyable narrative. His work goes on endless tangents, often contradictory and deliberately obtuse, but when in the hands of the right creators, a rare form of theatrical magic is delivered. Director Megan Wilding revels in the mischievous and unpredictable qualities of the script, taking care to marry comedy with meaning, for a show that has us engaged on multiple levels, simultaneously. Wilding’s take on Exit the King is often very funny, but even more admirable, is her ability to keep our intellect keenly stimulated through all its jokes.

A highly amusing team of performers, is headed by Jonny Hawkins, who gives a thrilling depiction of King Berenger, the decrepit has-been determined to outstay his welcome. Incredibly nuanced, endlessly imaginative and brimming with generosity, watching the fierce talents of Hawkins in action, is pure inspiration. The divine Shakira Clanton plays a strong, imposing Queen Marguerite, making her support character rumble with danger, whether or not she is positioned centre stage. The devastating drama between a white king and a Black queen, is the immutable focal point of the show, no matter what shenanigans are thrown our way. All other actors in the piece are equal parts idiosyncratic and inventive, working with extraordinary cohesiveness for something that seriously satisfies.

The production is energised by Alexander Berlage’s lighting design, dynamic at every turn, as is Ben Pierpoint’s work on sound and music, reliably enhancing all the wonderful activity taking place on stage. Veronique Bennett transforms the space into a Warhol Factory, silver surfaces everywhere for a set that perhaps evokes flashbacks of facile rulers throughout history, who had done more harm than good for their peoples. The pop aesthetic is extended into costuming by Aleisa Jelbart, very au courant and very tongue-in-cheek.

There is likely no dignified way to overthrow a government, but in Exit the King, the fantasy of nature taking charge, intervening to simply kill off the problem, is certainly enticing. The truth is that although individuals who hold power do die away, structures will sustain themselves, and it appears that the more malevolent those systems, the more likely they will persist. The Black queen waits patiently for her white king to die, and in Ionesco’s fiction, her strategy proves successful. Real life however permits no passivity should we want the pale, male and stale to abdicate. There is a fight underway, and those invested, have no luxury of waiting.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Appropriate (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 15 – Apr 10, 2021
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Wesley Enoch
Cast: Lucy Bell, Joel Bishop, Johnny Carr, James Fraser, Brenna Harding, Ella Jacob, Mandy McElhinney, Robbi Morgan, Sam Worthington
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Three siblings return, after the death of their father, to their Arkansas family home, in anticipation of the estate’s imminent sale. They are an unhappy bunch, and like many classics of stage and screen from the United States, these white Americans squabble and weep in each other’s presence, putting on display interpersonal conflicts and psychological trauma, as though resolution could eventually be found through performative acts of catharsis. In Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate however, characters ignore the most serious problems underpinning their very existence, unable to acknowledge fundamental faults that are more about a legacy relating to their Confederate history, than they are about individual infirmity.

Jacob-Jenkins draws a link between a sick society, and private lives constantly in search of emancipation. We are familiar with the idea that personal anguish compels us to seek remedies, but we rarely think about addressing wider contexts (in the case of Appropriate, both societal and familial), as being crucial in efforts to achieve a sense of well-being, or peace. This is especially true for those in positions of privilege. Jacob-Jenkins’ play features an all-white family, none of whom accept that the racism propagated by their forebears, has anything to do with their disquiet, much less be attentive to the racism that they continue to reinforce in their own daily lives.

This political statement, although a hugely consequential one, is made almost surreptitiously. The characters sweep these things under the carpet, and in the absence of an outside world that includes people of colour, none of what the play wishes to say, is presented explicitly. Director Wesley Enoch too, does not bring abundant emphasis to these matters, trusting instead that the message will resonate for those who want to hear it. Positioning the show as a somewhat conventional family drama however, means that Appropriate is not always satisfying. The reliance on a sense of realism, in efforts to make the narrative engrossing, has a tendency to reduce the drama to something slightly pedestrian. The play is much more than rich people fighting and being upset about their parochial concerns, but we are only provided glimpses of the real stakes that are actually involved.

An unevenness in the cast is largely responsible, for the production not conveying as much nuance and depth as required. Sam Worthington demonstrates good focus and intention, but an unfortunate lack in control over his voice and physicality in the role of Bo, makes for a confused, and confusing, performance that leaves us cold. Doing most of the heavy lifting is Mandy McElhinney, who shines brightly as resentful sister Toni, able to inject exuberance and irony into the dark comedy. Johnny Carr plays the intriguingly ambiguous Franz, proving himself a captivating actor, if a little too convincing as the reformed sex offender.

Work on design aspects is accomplished in general, with the closing minutes showcasing a dilapidating house, without actors, leaving a particularly strong impression. Set by Elizabeth Gadsby, lights by Trent Suidgeest, and sound by Steve Francis, combine to create the production’s most striking moments. We witness the house literally falling into disrepair, ravaged by time and by ghosts. We watch the spectacle unfold, and without words, hear the important questions ring through the chilly air. What had been left unsaid, is finally unleashed, but one wonders if this obtuse conclusion, although beautiful, is enough to drive home the moral of the story.

Observing white people in places like American and Australia, deny their racism, is nothing new for people of colour. It is always someone else at fault, and it is always a problem too big to fix today. There is always disowning of liability, and there is always a diminishment of responsibility. They routinely try to make everything vanish into thin air, as though out of sight, out of mind. They are terrified of being labelled racists, but every day prolong and extend the effects of racism. They say they did not create the system, but refuse to acknowledge that they are often its sole beneficiaries. The people in Appropriate will say that the worst is behind us, but what we see before our eyes, is a tragedy that rages on, only in hushed tones.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: You’re Not Special (Rogue Projects)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 5 – 20, 2021
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Arkia Ashraf, Kate Skinner, Ariadne Sgouros
Images by Kate Williams and Australian Theatre Live

Theatre review
Dan and Ellie are moving in together, as is the convention when humans decide to couple up. They expect to become closer as a matter of course, but like many others, these new living arrangements begin to test their mettle. You’re Not Special by Sam O’Sullivan is thankfully, not another rom-com on the humorous pitfalls of heteronormativity, but an intensely thought-provoking work about the tensions between organic and synthetic, in our age of unprecedented technological advancement. Characters in the play are caught up in their virtual lives on all their electronic devices, and at varying degrees, struggle to negotiate the nature of reality as it stands in the twenty-first century.

O’Sullivan’s writing is wonderfully engaging, with an intellectual curiosity that sustains our keen interest. There is a passion in the way its ideas are disseminated, that gives You’re Not Special a delicious sense of urgency, even though what it wishes to effect can feel somewhat didactic. Director Samantha Young does a splendid job of bringing to life, these concepts of right and wrong, in scenes featuring dramatic confrontations that always feel authentic and powerful. The show is very persuasive.

Arkia Ashraf’s uncompromising naturalism in his approach to the depiction of central character Dan, conveys a valuable quality of the everyman, one that invites the viewer to relate his story to each of our own lives. It is a solid, heavily introspective performance, that benefits tremendously from the intimacy of the space. Ellie is played by an exquisite Kate Skinner, scintillating in moments of vigour, and genuinely delightful when delivering comedy. In the enigmatic and pivotal role of April, is Ariadne Sgouros, who demonstrates excellent capacity for complexity. She revels in the many layers offered by the unusual personality, and challenges us to bring interpretations that are as expansive as the work she presents.

Design aspects are comparatively low-key, although appropriately so. Set and costumes by Anna Gardiner evoke a familiarity that helps us place the action at close psychological proximity. Martin Kinnane’s lights contribute a sense of dynamism to the narrative’s unfolding turmoil, and Kaitlyn Crocker’s sound design is memorable for surprising touches that hint at the surreal.

You’re Not Special asks important questions, but is perhaps too strident in its need to provide answers. Its default position of honouring an imagined point of human origin, and of what is traditionally thought of as “natural”, puts restrictions on the efficacy of its own artistic possibilities. The discussion of humanity and technology, when framed strictly as a duelling dichotomy, can feel mundane and old-fashioned. Technology can be thought of as essentially human, and at this point of our evolution, one could argue that a more futurist appreciation of lifestyles could be beneficial.

Quite certainly, truths often reside in all factions of our debates, and to participate in society, should not require that we must take sides on all issues, all the time. In 2021, it seems we have been conditioned to be irrepressibly opinionated over every matter. Maybe to remain impartial on some things, especially when the ethics involved are not cut-and-dried, means to keep an open mind.

www.rogueprojects.com.au

Review: Playing Beatie Bow (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Feb 22 – May 1, 2021
Playwright: Kate Mulvany (based on the novel by Ruth Park)
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Tony Cogin, Lena Cruz, Claire Lovering, Heather Mitchell, Sofia Nolan, Rory O’Keeffe, Guy Simon, Catherine Văn-Davies, Ryan Yeates
Images by Daniel Boud
Theatre review
Two Sydney girls connect across centuries, through supernatural means, leaving indelible marks upon one another’s destinies. In Kate Mulvany’s brand new revision of Ruth Park’s 1980 novel Playing Beatie Bow, teenager Abigail wormholes from 2021 to 1873, meeting young Beatie Bow and her migrant Scottish family, in a story that broaches the sensitive subject of our colonial history. It also touches upon themes of female solidarity, of matrilineality, and on the nature of love, for places and for people, in a three-hour long epic that is as expansive as it is adventurous.

Abigail and Beatie are able to time travel, because they were born spaewives, ready to transcend physical realms of earthly existence. Mulvany as writer too, ventures beyond the obvious, so that the audience is never allowed to linger in the mundane. With Playing Beatie Bow, she insists that we look under every surface, to reach for a deeper appreciation and understanding about the people we like to think we are. The action takes place at The Rocks, where our history is especially rich, and where its cultural influence is particularly far reaching. To excavate at that location, is to uncover the gems, and the dross, that shape our Australian identities.

Direction by Kip Williams takes care to address both the issues, of who we are and who we ought to be. His work is honest, but also highly aspirational. It provides so much that is warm and fuzzy, through the nostalgia of the piece, and the saccharine sweetness of the relationships being depicted. The notion that we are good people, is reinforced through the classic, if slightly hackneyed, salt-of-the-earth tone of the staging. Concurrent though, is the refreshing incorporation of Aboriginal and Asian perspectives, that prove fundamental in encouraging a reimagination of community. The inclusion of people of colour within this context of an “Australian classic” addresses the exclusionary strategies, that have informed the ways we have been permitted, and not permitted, to conceive of ourselves, over centuries of white imperialism. Williams’ reformation of our collective attitude, is somewhat surreptitious but undoubtedly political.

David Fleischer’s set design takes full advantage of a very deep stage (at the extravagantly renovated Wharf Theatres), utilising configurations of sparseness to communicate elements of time and distance, that are central to a story that has us frequently thrust into moments of magical abyss. Lights by Nick Schlieper are appropriately ethereal, reliably transporting us through one translucent apparitional scene after another. Renée Mulder’s costumes provide great assistance, so that characters are convincing from the get-go. Music by Clemence Williams and Matthew Doyle, are sentimental and beautiful, and along with David Bergman’s restrained sound design, provide us with meditative spaces so that our thoughts and emotions can be activated, in the audience’s pursuit of interpretation and introspection.

A remarkable warmth emanates from the cast; they seem to be saying that this tale is for all of us, and that we are in this together. Catherine Văn-Davies is powerful as Abigail, an urgent and compelling presence whose sense of precision, keeps us attentive to all the valuable dimensions of what we discover to be a surprisingly complex exercise. Văn-Davies brings an authentic earthiness that anchors the production in a place that feels universal and meaningful, even when its flights of fancy take us far away from reality. It is often a deeply moving performance, one that tethers us to humanity, of the self and of others.

Guy Simon is unforgettable in his various roles, but as Johnny Whites, his controlled delivery of an Indigenous man whose daughters have been stolen by the crown, is utterly devastating. Heather Mitchell is a sheer delight as two vastly different matriarchs, both wonderfully comical, yet profound with what they convey. The precocious Beatie is played by Sofia Nolan, with excellent timing and a formidable exuberance. The show requires of its actors, a high level of technical proficiency, but they are unrelenting with the heart and soul of the piece, and as a result, the audience cannot help but be thoroughly affected.

We need to know our origins, in order that our destinations can be properly mapped out. We have for the longest time, misunderstood our past, and therefore so many have to suffer painful consequences. This is a task that has no room for delusions. We can no longer pretend to be wholly benevolent. People need to own up to their mistakes, make reparations, and correct our pathways. Travelling back in time to face the demons is hard, but for the brave, it is the only way forward.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Symphonie Fantastique (Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 17 – 27, 2021
Director: Mathew Lee
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Alex Beauman, Cassie Hamilton, Clare Hennessy, Annie Stafford, Nicole Pingon, Chemon Theys, LJ Wilson
Images by Patrick Boland, Julia Robertson

Theatre review
In 1830, French composer Hector Berlioz created Fantastical Symphony: Episode in the Life of an Artist… in Five Sections, a work from the Romantic period that is now considered seminal in what is known to be the Program music genre. The piece involves obsessive love and morbid fantasies, which the Little Eggs Collective, under the direction of Mathew Lee, extracts to use as central themes in their 45-minute theatrical presentation, named Symphonie Fantastique after the original French. Examined through contemporary eyes, Berlioz is less romantic, and a lot more rapey.

Transformed into a genderless protagonist, the reimagined maestro is frustrated, cowardly, out of control. Grandiose and insufferable, their story is reminiscent of Fellini’s , in which we see an artistic genius trapped inside their own paranoia-filled process, filtering everything they encounter into a self-serving narrative, as though the world has been created in their own image. The play Symphonie Fantastique is virtually wordless, with deconstructed interpretations of Berlioz’s music (by Oliver Shermacher’s inventive and inspired musical direction) forming a foundation, on which the show is built.

The ensemble of eight are called on to dance, act, sing and even to play musical instruments, for a multidisciplinary exploration of the performing arts, that audiences will find captivating, at least on sensorial levels. Director Lee has a tendency to be overly literal with his storytelling, but the unfettered impulse to surprise, makes for an enjoyable experience. Performer LJ Wilson offers a strong portrayal of the lead character; not always detailed with emotions being conveyed, but certainly a magnetic presence. As a team, the eight are tightly rehearsed, and extraordinarily cohesive with the constantly undulating energies they bring to the stage.

Visual concepts are ambitiously concocted, and manufactured, for this Symphonie Fantastique. Costumes, hair and makeup by Aleisa Jelbart are marvellously assembled, with an impressive eye for sophistication and finish. Lighting and set designer Benjamin Brockman’s combination of mirrored surfaces and bold colours, insist on firing up our synapses, for unforgettably transcendent moments that are nothing less than electric.

There is a considerable amount of gender bending in this iteration of Symphonie Fantastique, and if the dissolution of gender parameters is essential in approaching, or perhaps advancing, a feminist theatre, then this production is on the right path. There are conundrums, of course, as is the case whenever we attempt to address problems of a sexual nature, whilst working simultaneously to dismantle old frames of thought. We want to bring justice to victims, yet we wish to deny hierarchical power structures their persistence. Feminism is the key to a future where no one is powerless, but it also presents the greatest challenge, for us to understand our world, without tops and bottoms.

www.littleeggscollective.com