Review: Sensitive Guys (Cross Pollinate Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 30 – May 11, 2019
Playwright: MJ Kaufman
Director: Blazey Best
Cast: Natasha Cheng, Nancy Denis, Alex Malone, Shell McKenzie, Samm Ward
Images by Clare Hawley
Theatre review
We meet two small groups of students at an American college. One is a Men’s Peer Education Group, and the other a Survivor Support Group comprised of women victims of sexual assault. MJ Kaufman’s 2018 play Sensitive Guys looks at young men grappling with sexual politics, at a time when boundaries seem to be shifting, as the traditionally subjugated learn to push back against injustices of many kinds. In the story are what we might term woke men, but we discover that thoughts and actions do not necessarily correspond, for those who claim to know better. There is excellent humour in Kaufman’s writing, and although didactic in nature, its clarity of intention makes for a political work that feels immediate and digestible.

It is a passionate production, cohesively designed by an efficacious team of creatives, to facilitate a simple depiction of contemporary concerns. Directed by Blazey Best, the show offers an accurate representation of our hopes and anxieties as they stand today, in relation to the development of discussions around sexual misconduct. The show is a consolidation and reiteration of recent ideas from the Twitterverse, no longer fresh but still pertinent. An excellent ensemble of five actors deliver a well-rehearsed performance, earnest but also comical, able to keep us amused as they take on the responsibility of expounding some valuable lessons.

The young men in Sensitive Guys have much to unlearn; their understanding of sex and gender is revealed to be more damaging than they had ever imagined. There is a pleasure in watching bad boys flagellate themselves on stage. We want to see them punished, as well as see them become better people. The moral of this story is incredibly basic, but the truth is that we keep imparting to our children, old values that are harmful to many and beneficial to few. How we teach masculinity and femininity must come under scrutiny, as do our reasons for insisting on those binaries.

www.crosspollinate.com.au

Review: Rabbit Hole (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Apr 18 – 27, 2019
Playwright: David Lindsay-Abaire
Director: Christie Koppe
Cast: Alison Chambers, Rachel Giddens, Peter-William Jamieson, Imogen Morgan, Sam Wallace

Images by Benjamin Ryan
Theatre review
We meet Becca and Howie just months after the death of their small child. It is disconcerting that Becca seems unable to mourn her loss in a predictable way, and we wonder how her strategy of avoidance is going to pan out. David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole talks about the complex nature of grief, and the different things people have to do, in response to trauma. Positioned next to her husband’s more obvious approach, Becca looks frighteningly detached, refusing to speak of her pain, and only occasionally able to acknowledge the calamity that had befallen her home.

It is an energetic show, with a good amount of dramatic intensity, established by director Christie Koppe, to keep us engaged. Imogen Morgan portrays Becca as an animated personality but also, appropriately, emotionally stunted. The coldness of her exterior is articulated well by Morgan, but the true depths of Becca’s sorrow is often missing as a result. Her denial of her own suffering, is a fundamental ingredient of the story, but when the audience loses contact with that sense of torment, the show accordingly loses its sense of authenticity.

Howie the husband is played by Peter-William Jamieson, who delivers a convincing interpretation of bereavement inside his personal suburban living hell. The charming Alison Chambers is a genuine presence that makes everything she does for Becca’s mother, Nat, seem natural and believable. Rachel Giddens and Sam Wallace are compelling performers, both able to secure our attention whenever their supporting parts take centre stage.

Theatre about trauma is mesmerising. We gawk at people and their suffering, hoping to find salvation for our own unresolved troubles, even if only via a distant proxy. There is something liberating about Rabbit Hole‘s contrasting representations of the mourning experience. We are individuals who navigate the world in different ways, absorbing shocks as we go along, trying to stay in one piece until the inevitable end. It is naive to want to leave this existence unscathed, but to start each morning hopeful for a good day, whatever that may look like, must surely be a reasonable expectation, no matter one’s circumstances.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.facebook.com/RabbitHole2019

Review: Alice In Slasherland (Last One Standing Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 18 – May 11, 2019
Playwright: Qui Nguyen
Director: Rachel Kerry
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Jack Angwin, Josh McElroy, Bardiya McKinnon, Mia Morrissey, Laura Murphy, Stella Ye
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Lewis is a regular American teenager, who finds his town suddenly overwhelmed by Lucifer and other spirits of the underworld. With people being slaughtered everywhere, Lewis and his friends have to fight their way to survival. Qui Nguyen’s Alice In Slasherland bears all the hallmarks of a B-grade horror flick; an outlandish storyline, predictable characters and lots of blood and gore, along with a very healthy dose of kitsch and bad taste humour that makes the show more than a little tongue-in-cheek in its references to genre.

The production is messy, but also intentionally trashy. Like every low-budget movie ever made, we can identify all the flaws in this staging of Alice In Slasherland, but its imperfections do not preclude us from enjoying the silly fun that it so passionately delivers. Director Rachel Kerry’s vision for the staging is wonderfully vivid, but her ideas are almost never executed to perfection. The cast is remarkable for being able to embrace the clumsiness of their show, to convey a sense of humour that quite miraculously, works with, or perhaps against, the many technical improficiencies. Alice In Slasherland‘s horror aspects do almost nothing for us, but its comedy is certainly a joy.

Actor Bardiya McKinnonis is a spirited Lewis, appropriately over-the-top with the terror that he depicts. The eponymous Alice is played by Stella Ye, who meets the physical demands of the supernatural being, with a persuasive and dynamic athleticism. Lucifer is a vampy creature, as interpreted by Laura Murphy, whose capacity for camp seems to know no bounds. Her musical theatre abilities prove refreshing in a show that cares little about polish. Justin Amankwah is puppeteer for Edgar the bear, barely two feet tall, but huge in personality, thanks to Amankwah’s beautiful animation and extraordinary voice work.

Depending on one’s own tastes, there is a kind of self-deprecating humour to Alice In Slasherland that can be highly amusing. We vacillate between laughing at it, and laughing with it, trusting that none is expected to take any of this seriously. Over the coming weeks, the production will no doubt lose some of its raw edge, but as long as we can all be encouraged to remain playful for the duration, it would mean a job well done.

www.lastonestandingtheatreco.com | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: How To Change The World And Make Bank Doing It (Limelight On Oxford)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 17 – 27, 2019
Playwright: Michael Becker, Ian Warwick
Director: Michael Becker
Cast: Michael Becker, Skye Beker, Laneikka Denne, Jarryd Dobson, Susan Jordan, Barbara Papathanasopoulos, Dominique Purdue, Dashiell Wyndham
Images by Sam Lax

Theatre review
Eve works as a charity fundraiser, one of those whose job it is to accost you at a shopping centre, and guilt you into donating to one cause or another. She meets people of all kinds, whether patrons or colleagues, all of whom contribute to Eve’s development, as a young woman trying to find her way in the world. Michael Becker and Ian Warwick’s How To Change The World And Make Bank Doing It is however, less a narrative surrounding its protagonist, than it is a collection of anecdotes from that microcosm of retail philanthropy. We see facets of suburbia through the eyes of those who open themselves to all and sundry, in a place where most of us have learned to navigate with blinkers on, ignoring as much as possible, in order to get from point A to point B quickly, and hopefully, leave unscathed.

These are amusing stories, a consolidation of identities, that offers a glimpse into who we are as a community. Becker and Warwick put effort into their representation of what happens behind the scenes at those charity stands, but the plot that results from their rendering of those relationships can feel somewhat perfunctory, never really succeeding at having us invest in any of the play’s main characters. Its observational humour however, is delightful, with an authenticity to its representations that resonates, able to have us engaged for its entirety. Actor Barbara Papathanasopoulos is very funny as Eve, taking every opportunity to create laughter, for which we are deeply appreciative. Also effective with his comedy is Jarryd Dobson as Nico, who brings to the stage some thoroughly enjoyable theatrical flamboyance. All members of the eight-strong cast are accomplished, with Susan Jordan and Laneikka Devine especially noteworthy for playing multiple roles, each one considered and energetic.

Eve wants to do good, but does not really know how. Her conundrum is probably shared by all, although most would scarcely spend more than a fleeting moment to ponder this inordinately big question, of how our efforts for charity can extend beyond the extra dollars we conveniently give away every once in a while. The play also talks about the bad that we do, that necessitates the creation of these organisations in the first place. It makes no sense to invest in undertakings that only seek to undo the effects of our other organisations we know to be harmful. Eve understands that as an individual, her responsibilities extend far beyond the provision of her own sustenance. She leaves us to find a way to attain fulfilment that is honest and virtuous, and we wonder about communities that have no space for her pure intentions.

www.limelightonoxford.com.au

Review: Appropriation (Fledgling Theatre Company)

Venue: Studio Blueprint (Surry Hills NSW), Apr 17 – 27, 2019
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Chris Huntly-Turner
Cast: William Bartolo, Damien Carr, Tara Clark, Clay Crighton, Alex Daly, Marcella Franco, Nick O’Regan, Angus Mills, Asalemo Tofete, Alex Rowe, Shannon Ryan, Sonya Kerr

Theatre review
Fortinbras steps into the limelight, now that Hamlet is dead. In Paul Gilchrist’s Appropriation, Fortinbras the Norwegian crown prince, has to work out a strategy so that he can take over Denmark. We learn that the prince likes to think of himself as a ruthless warrior, the type that distrusts the use of words and all things artistic. His wife Gabrielle is on a mission to convince him, that the most efficient way to conquer the Danish is not through violence, but by deception. The narrative of Appropriation is provocative, and passionately conveyed, even if its plot structure is frustratingly tangential. There is philosophy everywhere we look, which can be disorienting, but this is certainly not a piece of writing that can be accused of underestimating its audience.

The production is energised by Chris Huntly-Turner’s exuberant direction. Emotional intensity is built into every scene, with a cast of twelve bringing excellent conviction to the stage. Nick O’Regan is full of vigour as Fortinbras, and convincing as the sixteenth-century brute. Gabrielle is a more complex character, with Sonya Kerr effectively portraying her contradictory qualities, and proving adept at raising the drama to fever pitch, in the play’s final moments when she manipulates the populace into submission. Also noteworthy is the compelling Asalemo Tofete, in the role of Player, refreshingly honest as the persecuted artist fighting for the right to tell stories.

In the era of “alternative facts”, it is no longer expression that comes under fire, but the very notion of truth that is being threatened. We seem to find ourselves in a strange quandary, with consensus trumping evidence, and realities being created out of collective delusion and deliberate ignorance. If we believe that those who shirk their responsibility to tell the truth are not only unpunished, but are in fact rewarded, our social fabric can only deteriorate. We have to be vigilant, not only with the information we receive, but also in the way we defend what we believe to be right. Any way the wind blows, it is always a virtue, to question everything, including and especially the self. It is crucial that we continue to believe in the truth that will set us free, even if the truth seems never to stop shifting.

www.fledglingtheatre.com

Review: A Little Piece Of Ash (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 16 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Megan Wilding
Director: Megan Wilding
Cast: Toby Blome, Luke Fewster, Alex Malone, Moreblessing Maturure, Stephanie Somerville, Megan Wilding
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Lily has just moved on to the next realm of existence, or in Indigenous terms, the Dreaming. Her presence in A Little Piece Of Ash, could be termed spiritual, a ghost perhaps, depending on one’s cultural proclivities. She sits in her comfortable armchair at home, like an angel watching over her daughter Jedda, as though little has changed. Megan Wilding’s play depicts death, of the human body, as a transitional extension of life that we must learn to endure, involving excruciating pain but is nonetheless and ultimately sublime. Jedda is unable to see or hear her mother, but in some ways knows that Lily is still here.

As we watch the grieving process take place, we understand it to be a journey toward enlightenment, trusting in an eventual peace that young Jedda will arrive at. Wilding’s writing is sentimental, occasionally humorous, a concentrated examination on the days immediately following Lily’s passing, honest in its inability to see beyond its all-consuming sorrow. Although somewhat repetitive in its expressions, A Little Piece Of Ash‘s sincerity is undeniable. Wilding is also director and actor (as Lily) in the piece, and it is her exceptional charm that really lights up the stage; one would be hard-pressed to conjure a performer more likeable.

Stephanie Somerville plays Jedda, memorable for the intensity that she sustains for the entire ninety-minute duration. It is a powerful portrayal of loss, effective in communicating the young woman’s state of trauma. A strong support cast is on hand to offer some texture to the show, with Alex Malone particularly authentic with the emotions she displays in the role of Ned, who had regarded Lily a mother figure. Design elements of the presentation are rich although not always executed with elegance. There is a raw quality to A Little Piece Of Ash that can at times seem unintentional, but its overall impact is more than adequate.

No matter what we believe happens after a person dies, it is how we as the living, manage deaths, that truly matters. How we honour those who pass, determines the people we are in the here and now. How we remember the deceased, informs the way we conceive of our future. The more we are able to recognise that the past is inextricable from the future, the greater respect we will be able to muster for all that surrounds us. When we imagine the dead to simply cease to exist, or that they progress onto completely disconnected dimensions, we run the risk of causing interminable damage to the present. The soul is eternal, whether or not we are kind to it.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: Gruesome Playground Injuries (Queerspace)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Apr 12 – 14, 2019
Playwright: Rajiv Joseph
Director: Mackinnley Bowden
Cast: Ricki Jade, Laura Morris

Theatre review
Kayleen and Doug should think of themselves as soul mates, but they make no promises to each other, never talking about a future beyond today. Having first met as children, with the accident-prone Doug always getting into trouble, and Kayleen on hand to offer assistance, the two set up a pattern of random encounters, based on mishaps and adversity, that would see them through thirty years. Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries is quirky, a funny piece of writing about friendship, or a kind of love that defies categorisation. If we believe that death can occur at any moment, each meeting could well be the last, with a goodbye that is absolute in its finality.

The production is simply assembled. Set designer Steve Stafford’s no frills presentation is memorable for its inclusion of two naked Barbie dolls, crucified and resonantly flanking centre stage. The show is performed by two young women, effectively turning the narrative queer, especially in romantic sections of the play. Ricki Jade and Laura Morris are raw talents yet to communicate rich nuances for their characters, but they are energetic in presence, able to bring some vibrancy to the staging. Director Mackinnley Bowden’s work is spirited, if slightly lacking in depth with what he wishes to convey.

When we try to get plays right, we often forget to be playful. The personalities in Gruesome Playground Injuries are full of mischief, reminding us that being able to find joy in what we do, must always be maintained a priority. Humour especially, is a force that we must harness. It only works when people connect. Where we are able to laugh, lies evidence of consensus and unity, and that uplifting sensation it provides, is one that we know unequivocally, to be able to offer soothe for every ache and ailment.

www.queerspacearts.com.au