Review: Anatomy Of A Suicide (Sugary Rum Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 12 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: Alice Birch
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Jack Crumlin, Andrea Demetriades, Teale Howie, Charles Mayer, Guy O’Grady, Natalie Saleeba, Anna Samson, Kate Skinner, Contessa Treffone
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Suicide always seems just a breath away for Annie, Bonnie and Carol. Alice Birch’s Anatomy Of A Suicide follows the struggles of three women, all of them skating dangerously close to the ultimate act of self-destruction. The play asks very big questions, but it is the way its provocations are dispensed, that makes it remarkable. The three leads exist in independent chronologies, but their stories are told in tandem, often overlapping, for a theatrical experience highly unusual in its plot structure. Parallels are drawn across narratives from different decades, to examine generational implications, in the way things may or may not change over time, in relation to women’s autonomy over their existences.

There is tremendous pleasure in seeing women lead the play, but it can also feel problematic that their neurotic behaviour is consequently associated with their gender. The only people out of control in the story are these women, and we find ourselves tempted to think of the issues being raised as being specifically gendered, when their femaleness should on this occasion, be a secondary concern.

Director Shane Anthony brings a mesmerising urgency to his staging; the stakes always feel high, and we are seduced by the intensity of his dramatic flair. His set (designed in collaboration with producer Gus Murray) is graceful and efficient, and along with Veronique Benett’s dynamically emotive lights, the visuals are sumptuous, for a deeply satisfying aesthetic that is always in dramaturgical harmony. Damien Lane’s music too, is beautifully rendered, memorable for being appropriately sentimental, able to help us access reservoirs of visceral sensations that resonate at every crucial plot point.

The cast is consistently impressive, with all members demonstrating excellent focus and a sense of disciplined precision reflecting consummate preparedness. Anna Samson is a wonderfully idiosyncratic Carol, convincing in her portrayal of mental illness, always rich with nuance and complexity as the subjugated, and gravely despondent, 60’s housewife. Anna, the addict who resorts to motherhood for salvation, is played by a powerful Andrea Demetriades, who delivers a severity for the character that persists in securing our empathy. A more naturalistic approach by Kate Skinner, allows us to relate to her Bonnie as a contemporary, and therefore more immediate, figure. In the singular scene in which she does turn rhapsodic, the atmosphere erupts and none can escape its poignancy.

More than the women before her, Bonnie is conscious of the forces that work to undermine her autonomy. We observe however, that knowing one’s demons does not necessarily spawn the capacities to defeat them. Being human, we almost always know good from bad, but the eternal conundrum of being able to do the right thing is what haunts us. Bonnie’s determination to outsmart her fate seems almost superhuman. She rejects that which seeks to entrap and define her, and in her story we see how hard it can be, to simply be your own woman.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Cyprus Avenue (Empress Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 15 – Jun 8, 2019
Playwright: David Ireland
Director: Anna Houston
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Roy Barker, Branden Christine, Jude Gibson, Amanda McGregor
Images by Yure Covich

Theatre review
Even though Eric does not run around in a white conical hood, and he takes every opportunity to make grand declarations that he is not a racist, there is no question that our protagonist is the worst kind of bigot. David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue is a confronting, if slightly exploitative, play about a sad old man trapped in the traumatic days of The Troubles. Habitually putting everyone in identity categories, his hate for “the others” seems to know no bounds; even his five-week old granddaughter is not spared. Playwright Ireland makes a powerful statement about prejudice, with his flamboyantly brash approach offering a style of theatre that is full of dramatic tension, as well as ample opportunity for intellectual stimulation.

Direction by Anna Houston appropriately emphasises the quirky quality of Cyprus Avenue‘s comedy, bringing valuable balance to its otherwise brutal nature. Difficult concepts are left undiluted, so that the audience cannot help but examine its challenging provocations. Leading man Roy Barker embodies beautifully, contradictory dimensions of Eric. He is deplorable, but also charming; tender yet full of evil. Unfortunately, the actor’s constant stumbling over lines puts a damper on proceedings, with the disruptions of speech rhythms causing considerable distraction. Other cast members are much more polished with what they present, each remarkable in their respective roles, all of them compelling with what they bring to the stage.

There is profoundly objectionable behaviour in Cyprus Avenue that we must attempt to analyse. The show’s controversial situations make it an imperative that we find ways to process, not only the violence that happens in Eric’s fictitious world, but also the equally heinous hate crimes, of all descriptions, in real life. People will have justifications for every horror they commit, but as a society, we will always have to weigh up compassion and punishment, in our strategies for prevention. Eric has been driven mad by circumstance, and as a result, he perpetuates grievous harm, in a circle of violence that tempts us to keep shifting blame from one to another. There are no easy answers in Cyprus Avenue, perhaps no answers at all, but it allows us to see, in what feels to be a thoroughly honest way, how terrifying humans can be. What we do with that information thereafter, is anybody’s guess.

www.empresstheatre.com.au | www.redlineproductions.com.au

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

5 Questions with Justin Amankwah and Stella Ye

Justin Amankwah

Stella Ye: Justin you are one busy and hard-working human. How is your soul going and what do you do to stay grounded?
Justin Amankwah: My soul is swell! I’m no good at sitting still so I prefer to always have something to do. In terms of staying grounded, all credit is due to my calendar.

What would be your game plan during a demon apocalypse?
Run to the nearest Church & repent. Then grab a rosary & some holy water. If all else fails, I’ll channel my juju and kick some demon ass.

Seeing Edgar evolve during rehearsals has been NUTS. What’s it been like working with puppetry? What has is taught you about yourself as a performer?
It’s quite profound working with a character both inside and outside of my physical self. I’m still wrapping my head around it to be honest. I initially thought I’d just have to get the mechanics of puppeteering correct, but I’ve come to find that the real challenge is to bring myself into him and work towards him moving like I would If I were a talking teddy bear. It’s taught me that I rely very heavily on my body in performance. But mainly that I like to get the work right straight away. & I noticed this while enduring the very slow burn of bringing the puppet to life.

If Edgar had two theme songs, what would they be and why?
‘Battle Without Honor or Humanity’ by Tomoyasu Hotei because it’s a powerful track with grit. & the instrumental for ‘Simon Says’ by Pharoahe Monch because it’s an awesome blend of demonic & straight up gangster, just like Edgar.

What does the show mean to you and why should people come and see it?
This show for me is a great opportunity to entertain through means I’ve never got to before, to play this boisterous & melodramatic character unabashedly is a total joy. I think people should come because it’ll be such a good time at the theatre & my hope is that audiences will be wildly amused by our ridiculous show.

Stella Ye

Justin Amankwah: What were your thoughts when you first read Alice In Slasherland?
Stella Ye: My mind kind of went like this: “!!!!!!!!!!!!” because I found it so wonderful and fun to read. I felt like Qui Nguyen threw all of the ingredients from the fridge into the pan and somehow made the best omelette ever. I loved that it played into all of these familiar American teenage and horror tropes, yet allowed room to see and experience beyond them as well. So yes, shoutout to Qui for creating such a hilarious, vibrant and heightened world.

What are your favourite things about being a part of this show (besides kicking ass)?
Getting to explore crazy ideas. Being with an amazing group of humans also exploring crazy ideas. Using my voice and body in ways that I never have before. Blood capsules.

You face some heavily racist comments as Alice in the show, how do you deal with that, and has it become less challenging as we’ve progressed?
That was definitely a scene that Rachel [Kerry, director] and I talked about after the first read and had to ask exactly how it served the story. High school can be a tough place and I think we’ve all come across a Tommy at some point in our lives. Moving forward with it has been about honouring what’s going on for Alice in that moment, and she’s still demonic and freshly adjusting to life out of hell (cue internal monologue: humans are weird) so I’m learning to sit inside her brain and trust in how she chooses to handle that interaction.

In a world where the action is commonly reserved for men, what are you feeling about portraying a powerful female protagonist battling an even more powerful female antagonist?
Life has taught me that women are incredible and powerful and badass, so it’s been fantastic being able to reflect that on stage through Alice. I love that she gets to be so physically engaged in everything that she does, and those fight scenes are so, so fun to perform. Laura and I especially have a lot of fight moments together in the show, and working with her during rehearsals has really made me appreciate her strength and bravery, as a woman but as a human being really.

Justin Amankwah and Stella Ye can be seen in Alice In Slasherland.
Dates: 18 Apr – 11 May, 2019
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Fierce (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 20 – Apr 13, 2019
Playwright: Jane E.Thompson
Director: Janine Watson
Cast: Lauren Richardson, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin, Stacey Duckworth, Martin Jacobs, Chantelle Jamieson, Felix Johnson, Andrew Shaw
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Suzie Flack is the first woman to play Australian Rules football in a professional men’s team. This is of course, a fictional premise that Jane E. Thompson uses to construct her play, Fierce. Our trailblazing protagonist may have broken through the glass ceiling, but her challenges do not end at that point of disruption. The weight of having to single-handedly redefine an entire industry, sits on her shoulders. This is a story about women who have had to walk into men’s spaces all alone, against all odds, to overcome unjust systems of exclusion. Thompson’s writing is passionately feminist, and although ultimately a predictable narrative, its magnanimous spirit proves affecting.

Directed by Janine Watson, the production is often powerful, and memorable for creative risks that help elevate its overall sense of artistry. Music by Ben Pierpoint contributes vigour at key moments, crucial in helping us identify the high stakes that Suzie’s experiences represent. Kelsey Lee’s lighting design has a dynamism that works well at conveying a turbulent volatility for the storytelling, and Melanie Liertz’s set and costumes offer just enough visual stimulation, to keep us attentive to both surface and deeper implications of Fierce.

Actor Lauren Richardson’s scorching intensity ensures that the play’s social pertinence is never neglected. Her display of vulnerability can at times seem excessive for a personality who has to remain unyielding with her strength and resilience, but it is a captivating performance that puts the audience firmly on her side. The ensemble cast is uniformly wonderful, every actor full of sincere conviction. In the role of Melanie is Chantelle Jamieson, who offers a deeply fascinating portrayal of a football WAG struggling to find happiness, beyond the obvious perks of her unsubstantial job title. Never able to make explicit her desires, we observe her desperation in various states of physical manifestation, which Jamieson renders with impressive power and accuracy. Felix Johnson too is memorable as Nate, the escort who shares more than sexual intimacy with Suzie, in a performance that is as convincing as it is moving.

It is a daunting prospect for minorities, to have to infiltrate and operate from the inside of old structures, with little or no peer support, to change things one step at a time. Fierce is ahead of its time in daring to imagine a sportswoman competing neck to neck with elite men in the business, but it is timely in giving us much needed illumination to prohibitions that have been hiding in plain sight. We seem to be at a new breaking point in the evolution towards a more equitable society, especially in terms of gender and race. There are incredible leaders fighting everyday at what feels to be the final frontier, and we must all learn to back them, and lean in the right way.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Chantelle Jamieson and Lauren Richardson

Chantelle Jamieson

Lauren Richardson: Chantelle, what do you love about AFL?
Chantelle Jamieson: Well I grew up in Melbs, so love of footy kind of just seeps into your skin. I’m a huge bombers supporter having grown up in Essendon. There’s nothing like turning up at Essendon station on game day decked out in your black and red, and finding hundreds of others wearing the same colours as you. They are your tribe. And growing up being one of the only black kids at my school (the others were my sisters), it was really important to feel like you belonged somewhere- we belonged as Essendon supporters.

This play deals with many themes and one of them is ambition. It seems like there are many things your character would’ve liked the opportunity to tackle but she hasn’t. Are there things you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t and what’s held you back?
My character Mel is a WAG married to footy player Vance Arrowsmith (played by Andrew Shaw) life should be good, but she is deeply unhappy with where she’s ended up and constantly looking for the root of where it went wrong. I find it heartbreaking. There are always shoulda-coulda-woulda-didn’t-don’t moments in everyone’s life, but I haven’t really felt those to the kind of level that Mel does. It would make life unbearable.

Having a game plan and being strategic is essential. So let’s get analytical. What are Chantelle’s strengths and weaknesses?
Strength: finding a way to answer a question that might get too personal without actually answering it.
Weakness: wanting to avoid answering those questions.

What did you dream of becoming when you were small?
Like most kids who aren’t psychopaths- I loved animals. So I wanted to become a vet. My mum warned me that that would involve cutting animals open. So I dropped that idea. Then I wanted to become a jockey because that would mean working with horses. Mum warned me that I’d have to whip the horses to make them run fast. So, I dropped that idea too. My mum issued no warnings about becoming an actor.

What are the parallels do you think between footy and theatre?
For the audience, it’s a communal experience, the atmosphere is never exactly the same at every show or at every game. You have to be there to feel it.

Lauren Richardson

Chantelle Jamieson: Fierce is the story of Suzie Flack’s journey as a woman in a men’s AFL team, what has been the most challenging part of (corny pun alert) tackling this role?
Lauren Richardson: Suzie Flack is a character that has muscled her way, elbows out, into an environment that doesn’t expect or welcome her. But she stands her ground. Without apology. And I think that’s a task women aren’t always encouraged in. So I guess for Lauren the actor, backing myself. Standing my ground. Not diminishing. That’s felt confronting in rehearsal… but also exciting.

I know you grew up in NSW, what was your AFL knowledge like, going into Fierce?
Nil. Nada. Zero. I knew who the giants were and who the swans were. And that the guys that played were generally pretty lean, athletic and attractive. But the game itself made no sense to someone who grew up with “proper football”, the one with the right shaped ball [ie soccer] the beautiful game as my Dad calls it. I looked at AFL and it made no sense. We’re in an oval?! People are coming from all directions?! The balls bouncing all over the shop?! It just seemed like anarchy. But I’m a total convert. I think Aussie Rules is bloody brilliant now.

Suzie Flack is a super athlete, how have you gone about physically preparing for this role?
Go hard or go home hahaha. Obviously I’m an actor not an athlete. That being said, I’ve entered into a pretty rigorous physical engagement with my body throughout rehearsals. I’ve learnt how to box, as that’s something my character does. And unexpectedly I’ve fallen in love with it and have lofty aspirations to get in the ring competitively now. We’ve been lucky enough to get cast personal training from Spectrum Fitness so just clocking hours at the gym. We also got to go behind the scenes and watch GWS women’s team during training sessions which has been invaluable. And then just kicking the footy in the park with the boys in the cast who are very skilled and who have been very patient, kind and generous with me, a total novice. Oh, and protein shakes.

You worked with Janine Watson as an actor in Sport for Jove’s Three Sisters, how have you found working with her as a director?
Working with Janine has been a dream. We met working together as actors and since then have been firm friends, but it’s been a delight to become collaborators and co conspirators on this project. I have so much admiration and respect for her as an artist and as a woman. And working together has been challenging and exciting and incredibly fulfilling. I’ve loved every moment.

What can audiences look forward with Fierce?
It’s an exceptional piece of writing. A new Australian play that defies easy categorisation. Every scene surprises. It’s funny, physically dynamic and incredibly moving. And plus there’s some Justin Bieber in there for good measure!!!

Chantelle Jamieson and Lauren Richardson can be seen in Fierce, by Jane E. Thompson.
Dates: 20 Mar – 13 Apr, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Angels In America (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 16, 2019
Playwright: Tony Kushner
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Catherine Davies, Maggie Dence, Ben Gerrard, Jude Gibson, Ashley Lyons, Gus Murray, Timothy Wardell
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
At the centre of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, are the breakdown of two relationships, from two different worlds. We might like to term those seemingly separate existences the left and the right, as we are want to do in so much of our political conversations. In the middle of catastrophe however, when the devastation of human frailty becomes palpable, categories dissipate as they prove increasingly impotent and therefore meaningless. Set in the middle of the 1980s AIDS crisis, Angels In America is an ode to desperation, that condition for which the face of humanity has to reveal its truest nature.

In their hopelessness, characters in the story are met with divine intervention. Ghosts, angels and other apparitions descend upon their consciousness, not always as a form of salvation or even reprieve, but as a refusal of the finitude to which we regard life, especially during sickness and disease. Kushner summons the vastness of our mental capacities; call it belief, imagination, or fantasy, to render a theatrical representation of being, that extends our conception of sentience to include metaphysical dimensions.

Not that our bodies are unimportant. In fact, in this deep interrogation of material versus immaterial, we are consumed more than ever, by our very corporeality. Flesh and blood are never far from the centre of our attention, functioning as literal concerns and as symbols, reiterating time and again, that we are immovably both vessel and soul. Heaven and earth are inextricably linked at the location where skin breathes, making us simultaneously, painfully so, sacred and profane.

This transcendental drama is communicated through director Dino Dimitriades’ pursuit of the sublime. The aesthetic world that he manufactures as vehicle for Kushner’s words, is heavy yet delicate, a sentimental embrace of past sacrifices, and a benediction that regards our future, as LGBTQI communities, with caution. At over seven hours long, it is probably inevitable that the journey would feel uneven, with certain portions coming across less powerful than others. It is a massive undertaking, and the considerable confidence with which the epic is approached, sets our expectations very high, and we struggle to overlook moments win which our awe is allowed to falter.

Jeremy Allen’s set design is carefully proportioned and elegantly conceived, but the minimalism of its style is unforgiving of construction imperfections. The colour palette of costumes is thoughtfully calibrated by Maya Keys, who perhaps exercises too much restraint in her visual representation of personalities and their physicality. Lights by Benjamin Brockman are memorable for their dark sensuality, moving us between spaces of despair with an artistic finesse reminiscent of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Ben Pierpoint is tasked the impossible challenge of providing original music for the endurance piece, understandably deficient in its thoroughness, but sensational at each key juncture of the plot.

The show boasts some extraordinary acting by its indefatigable cast. Mormon wife Harper is played with luxuriant and interminable nuance by Catherine Davies, whose disarming authenticity brings invaluable poignancy to the entire operation. Her husband Joe is interpreted with unexpected tenderness by Gus Murray, tremendously convincing in the complex duplicity that he is charged to portray. The dynamic Ben Gerrard offers up a depiction of a dying man at all his extremes. As Prior, he is more provocative than he is moving, successful at engaging our minds for an intellectual understanding of the story. Ashley Lyons plays another AIDS patient Roy, admirable for the energy and colour that he brings to the stage.

As Belize and Mr. Lies, Joseph Althouse is a scintillating presence, with a marvellous, precise use of voice and gesture that gently steals all of his scenes. Timothy Wardell goes on an emotional roller coaster, able to convey Louis’ passions with aplomb but insufficiently lucid with the role’s philosophical attributes. The Angel is given the Maggie Dence treatment and proves quite the phenomenon, appropriately strong and otherworldly. Jude Gibson impresses in a variety of roles, particularly memorable as Mormon mother Hannah and as Dr. Henry, intricate and humorous with everything she presents.

When we reach for the esoteric, it is a greater truth that we seek, but being mortal, we can only understand its messages within our ultimately insurmountable limits. What we receive will always bear a reflection of ourselves, no matter how much bigger a version we can perceive. Angels In America suggests however, that we can move beyond good and bad, right and wrong, past and present. We are encouraged, through this spiritual fable, to think and act radically, to turn boundaries into starting points, for where we know things to end, is but the beginning of mystery. Much as we are essentially flawed and addicted to destruction, it is in our nature to imagine a higher power, and be able to conjure a notion of purity. The choice whether to follow that celestial magnificence, determines how we paint the destiny of each breath, in all our days.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com