Review: The Night Alive (O’Punksky’s Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 13 – Oct 14, 2017
Playwright: Conor McPherson
Director: Maeliosa Stafford
Cast: Laurence Coy, Patrick Dickson, Sarah Jane Kelly, John O’Hare, Darren Sabadina
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
In a run-down home in Dublin, surrounded by insidious violence, its inhabitants go about their simple lives, acculturated and unperturbed. Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive begins with Aimee’s bloodied face, and we are struck by the astonishing ease at which everyone is able to recover from the savage episode. These are people who live rough, and we watch them get on with it, like most humans do, trying to figure things out in a world that always seems to be on the verge of turning dystopian.

Director Maeliosa Stafford brings to the stage, the quintessential Irishness of its characters, offering an intriguing glimpse into a culture that oscillates between familiar and exotic. Our Australian sensibilities at times run parallel, but can often seem divergent. With McPherson’s very fascinating dialogue, the other side of the planet is turned immediate, and even though the slow pace at which Stafford allows for things to happen can prove demanding, The Night Alive is a whimsical piece with definite charm.

Tommy is down on his luck, but John O’Hare’s naturalistic portrayal of a man who soldiers on, gives the show its tenacious optimism. Sarah Jane Kelly is spiritedly valiant, in her attempts at preventing the sole female in The Night Alive from dissolving into a subjugated accessory for the men’s stories. It must be said however, that romance blooms unconvincingly between the two.

Laurence Coy and Patrick Dickson are memorable in the play’s quirkier roles, both delightful presences with a sense of precision in their respective approaches. Kenneth is a slightly cliché bad guy type, but Darren Sabadina’s energy is refreshing, and a much needed boost for a production that tends to fall too languorous.

It may be hard out there, but we brave it. There are forces that work against Tommy and his friends, and not a day passes without its challenges, yet they remain hopeful. We can be certain that without hope, all our tomorrows may as well cease to exist. To live, we must keep on dreaming, for it is only in how we manufacture anticipation, that time can derive its meaning.

www.opunkskystheatre.com

Review: 4:48 Psychosis (Workhorse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 16 – Sep 9, 2017
Playwright: Sarah Kane
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Ella Prince, Lucy Heffernan, Zoe Trilsbach
Image by Andre Vasquez

Theatre review
A large mirror forms the backdrop, and for much of the show, we watch the actors through their reflections. It is a peculiar sensation, to look into the mirror over a prolonged period and not be familiar with the person therein. In Sarah Kane’s world of mental illness, 4:48 Psychosis is often incoherent, but undeniably truthful. The characters speak, not always for the purpose of communication with an external presence, but to achieve a kind of sentience, or to find a way for things to make subjective sense.

Charged with emotion and an abundance of hopeless desperation, it is the rock-bottom of a dark existence that we encounter, a place where we are able to think of death as salvation. The work is difficult because of the deeply fragile omnipresence of a person’s impending suicide. Director Anthony Skuse is right to steer the show away from any sense of sensationalism or pleasure, so that we remain in the regretful bleakness of a fellow human being’s agony.

There is little that should be enjoyable of the work, but we discover that annihilation is seductive, and that poetry is beautiful, even (or especially) when tortured. It is a polished production, sensual and intense, with memorable design work by an excellent team of creatives. Benjamin Freeman’s music is heard for the entire duration, striking in its exacting sensitivity.

A cast of three women present an extraordinary study of a diseased mind. Thoroughly complex and remarkably focused, what they bring to the stage is replete with authenticity, but also unabashedly dramatic. The extremely well-rehearsed group, Ella Prince, Lucy Heffernan and Zoe Trilsbach are individually captivating, whilst maintaining an impressive cohesiveness that secures our attention, come hell or high water. We may not understand much of what they have to go through, but they are nonetheless demanding, of our concentration, our validation, our empathy.

Public discourse requires that we talk of suicide as fundamentally unacceptable. Forbidden by law and religion, the thing that is most unequivocally owned by the self, is one’s life, yet the decision to end it, is thought of as repugnant. In our refusal to condone suicide, we declare human life to be sacred. It is a social contract, that all must be given care. As Sarah Kane asks repeatedly in the play, “what do you offer your friends to make them so supportive?” the question becomes increasingly irrelevant. For any person to be given support, a currency of exchange is not needed. By the same token however, one can think of being, as essentially personal, and no debt will be owed, when extinguished.

www.workhorsetheatreco.com

Review: The Telescope (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 4 – 12, 2017
Playwright: Brooke Robinson
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Alison Chambers, Cecilia Morrow, Nicholas Papademetriou

Theatre review
Fighting technological progress is a futile exercise, but we can be certain that not all efforts at advancement are worthwhile. In this short play by Brooke Robinson, a family of four is being forced out of their home, because a giant telescope for the purposes of detecting alien life in space, is scheduled to be installed. Lenny has been fighting hard to prevent the loss of her home, but when the government’s generous compensation arrives, we discover that she is the only one who wishes to remain. Her parents and brother have decided to take the money and run, leaving Lenny to grapple with the fact that she has been abandoned, replaced by cold hard cash.

Replete with cynical wit, the humorous dialogue of The Telescope leads us into a delightful, and misanthropic, probe of the modern family. Kinship is no match for money and technology, but there is little melancholy in this staging, directed by Carissa Licciardello, who pushes her actors to extraordinary lengths of camp and slapstick. It is a marvellous cast, in a tightly rehearsed, exhilarating performance.

Alison Chambers and Nicholas Papademetriou are very charming as parents who cannot wait to fly the coop, both impressive with the accuracy at which their comic instincts are implemented, in this piece of absurdist theatre. There is a lot of exaggeration, but the points it makes ring true. Cecilia Morrow is the sentimental Lenny, and we recognise her helpless devotion to a hopeless cause. Her agoraphobic brother Daniel is portrayed with a goofy exuberance by Tel Benjamin, who brings to mind a generation unable to engage with life outside of the electrical.

It is much too late to lament the proliferation and impact of technology. Our trajectory is fixed, and we must sink or swim. The characters in The Telescope choose between love and realities of the times, but truth is that we have both. On the other hand, we must acknowledge the ridiculous spending of billions in space, while continents of people are left to languish in poverty. No matter how far we evolve, the morals of humanity’s story rarely change. In the discussion of tech and morality, we must always return to the simple idea, that selfishness, in whatever guise, is wrong.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: This Much Is True (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 12 – Aug 12, 2017
Playwright: Louis Nowra
Director: Toby Schmitz
Cast: Septimus Caton, Joanna Downing, Danny Adcock, Justin Stewart Cotta, Robin Goldsworthy, Alan Dukes, Martin Jacobs, Ashley Lyons
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Lewis is a writer taking up temporary residence in one of his city’s few remaining ungentrified pubs. He observes the goings on, learns about the people who frequent the joint, and before too long, finds himself part of the furniture at The Rising Sun. In Louis Nowra’s This Much Is True, we hear little about the man in the middle of all the action. Unlike the navel-gazing tendencies that make up so much of contemporary art, Nowra’s interest lies not only in the colourful characters that he discovers, what he presents is an understanding of the world, from their perspectives.

A study of the modern Bohemian, we encounter personalities in This Much Is True who are either discarded by mainstream society, or have themselves chosen to reject the bourgeois. It is a weighing of values that occurs in the play, and we are challenged to assess our parallel lives, to have a discussion on what we think to be normal, desirable, and good. They are largely alcoholic, largely male, and largely white, but they are not what we usually consider to be the privileged of Australia. These are the marginalised, the ones who live on the fringe, and Nowra’s passionate depiction of their experiences, makes our own existences seem comparatively paltry and pathetic.

That genuine affection for this wayward bunch, is shared by director Toby Schmitz, who puts on a show full of reverence and warmth, with a sense of life-affirming compassion that sheds new light on a neglected portion of our community. The things they do are not necessarily nice, ethical, or legal, but it is the very embrace of human imperfection, that gives This Much Is True its power. We are moved, uplifted, for having spent a short moment, down in the dumps with those who call it their home.

The near dilapidated setting of a waterhole interior is created by Anna Gardiner, whose incorporation of varying angles and hues makes for an evocatively dynamic stage. Costumes by Martelle Hunt too, are noteworthy, for their incisive and sometimes humorous, take on the individuals and their idiosyncrasies. Matt Cox’s dramatic lighting makes vivid transitions of space and time between scenes happen effectively, and Jed Silver’s sound design manufactures an absorbing atmosphere that ensures not a second of lethargy or confusion could ever take hold.

Eight brilliant performers are assembled to create an underground world for our delectation. The ensemble is imaginative, adventurous and bold, and they each take the opportunity to showcase extraordinary skill and talent, at a standard that makes us fall in love with the theatre all over again. Justin Stewart Cotta is sensational as Venus, the drag queen icon who remains larger than life in retirement. Strikingly flamboyant, but with a thorough sense of nuance in every exaggerated gesture and in every overblown demonstration of emotion, Cotta is absolutely captivating in the role, turning the play’s only element of cliché into a real delight. The much more unorthodox Clarrie, a backyard chemist and connoisseur of experimental drugs, of uncharacteristically advanced age, is a phenomenon in the hands of Martin Jacobs, whose blinding presence and proficiency at portraying eccentricity, has us enraptured. There are laughs aplenty, but Danny Adcock is singularly exhilarating as the histrionic Cass, with vim, vigour and vociferously tall tales. Adcock channels intensity into both dramatic and comedic sections of the show, but always finely calibrated to deliver optimal results.

So much is missing from their lives, and so much goes wrong for them, but the people of The Rising Sun are never alone. In the age of technology-fuelled isolation and narcissism, characters in This Much Is True experience the kind of mateship that many of us can only reminisce with regret and resignation. We let our differences be magnified, and allow them to cause divisions. In our prioritising of personal needs and in our insular visions of happiness, along with capitalistic illusions of comfort and pleasure that are served to us every day, things that truly matter are abandoned. We may not be able to turn back time, but it is not beyond us to identify that which will make our lives meaningful and worthwhile. It is never too late to recover that thing some call a soul, and a city is never too developed to be able to recognise and value, the authentic spirit of its inhabitants.

www.redlineproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Gary Clementson and Clare Hennessy

Gary Clementson

Clare Hennessy: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of playing Parker?
Gary Clementson: Parker has it all going on. Great job, nice car, beach side apartment, life is running very smoothly. Until a young journalist, Mia, shows up and bursts his bubble. Parker is so enjoyable to play, because he is a man who is having his foundations rocked to the core, while exchanging banter over a tasty Sunday juice.

Parker is in Public Relations. What do you think the key to being good at PR is?
To be successful in the Public Relations realm I think you need to be a pretty good spin doctor with the truth. Parker is a pretty smooth talker, but I think Clare Hennessy says it best in the play:

MIA: Isn’t apologising your job?
PARKER: Not really. Public relations is about pretending everything’s fine.

Make up a name for a brand new flavour of juice! Go!
Errr… BeetSting. Beetroot, honey, apple, ginger. Add gin to suit.

What’s guaranteed to make your co-star Contessa laugh?
Hahahah! I spend half of my rehearsal time trying to make Contessa laugh on stage. We studied together at drama school, so I know a few buttons to push, but mostly she just laughs at me trying not to laugh. It’s a vicious cycle.

If you could give Parker one piece of advice, what would it be?
Parker, mate, you need to really think about the things you say before you say them. Sometimes we might just regurgitate things we have heard without actually taking into account what they really mean and how they effect other people.

Clare Hennessy

Gary Clementson: As this is a response piece to The Village Bike, what correlations did you make between the pieces?
Clare Hennessy: I’m really interested in putting exciting genres on stage, so as soon as I read The Village Bike I thought it was the perfect opportunity to explore the genre of “sexy drama”… (that’s a genre, look it up). In all seriousness, The Village Bike asks some incredibly interesting questions about sexual politics, so I leapt at the opportunity to explore that conversation from a different vantage point.

The character of Mia is a journalist, writer, and sharp as a whip. Who has inspired this powerful character?
Luckily for me, I know so many ladies who are smart, driven and passionate as hell. The character’s not based on anyone in particular, but it’s definitely a hark to the strong and outspoken female writers who are blazing trails at the moment. I was particularly interested in writing this kind of character because I wanted to explore how accepting a position as an activist and writer is potentially a lonely place to be, especially as a woman. We need these kinds of writers, but is it possible to do so without compromising other things?

Important question. You’re ordering dumplings, what do you get?
Great question, Gary! I get fried AND steamed pork and chive… but most importantly, I get eggplant dumplings.

The New Fitz program is running incredibly well. Do you find it challenging to write to a shorter running time?
I actually love writing to a short running time; I like pushing the audience in the deep end and asking them to play catch up. There are certainly challenges, especially when you want to create a world that’s rich and complex without being too complicated, but when it goes well it’s such a short and sweet treat for the audience.

What research did you do to explore the issue of sexual harassment in the work place covered in Tongue Tied?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot to draw from. There’s a heap of really important activism/journalism happening in universities and other institutions at the moment, cases that I’m constantly following. I’m hoping that some genuine change comes out of the efforts of these legends. I’ve also been diving into the legal end of sexual harassment, and there are some alarming blind spots in the legislation that contribute to the conditions in which sexual assaults slip through the cracks. It’s made me realise how important it is to hold institutions accountable, and if institutions can’t then we need to find other ways to aid women and men with the knowledge they need to protect themselves.

Gary Clementson is in Clare Hennessy’s Tongue Tied.
Dates: 27 June – 8 July, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Slut (Old Fitz Theatre / Edgeware Forum)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Julia Dray, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Jessica Keogh, Danielle Stamoulos, Maryann Wright
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
For the girls in Patricia Cornelius’ Slut, nothing is more important than being popular. That hunger to be liked, by all and sundry, is a curious thing that many possess, and in Cornelius’ play, we explore the way teenage girls are socialised to place unparalleled value on attention, admiration and approval. We are at school, and Lolita is the first of five good friends, to bloom. Her breasts develop and the world begins to sexualise her, long before she feels those urges for herself.

She encounters lascivious attention, and learns to reciprocate. There is something powerful in being seen, and the effect of that recognition, and the accompanying scrutiny, becomes all-consuming. Lolita pursues that gaze with a frightful ferocity, quickly learning that her worth resides squarely in her ability to be objectified in that uncompromisingly sexual manner. She comes under attack, predictably, by her peers who consider her a pariah, after having previously marvelled at her new-found power. As a result, she discovers a deep and detrimental shame, and attaches it firmly to her sexual nature.

It is a cruel existence that Lolita has to endure, and director Erin Taylor’s portrayal of that brutality is certainly vivid. The production is rhythmically precise and in its half-hour duration, we are thoroughly captivated by all that it wishes to communicate. All five actors are very strong and the tautness of their performance is highly enjoyable, although it must be said, that the roles are undeniably simplistic. Jessica Keogh’s depiction of Lolita is suitably vivacious yet tragic, perfectly presenting the playwright’s perspective of a victimised and very sad protagonist.

It is unfortunate that Lolita never manages to negotiate between friendships and her sexual dominance. That the play structures the two as being mutually exclusive, is perhaps an accurate observation of what happens in our high schools, but the lack of nuance in this representation creates an impression that can feel overly convenient. The absence of parental figures is also a glaring omission that is never explained. If our young is left in the wild to fend for themselves, we can be sure that disasters will happen, but our society knows its duty of care. Slut talks about the way our girls cause harm to one another, but it is our guidance, not their ignorance, that should be questioned.

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Review: The Village Bike (Cross Pollinate Productions)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 7 – Jul 8, 2017
Playwright: Penelope Skinner
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Kate Bookallil, Sophie Gregg, Jamie Oxenbould, Rupert Reid, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Benedict Wall
Image by Andre Vasquez

Theatre review
Becky is unable to get laid because her husband has irrational fears regarding the baby in her womb. Increasingly frustrated, she finds herself seeking gratification elsewhere. Penelope Skinner’s very riveting The Village Bike makes a powerful statement about marriage and monogamy, and the ways in which these age-old institutions and ideologies continue to form restraints, allowing society to control the lives of individuals, women especially, from the most intimate levels.

It plays almost like a revision of the Aga saga; that genre of slightly camp, English middle-class country life drama. The characters are familiar, and their stories are set, invariably, in an unassuming domesticity. Certainly, the work is critical of the way we conceive of a respectable woman. It challenges the unquestioned rules dictating what is acceptable, and objectionable, of a woman’s sexuality, and also the language we use that gives definition, and weight, to those restrictions.

In mocking that romantic and pedestrian style of storytelling, we see the wildness of Becky’s narrative resist the confines of form. Our protagonist is not playing by the rules, so the rules quickly become visible. In breaking the illusion of happily ever after, we are compelled to study her situation, and because we can relate to Becky’s desires so completely, we have to interrogate the systematic failures that we all have to operate under.

Although political and intellectual, the production is equally stimulating on other fronts. Rachel Chant’s direction ensures each personality we meet is distinct and vividly manifested, so we know exactly what it is that makes them tick (and how they contribute to the play’s tragic circumstances). Sequences oscillate between comedy and drama effortlessly, with moments of breathtaking sexual tension giving an excellent sense of texture and dimension to what we see, hear and feel. Persistent issues with spacial use however, detract from an otherwise polished and very well-rehearsed presentation that is as engaging as it is titillating.

Gabrielle Scawthorne stars as the woman who fucks up. Honest and vulnerable, she keeps us in love with Becky through every transgression. Scawthorne is sensational in the part, thoroughly psychological and physically detailed, turning a confronting role into a beautifully empathetic creature full of charm and disarming authenticity. Supporting actors too, are impressive, each one complex and humorous, all bringing a delicious, and rare, boldness to the telling of an uncompromisingly sexual tale.

By play’s end, Becky is rendered powerless. Entrapped by a world that permits only narrow definitions of motherhood and marriage, she has nowhere to go, but to accept her subjugation. Some have said that bicycling had contributed immensely to the emancipation of women in the 1890s, but today, calling a woman a bike, is to call a woman a harlot, whore, slut, skank; a common and convenient means of suppressing female sexuality, in order that the myth of the weaker sex is perpetuated. There is no greater threat to the patriarchy than a sovereign womanhood that rejects the Madonna/Whore dichotomy. When our sex is no longer tethered to imagined virtues in concordance with family, society and culture, is when a greater liberty can be found, for all the genders.

www.crosspollinate.com.au