Review: Cool Pool Party (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 16 – 18, 2019
Playwrights: Antoinette Barbouttis, Scarlett Beaumont
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Antoinette Barbouttis, Gary Brun, Andrew Fraser, Liam Nunan, Emily Richardson, Shannon Ryan, Jack Scott, Riley Spadaro, Alex Stamell, Alana Stewart, James Thomasson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Antoinette Barbouttis says that Cool Pool Party was written in collaboration with 11 year-old Scarlett Beaumont, after the two had struck up a relationship from Barbouttis being hired as Beaumont’s babysitter. The play is predictably childish, inane even, as we see the narrative entirely from Beaumont’s very juvenile eyes. A group of rich teenagers congregate at a pool party, they play truth or dare, and hilarity ensues.

That, fortunately, is only half the story. The production begins with a lengthy pre-show panel, in which Barbouttis and director Riley Spadaro attempt to have a discussion about the show, and about the nature of theatre in general. We quickly discover that the two are not getting along well at all, with Spadaro’s passive aggression coming up against Barbouttis’ obstinate resistance, creating extraordinary tension, and making us respond with cringing laughter. This dramatic conflict, of course, is a ruse that allows us to explore the processes and meanings of the art form, made even more salient by Barbouttis’ highly autobiographical approach, in which she exposes the most vulnerable states of artistic creation. Getting to the truth is, after all, the name of the game.

As performer, Spadaro brings an acerbity that alarms with its honesty, and his irrepressible zeal for causing mischief translates to excellent entertainment value. Barbouttis is a compelling presence, with an anarchic spirit that ensures her audience is kept on their toes at all times. Of the ensemble pretending to be kids, Liam Nunan is a stand out, extravagant and very funny with the multi-layered farce that he presents.

Barbouttis has not found life as an artist to be easy, and she makes no bones about it. There is no disguising the difficulties behind a finished product in Cool Pool Party; there is figurative scaffolding everywhere, and seams are coming apart all the time. The work is unnerving in its modernity. Some will find it unbearably awkward, and others will find it a gleeful delight, but the show insists that everyone who sees it, will have to be intellectually engaged on some level. It talks about the human condition, as the best of art does, but further, its creator puts herself completely on the line, turning her personal condition into the exhibit from which we must observe, appreciate, and learn from.

www.bondifeast.com.au

Review: This Bitter Earth (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 11 – 27, 2019
Playwright: Chris Edwards
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Mitchell Bourke, Michael Cameron, Matthew Predny, Elle Mickel, Sasha Simon, Ariadne Sourgos
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
Comprising six scenes, This Bitter Earth by Chris Edwards is essentially a series of short plays about being young, queer and white in Sydney. Although not particularly profound, Edwards’ writing is ultimately insightful, with an absorbing balance of light and dark to keep us intrigued and entertained. A refreshing addition to the legacy of queer playwriting, This Bitter Earth deviates from the tradition of torment and trauma, for a theatre that presents the hardship of coming-of-age as humorous and strikingly natural. The oppressive closet is conspicuously missing in action.

The staging is polished, elegant and very attractive, assembled by an excellent design team, who all but steal the show with their remarkable sense of style. Set and costumes by Grace Deacon are inventive and sophisticated, beautifully considered in each of its spatial transformations between scenes. Phoebe Pilcher and Morgan Moroney’s lights are sensual and poetic. There is a passion in their practice that proves to be quite captivating.

Riley Spadaro’s confident direction gives This Bitter Earth a gravity that helps it sing with purpose. His ability to convey nuance prevents the show from turning flimsy, even at moments when the narrative shifts to frivolous concerns. The show is performed by a charming cast, including an effervescent Elle Mickel whose comic timing is a real asset to the production. Matthew Predny introduces palpable vulnerability to his characters, along with a dynamism that is satisfyingly disarming. Also impressive is Mitchell Bourke, whose portrayal of the classic but tricky combination of camp and despair, resonates with surprising authenticity.

Generations of LGBTQI people have worked hard for today’s social and legal advancements; the equality that we do have are hard-won, to say the least. Watching our young, privileged ones in This Bitter Earth go through their 2019 version of rites of passage, is a joyous exercise, even as we watch them suffer through their growing pains. Coming out stories have dramatically changed, as we had hoped. Our tribe can now begin to experience early adulthood in a way that is no longer exponentially harder than their straight counterparts. Their challenges remain different from the mainstream, but the additional labour of having to deal with structural prejudice, is quickly vanishing. Understanding sex will never be easy, but there is no need for the process to be made more difficult by anyone’s ignorance.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: The Cripple Of Inishmaan (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 11 – Aug 10, 2019
Playwright: Martin McDonagh
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Josh Anderson, Sarah Aubrey, Alex Bryant-Smith, Laurence Coy, Jude Gibson, John Harding, Megan O’Connell, William Rees, Jane Watt
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
It is the Great Depression, and in the small Irish town of Inishmaan, we meet Billy who has grown up an orphan and with a disability. He is cared for by aunts, and by the town folk who are always in each other’s pockets, but the prejudice that he suffers, although fairly benign, is constant and unrelenting. When Hollywood comes calling, he takes no time at all to pack up and go, certain that greener pastures await. Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple Of Inishmaan is a witty examination of parochial rural societies, looking at the way we can be, when there is little to do but to occupy oneself with other people’s business. In the tension between staying and leaving, Billy demonstrates who we are, as dreamers always seeking something better. Hope is our way out, even if hope does on occasion prove itself empty.

Actor William Rees contributes a gentle innocence to the show. As Billy, his performance is unpretentious, relying only on honest impulses to tell the story. It is an accomplished ensemble. Although not quite as funny as the writing seems to require, there is certainly no lack of authenticity in the personalities they aim to portray. Jude Gibson and Laurence Coy are memorable as a mother-and-son team, with a wicked streak to their dynamic that unnerves and delights. Sarah Aubrey and Megan O’Connell are the aunts, captivating at each appearance with their marvellously sardonic approach, for a couple of sullen pessimists.

Claudia Barrie’s direction depicts a bleakness that accurately conveys the environment under scrutiny, but its lack of vibrancy makes compromises to the play’s humour that can cause the experience to feel underwhelming. Set design by Brianna Patrice Russell is effective in transporting us to a distant time and place, while Benjamin Brockman’s lights bring valuable visual variety to the narrative. Sound and music by Kailesh Reitmans is restrained, with a subtlety that adds a sense of tranquil beauty to the piece.

Sleepy towns are both idyllic and frustrating. They allow us to be slow with nature, but the peace that it promises tends to be short-lived. The corrupting forces so commonly found in urban existences, are not absent when we escape to rustic locales, they simply take on a different form. People will find trouble with one another, no matter where we structure our lives. As long as ignorance persists, and people are unable to recognise their bigotry, or see the consequences of their cruelty, we will struggle to find harmony. We care for Billy, but for him to be well, the world needs to change.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com | www.redlineproductions.com.au

Review: Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 11 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Sam Wang
Director: Aileen Huynh
Cast: Sam Wang
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Chinese agents Chang and Yan have stolen a flight simulator from the Americans, and are surreptitiously turning Skyhawk into Skyduck, to claim illegitimate supremacy in the world of military technology. They come up against good guys from the West; Kendrick is from the USA, and Tucker is Australian. There is also a love interest Little Swallow in the mix somewhere, along with pop star Xiao Peng who makes a short but memorable appearance.

Sam Wang plays all these characters in his Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy, a lampoon of Hollywood action flicks, from Top Gun to Inception, in which nothing is allowed to get in the way of a good time. Wang’s show is imaginative and wonderfully quirky, with an artistic audacity that is highly persuasive; there are lots of outlandish ideas, some of which are completely bonkers, but they all work.

Directed by Aileen Huynh, the production’s idiosyncratic tone is perfectly pitched, for a style of humour that feels one of a kind. A remarkable ingenuity pervades Skyduck. From its clever video projections to some surprisingly elaborate prop making, everything about this staging is a delight.

Performed in Mandarin and English, Wang’s flamboyant take on characters is cheeky and very charming, underpinned by a truly splendid sense of timing. His ability to command attention proves to be quite incredible, as we are kept enthralled for the entirety, thoroughly bemused by what is being offered.

Skyduck is the funniest of contemporary Australian comedies, showcasing an exceptional emerging talent. Sam Wang’s instincts are accurate yet unpredictable. He seems to know better than ourselves, what it is that makes us laugh, and it is in his jocular prowess that we luxuriate. Skyduck pretends to be something it is not. It presents itself as an inferior imitation of blockbusters, and misleads us into thinking that we are laughing at a hack job, but the genius at play is almost furtive, and it is at our own risk that we should ever underestimate it.

www.facebook.com/skyduckandco | www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Van De Maar Papers (Ratcatch / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 9 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Alexander Lee-Rekers
Director: Camilla Turnbull
Cast: Melissa Hume, Jessie Lancaster, Tom Matthews, Lucy Miller, Nathalie Murray, Terry Serio, Sophie Strykowski, Simon Thomson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
A man of extraordinary wealth and influence has died, leaving behind a secret manuscript that he wishes to get published, now that he is no longer here to face the critics. The family however, will have to suffer the consequences of a book that could well destroy the family name. Alexander Lee-Rekers’ Van De Maar Papers is concerned with ambition. Levi Van De Maar, the deceased, had wanted to achieve something that he only saw possible after leaving this mortal coil. His wife Christine has her own priorities of self-preservation, as does Frank, a nephew trying to make his own mark in a world that only sees him as a surname.

Lee-Rekers’ writing is often fascinating, with an idiosyncratic humour that keeps us amused. The production can however feel too serious and slow, with director Camilla Turnbull placing emphasis on conveying psychological accuracy, and comedic impulses made somewhat secondary. Lucy Miller and Simon Thomson play the main surviving Van De Maars, both actors believable if slightly too subtle in their approach. The role of unscrupulous publisher Ron Huck is depicted with an enjoyable theatricality by Terry Serio, whose relentless vibrancy is a real asset for the show. At times, he seems to be the only one who is in on the joke with the audience.

The obsession with money and status in Van De Maar Papers encourages us to question our own values. Juxtaposed against the inevitability of death, we are struck by the intensity with which the shallow and the materialistic can overwhelm and determine every course of action. We know with absolute certainty the brevity of existence, yet we submit to meaningless pursuits, letting the appetite to outdo one another, take over the entirety of our being. There are better things to do than to invest in keeping up with neighbours; the tricky thing is to be able to identify that which will be truly fulfilling, and stick with it.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Glittery Clittery: A Consensual Party (Griffin Theatre Co / The Furies)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 8 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Fringe Wives Club (Victoria Falconer, Rowena Hutson, Tessa Waters)
Director: Clare Bartholomew
Cast: Laura Frew, Rowena Hutson, Tessa Waters
Images by Kate Pardey

Theatre review
It is a rowdy cabaret with three women in sequinned jumpsuits, very excited by feminism, and thrilled at the prospect of preaching to the converted. Christened Glittery Clittery: A Consensual Party, the show is perfectly suited to our current climate of placing centre stage, all things woke and womanly. Devised by Victoria Falconer, Rowena Hutson and Tessa Waters, collectively known as the Fringe Wives Club, the work consists of relentlessly amusing songs, and witty repartee that make for an enjoyable hour. It has a coalescing power, through its comical observations and vivacious representations, that makes us feel like a tribal audience, united in laughter against the patriarchy.

Directed by Clare Bartholomew, the cabaret presentation is intensely energetic, if slightly frenetic and unfocused in parts. Music is one of its indubitable strengths, although sound engineering could be improved to exploit more fully, the rousing pop potentials of the backing tracks. The performers bring a palpable warmth to the space, perhaps too polite in their approach, but all three are earnest personalities who insist on our adoration; Hutson is particularly likeable when temporarily assuming the scintillating part, “Lagoon of Mystery”.

Glittery Clittery is a sweaty, joyous mess; its text accurately expresses the thoughts and experiences of modern women everywhere in the Western world, but more importantly, the bawdy vigour with which its characters conduct themselves, is a marvellous exemplification of a new feminist spirit that we can utilise in conjuring up new feminine identities. This “clitterati” is unlikely to be anything close to what our grandparents had envisioned, and that is a sure sign of the progress that is under way for us all.

/www.facebook.com/fringewivesclub

Review: We Are The Himalayas (Brave New Word Theatre)

Venue: Fringe HQ (Potts Point NSW), Jul 3 – 21, 2019
Playwright: Mark Langham
Director: Richard Cornally
Cast: Charlotte Chimes, Steve Corner, James Gordon, Chelsea Hamre, Ben Mathews, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
It was 1938 when Anna Larina was first incarcerated. With her husband Nikolai Bukharin charged with treason against the Soviet Union, Larina found herself similarly persecuted by the paranoid state, for simply being a wife. Mark Langham’s We Are The Himalayas tells the tale of the individual versus an oppressive regime, featuring characters from a specific point of history, but is timeless in its relevancy. Scintillating dialogue is the work’s greatest pleasure. Its narrative can be slightly lacklustre, but there is much to enjoy in the dynamics between characters, and in Langham’s words themselves.

Leading lady Charlotte Chimes offers focus and intensity, although a greater exploration of range and depth for Larina would create a stronger sense of empathy for her audience. A more complex rendering of personality comes from Ben Mathews who gives a Bukharin that feels layered, and hence intriguing. As secret police apparatus Lavrentiy Beria, is the exceptional Steve Corner, whose nuanced dramatics has us enthralled. His scenes with Chimes and Mathews have them lifting their game, for a second half of We Are The Himalayas that quite suddenly turns explosive.

Not every actor is able to deliver with enough resonance for the show to be consistently meaningful, but director Richard Cornally keeps his storytelling disciplined, with a considered approach that successfully accumulates tension over the duration. Sound design by Patrick Howard is especially noteworthy for its impressive precision, guiding us across time and space with remarkable sensitivity.

There is strength in numbers, although our collectivism can easily turn evil when left unchecked. The greater good is always a noble consideration, but the autonomy of singular entities must never be conveniently disregarded. In 2019, we can see with great clarity, the corruptible nature of power, with those in high places becoming increasingly wanton in the way they execute their affairs. It is tempting to think that our Western democracy is a world away from Stalin’s communism, but the second we ease pressure on the brakes, our ruling class will no doubt drive us to a destination that few will appreciate.

www.bnwtheatre.com.au