Review: Porpoise Pool (25A Belvoir)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 1 – 18, 2023
Playwright: Jojo Zhou
Director: Eve Beck
Cast: Meg Clarke, Jane Mahady, Luke Leong-Tay, Loretta Kung, Carlos Sanson Jr
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Lou is a mess, living in a rundown apartment and unable to keep a job. Granted she is only in her very early 20s and has lots of time to figure things out. However as a mother of a small child, the pressure is on for her to get her act together. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, Lou has an artificial intelligence assistant device at home, a device referred to as House, who zealously offers assistance with anything Lou might need, including its highly questionable form of psychotherapy.

Jojo Zhou’s Porpoise Pool is an idiosyncratic work, with quirky humour and surrealist elements that cleverly express its central anxieties. The play is consistently fascinating, full of charm and creativity, and it gradually elicits our investment in its imperfect hero, even though the text may require some editing to tighten the journey. Direction by Eve Beck places emphasis on the funny and bizarre dimensions of the show, to deliver something satisfying in its unconventionality.

A set by Soham Apte, along with costumes by Lily Mateljan, address the slightly off-kilter quality of Lou’s world, just theatrical enough to provide a sense of elevation, without ever being too on the nose. Tyler Fitzpatrick’s lights and Clare Hennesy’s sounds are impressive with the level of detail they deliver, to subtly shape our focus and our responses, to a show that switches gear regularly, and elegantly.

Actor Meg Clarke turns Lou’s deficiencies into great entertainment. She is completely believable, with an extraordinary instinct, effortless in her ability to make every line of dialogue and every gesture, seem meaningful and captivating. The supporting cast comprises Jane Mahady, Luke Leong-Tay, Loretta Kung and Carlos Sanson Jr, all of whom embrace the unique tone of Porpoise Pool, for a show that is simultaneously thoughtful and wonderfully weird.

Lou is never more aware of her faults, than when faced with her responsibilities as a parent. There is no question about her lack of readiness for motherhood, but it can certainly be considered true, that no person will ever be sufficiently prepared for that experience. It is fanciful to say that Lou should not have gone through with her unplanned pregnancy, because people every where every day, birth babies in imperfect situations, and will continue to do so. We want perfect parents to have perfect offspring, but the truth is that, we can only ever be human. |

Review: The Lucky Country (Hayes Theatre)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), May 26 – Jun 17, 2023
Music and Lyrics: Vidya Makan in collaboration with Sonya Suares
Director: Sonya Suares
Cast: Joseph Althouse, Dyagula, Milo Hartill, Jeffrey Liu, Vidya Makan, Billy Mcpherson, Karlis Zaid
Images by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review

It is perhaps the most important function of the theatre, to help us figure out, who we are as a community. A space of congregation where artistic expression is shared, so that issues can be discussed by those local to the area, and where hopefully some form of consensus can be reached. Theatre is at its best, a force for social cohesion. In these times of division, brought on by unprecedented technological disruptions, the myth of monolithic cultures can no longer prevail. Yet we have to find ways to uphold notions of unity, in a new climate determined to acknowledge and appreciate the irrefutable diversity that can no longer be subsumed by outmoded conceptions of a singular identity.

In The Lucky Country, a new musical written by Vidya Makan in collaboration with Sonya Suares, that diversity is displayed extensively on stage, but without a sense of fracture that has come to inform how we understand difference. Makan and Suares’ thorough search and depiction of ways to pay respect, for the many peoples that we are, allows The Lucky Country to offer a showcase of identities that feels accurate and aspirational. Each of its many delightfully melodious songs represents a different part of those on this land; they are distinctly rendered, more like an anthology than one narrative of experience, allowing each of us to have our own say, and demonstrating the ease of co-existence.

The work is incredibly moving with its deep excavations of marginalised lives, but it is also guided by a scintillating humour, for a show that is disarmingly funny from beginning to end. Directed by Suares, along with choreography by Amy Zhang, The Lucky Country is energetic and bustling with activity, holding our attention captive, always keeping us fulfilled and wanting more.

Instead of a set, the empty stage is adorned with a cyclorama, on which Justin Harrison’s witty and sensitive video compositions are projected, adding further emotional dimensions to the production. Lights by Rob Sowinski and costumes by Emily Collett are slightly under explored, but both provide satisfactory levels of embellishment. Heidi Maguire’s orchestrations are entertaining and lively, and along with Michael Tan’s sound design, deliver for the songs a beautiful simplicity that feel rich in resonance.

In spectacular form, a wonderful cast delivers these stories of diminished individuals to glorious light. Joseph Althouse, Dyagula, Milo Hartill, Jeffrey Liu, Vidya Makan, Billy Mcpherson and Karlis Zaid bring technical acuity, as well as exceptional soulfulness, to make The Lucky Country an unforgettable instance of transcendence, filled with love for all who have been welcomed to this country.

Colonialism aims to make so many of us feel small and devalued. It also wishes to drive wedges between us, so that we forget who the real enemies are. Its apparatus is hopelessness, wearing us down until we relent and allow them to exploit and pillage as they wish. Defiance however is a part of the human spirit that remains accessible, even during the hardest of times. In The Lucky Country, we see that the act of defiance can be joyful and unifying. An insistence on new ways to define ourselves beyond old ideas that privilege few, is an urgent need that begins with a defiance that can be summoned, from every dark depth of despair.

Review: Scenes From A Climate Era (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 27 – Jun 25, 2023
Playwright: David Finnigan
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Abbie-Lee Lewis, Brandon McClelland, Ariadne Sgourgos, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review

Over 80 minutes, a string of familiar scenarios unfold on stage, all dealing with the climate crisis. Some true and some fictional, these more than 50 very short plays, reflect our contemporary attitudes about environmentalism, ranging from cynicism to alarming. David Finnigan’s Scenes from a Climate Era may be urgent in spirit, but is largely banal, in its representation of thoroughly recognisable situations. Nothing is surprising or obscure, so the show tends to underwhelm. Its accuracy in depicting our general nonchalance however, is beyond reproach.

Direction is provided by Carissa Licciardello, who along with set and lighting designer Nick Schlieper, imbue the production with a sense of theatricality at key moments, to help heighten our senses, even if emotions remain detached. Costumes by Ella Butler are versatile but appropriately unassuming, for depictions of these everyday conversations by people from all walks. David Bergman’s music and sound introduce tension when required, and are notably elegant in a show determined to refrain from dramatics, in favour of appealing to our logic.

The ensemble comprises five actors; Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Abbie-Lee Lewis, Brandon McClelland, Ariadne Sgourgos and Charles Wu are well-rehearsed, all demonstrating a good level of creativity that enables them to bring variety and differentiation, between moments in Scene from a Climate Era. Sgourgos and Wu are particularly memorable, for finding opportunities to deliver gentle laughs, as we try to deal with some of the hardest conundrums of our lifetime.

Climate issues seem to have been relegated to a perennial “too hard basket”. There appears to be an insurmountable passivity in how we deal with a crisis, which we can easily imagine to pose no immediate threat. Our lives have become so thoroughly commodified and monetised, we are at a complete loss in dealing with something that refuses to be paid off. In fact, we are discombobulated and unable to fathom anything that wants us to retreat, from capitalistic ways of thinking that have come to fundamentally define modern existence. Parts of Scene from a Climate Era are funny, especially when we watch ourselves march willingly, yet obliviously, towards certain extinction.

Review: Do Not Go Gentle (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), May 23 – Jun 17, 2023
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Peter Carroll, Vanessa Downing, John Gaden, Josh McConville, Philip Quast, Marilyn Richardson, Brigid Zengeni
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
The Terra Nova Expedition, led by Robert Falcon Scott, departed from Cardiff, Wales, on June 15, 1910. That historic attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole may have been beaten by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, but Scott’s team left behind an indelible legacy, along with a towering beacon of inspiration, as can be evidenced in Patricia Cornelius’ sublime Do Not Go Gentle.

We encounter characters in Cornelius’ play when on their last legs of that fateful journey. The five young men from over a century ago, are transformed into elderly people approaching the very final chapter of life. The work delves into the subject of death, the only real certainty, yet routinely omitted from virtually all our interactions and discussions in Western contexts.

Do Not Go Gentle boldly explores some of our biggest fears, in order that we may reach the greatest truths, as is the purpose of our noblest artistic pursuits. There is so much that is meaningful and profound, in the most transcendent ways in Cornelius’ writing, and although director Paige Rattray admirably manufactures sensational spectacles for the blizzard filled production, it is invariably the intimate conversations that matter most.

In the vast auditorium however, we can often feel too distant from those deeply introspective reflections. The cast is commendable for always being mindful of bringing amplification to these pearls of wisdom, so that we may hopefully go away with substantial portions of this wondrous text resonating in our heads. Playing the adventurers are Peter Carroll, Vanessa Downing, John Gaden, Philip Quast and Brigid Zengeni, who all bring excellent gravity and believability, to the fantastical philosophies of Do Not Go Gentle. Also captivating are Josh McConville and Marilyn Richardson, who play surprising support parts, adding valuable variation to the textures of this lyrical work.

Set and costumes by Charles Davis are exquisitely designed to deliver both a sense of realism, along with the flamboyant theatricality expected of a lavish production. Paul Jackson’s lights are emotive and dramatic, effective at steering both our attention and our sentiments throughout the duration. Sound design by James Brown too is a powerful element, that helps connect us to a soulful beauty that regulates all the tumult encountered by Scott and his team.

Death is always close by, it is in fact omnipresent. In our colonised lives, not only do we have to act as though individuals are immortal, we are made to ignore the eternalness of our cosmos. Death then becomes a pervasive, persistent and insidious fear, one that completely upends our priorities, so that all our energies are expended on things that prove ultimately to be delusive and self-destructive. When we live as though we can cheat death, we are pretending that we are greater than the universe itself. The truth is in plain sight, but there is an arrogance that often prevents human submission to a greater order, and the price we pay for that hubris, grows bigger every moment.

Review: Short Blanket (Meraki Arts Bar)

Venue: Meraki Arts Bar (Darlinghurst NSW), May 18 – Jun 3, 2023
Playwright: Matt Bostock
Tiffany Wong
Cast: Andrea Magpulong, Sayuri Narroway, Dominique Purdue, Monica Russell, Joseph Tanti
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Lainey is a playwright who finds herself working for the first time, at one of her city’s bigger theatre companies. Hired for her fresh and edgy take on racial politics, Lainey is suddenly in a position of having to take into consideration, the fragile sensibilities of those she chastises in her work, who have now become her main patrons. Matt Bostock’s Short Blanket deals with the nature of systemic racism, and the inherent resistance within prevailing structures that prevent individuals, from adequately addressing their failings.

It is a passionate work, excellent at conveying contemporary perspectives on matters pertaining to race and power, particularly within artistic fields. Some of Short Blanket can feel too obvious, but its efficacy at unveiling the surreptitious machinations of racism in our systems, is truly laudable. Directed by Tiffany Wong, the show speaks its political concerns with remarkable clarity. The application of a reverse chronology is initially challenging, but the play concludes satisfyingly, proving itself capable of sharing complex ideas, along with making some simpler emotive statements about the state of our world.

A set by Aloma Barnes and costumes by Rachel Pui Hui Yan, are accomplished with a utilitarian approach, reflecting a capacity for resourcefulness, which is always necessary for making theatre in emerging spaces. Lights by Mehran Mortezai too are pragmatically rendered, helping us attune to the atmospheric demands of the text. Prema Yin’s deliberative sound design bears a greater inventiveness, able to provide more than basic requirements, to deliver a sense of drama at key moments. 

Actor Andrea Magpulong is highly convincing as Lainey, the Filipina-Australian writer trying to maintain integrity at a workplace determined to suppress her truth. There is an intensity to Magpulong’s focus on stage, that is crucial to helping us maintain allegiance to the honourable principles of the play. Performances in the production are sincere, but some have a tendency to be overly theatrical, in an intimate space that insists on authenticity.

Change can happen in our big structures, but it is perhaps naïve to expect that their elemental foundations could ever be thoroughly transformed, on their own accord. So much of what we have is predicated on the oppression of certain peoples; they are built for the purpose of elevating some, whilst neglecting the welfare of others. It is hard to persuade enough of those who benefit, to want to make meaningful change to the very systems on which they rely on. It is far more likely that anarchic influences from the outside, will do the work more effectively.

Review: Pony (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), May 12 – Jun 17, 2023
Writer: Eloise Snape
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Briallen Clarke
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review

Hazel is not dealing with her pregnancy very well at all. In Eloise Snape’s Pony, a young woman’s immense anxiety manifests as a lot of neurotic humour, in a play that explores the nature of human transformations, and the psychological dread involved, when a person stands at the precipice of unimaginable change. The play is intricately structured, in a non-linear fashion, that elicits substantial intrigue and fascination. Snape’s observations are precise, expressed with an enjoyable idiosyncrasy, even if the central subject of child-bearing never really succeeds at becoming engaging.

Direction by Anthea Williams is full of dynamism, in a staging that turns a one-person show into something surprisingly varied and unpredictable. The irresistible glitz of Isabel Hudson’s set and costume designs imbue an effervescence that keeps the mood uplifted, and our sentiments generous. Verity Hampson’s lights are commensurately joyful, offering many calibrations that help punctuate action and emotion. Similarly, Me-Lee Hay’s sound and music are utilised powerfully to add texture to the piece, so that our attention can remain on the performer, yet be made to travel through a rich assortment of mental states, over the 100-minute duration.

Performer Briallen Clarke is flawless in the production, whether as the painfully vulnerable protagonist Hazel, or when playing the multiple ancillary characters of Pony, all replete with individual colour and peculiarity. Clarke’s work is wonderfully rich, and her ability to endear her audience to the difficult story, is quite a marvel to witness.

Our bodies often go against our will. Being human requires a constant navigation of corporeality, one that seems intent on reminding us our fallibility. In Pony we see ourselves submit to the carnal, recognising that we are at ease when feeding our bodies that which is pleasurable, but when it works against us, is when we experience some of the hardest times. A certain submission has to be deployed, when we concede that in one entity, rarely can two separate desires co-exist; only one will prevail, and the flesh always has the final say.

Review: Suddenly Last Summer (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), May 18 – Jun 10, 2023
Playwright: Tennessee Williams
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Valerie Bader, Andrea Demetriades, Belinda Giblin, Remy Hii, Socratis Otto, Kate Skinner
Images by Jaimi Joy

Theatre review

The poeticism of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer tells a story of mystery and obfuscation surrounding the death of a certain Sebastian Venable. Violet, the mother of Sebastian, feigns ignorance and is so determined to suppress the truth that she confines Catharine Holly, her son’s cousin and eyewitness, in a mental institution. It becomes increasingly evident, that if Catharine’s testimony is allowed to emerge, untold harm would come to the Venable name.

The play was first staged in 1958, but the concept of shame, remains very much a part of the human experience. Director Shaun Rennie conveys with great efficacy, the intensity with which these characters have to succumb to the prospect of reputation ruin. There is no questioning the severity of stakes involved, and an unmistakable escalation of dramatic tension through the piece proves deliciously satisfying.

Music and sound by Kelly Ryall is crucial in communicating so unambiguously, the mounting pressure that occurs through the production. Ryall’s renderings of atmosphere bear a surreal quality, that melds beautifully with the lyrical style of Williams’ writing. Lights by Morgan Moroney too, transport us somewhere decidedly dreamlike, perhaps commensurate with the altered states experienced by a heavily medicated Catharine. Set and costumes by Simone Romaniuk are subdued by comparison, but are nonetheless elegant in their depictions of space.

Actor Andrea Demetriades is splendid as Catharine, elastic in her capacity to portray a wide variety of psychological conditions, and mesmerically powerful when required to take the theatre to a fever pitch, at its concluding moments. The deceptive Violet is played by Belinda Giblin, who impresses with a meticulous approach to her character’s obscured complexities. Remy Hii as Dr. Cukrowicz is memorable for introducing an austerity to the health professional’s ethically suspect actions. The ephemeral essence of American Southern-ness is not always represented perfectly in the show, but Valerie Bader, Socratis Otto and Kate Skinner, who although play auxiliary parts, are all marvellously adept at creating for us, that very beguiling and distinct flavour.

Tennessee Williams was prohibited from living a completely authentic life. His queerness was outlawed, and in Suddenly Last Summer we see how that homophobia had manifested, within the queer artist’s mind. The play makes statements about a kind of self-hatred that we are prone to acquire, as a result of persistent and pervasive gaslighting. It also functions as a valuable historical artefact, in which a queer artist is only able to occupy space in his own work, by inflicting on himself the same exhaustive denigration, made obligatory by dominant forces of those times. Things do change, but in Suddenly Last Summer, the appalling way we treat the marginalised, only seems to turn increasingly grim with time.

Review: Tina (Theatre Royal)

Venue: Theatre Royal (Sydney NSW), from May 2023
Book: Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, Kees Prins
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Cast: Cayden Dosoruth, Blake Erickson, Jayme-Lee Hanekon, Ilbinabo Jack, Amara Kavaliku, Abu Kebe, Rishab Kern, Nadia Komazec, Jenni Little, David Mairs, Ruva Ngwenya, Emily Nkomo, Camile Nko’o, Tim Omaji, John O’Hara, Matthew Prime, Tendai Rinomhota, Rebecca Selley, Tigist Strode, Augie Tchantcho, Mat Verevis
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Rock star Tina Turner’s triumph over hardship, during her earlier years, is a story that has defined her entire public persona. Indeed, many have identified that legendary emergence from tragedy, to be a real  source of inspiration, and it is that period of her life we revisit in the 2018 musical Tina.

Comprised of songs from Turner’s multi-decade career, the show is never short of nostalgia, many of which are likely to deliver moments of sheer transcendence. The plot however, does not prove to be quite as gripping, with a book that although preserves a sense of integrity for Turner’s narrative, can feel somewhat theatrically lacklustre.

Fortunately, the production breaks into song often enough, and with Ruva Ngwenya in the lead role, providing near flawless performances of musical numbers, the experience is made worthwhile. Ike Turner is played by Tim Omaji who brings extraordinary charisma to a perhaps undeserving character, but nonetheless delivers confidently to leave us impressed and entertained.

Tina might be strangely unmoving as a dramatic production, but there is no denying the power of Turner’s legacy, along with the collective memory and immeasurable goodwill that surrounds her. All we want is to see her in all her glory, and in these effervescent re-enactments of moments from a brilliant woman’s life, we are able to witness up close and personal, the best of a star truly loved.

Review: All His Beloved Children (KXT on Broadway)

Venue: KXT on Broadway (Ultimo NSW), May 5 – 20, 2023
Playwright: Frieda Lee
Amelia Burke
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Melissa Gan, Sam Hayes, Lukas Radovich, Kavina Shah
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review

Yamuna has died, but her mouth refuses to shut. A chain of posthumous events suggests that a woman may very well be silenced with her tragic demise, but there are unexpected forces that can arise, possibly from metaphysical realms, to make things right. Frieda Lee’s All His Beloved Children could be a story about ghosts, or karma, or it could simply be about the stranger aspects of human behaviour, that sometimes makes existence on this plain, seem a curious phenomenon.

The obscure humour of Lee’s writing, explores some of our morbid recesses, taking taboo ideas and transforms them into subversive artistic expressions, about relationships that we have with one another, and with things pertaining to the spiritual realm. Directed by Amelia Burke, the production alternates between delivering twisted pleasures that are genuinely delightful, and youthful irreverence that can feel somewhat inane. Burke’s commitment to a theatre that is unpredictable and intriguing however, is beyond doubt.

Set by Adrienne Andrews and costumes by Moni Langford, transport us somewhere timeless and geographically indeterminate, as though this weird story could take place anywhere on earth. Frankie Clarke’s lights are whimsical and detailed, creating varied textures within an atmosphere that is unmistakably sensual. Sound design by Daniel Herten is inspired by a certain exotica, to help us consider the play’s themes outside of Western conventions and values.

Embracing the quirky qualities of the staging, is an ensemble cast comprising Tel Benjamin, Melissa Gan, Sam Hayes, Lukas Radovich and Kavina Shah, who are challenged by a requirement to depict a persistent sense of truth, within an unremitting eccentricity that informs the overall tone of the production. It is a tricky balance that does not always prove effective, but the show’s intentionally bizarre sensibility, is unforgettable.

People die, but slates are never wiped clean. We will always have to evolve along with inevitable inheritances, taking on the baggage that others leave behind; things we can never pretend not to be tainted by, and things we can never completely disassociate from. The separations between “us and them”, are as tenuous as the distinctions between those dead and alive. The sooner we come to terms with the indissolubleness of us, the better our chances at life.

Review: Clyde’s (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), May 5 – Jun 10, 2023
Playwright: Lynn Nottage
Director: Darren Yap
Cast: Charles Allen, Gabriel Alvarado, Nancy Denis, Aaron Tsindos, Ebony Vagulans
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

In the run-down kitchen of a busy truck stop diner in Pennsylvania, five ex-felons navigate life and sandwich recipes, in search of purpose, hope and redemption. Lynn Notage’s 2021 play Clyde’s rummages through the discarded of American society, serving up some of the most beautiful and inspiring writing in recent years, to have been witnessed at the theatre. The comedic commotion surrounding business owner Clyde, a woman of the bitterest constitution, and her tortured employees, offers marvellous entertainment, along with some of the most profound philosophical observations, one could hope to glean from any work of art.

That poignancy is carefully uncovered by Darren Yap, whose attentive direction of the piece ensures that the countless meaningful morsels of Notage’s script, are given opportunity to resonate.  We may not always feel fully transported, to that precise location continents away where the action is taking place, but the human authenticity Yap is able to depict, is certainly convincing.

Set design by Simone Romaniuk cleverly manipulates the stage, so that the intensity of an uncomfortable workplace is clearly represented, whilst simultaneously providing ample performance space that allows for the cast’s unbridled physical expressions.  Romaniuk’s costumes help to tell a story of class and heritage, both themes fundamental to Clyde’s concerns. Lights by Morgan Moroney are memorable for manufacturing unexpected moments of humour, and for their subtle enhancements of some of the show’s more emotional sequences. Sound and music by Max Lambert and Roger Lock are minimally rendered, although it is noteworthy that multicultural influences are appropriately, and reassuringly, acknowledged.

Actor Nancy Denis brings unambiguous exuberance to the role of Clyde, along with excellent timing, but it is only when she lets the chilling darkness of her character to emerge, that we are able to see beyond the caricature. Charles Allen as Montrellous, is interminably sensitive and remarkably moving, impressive in his capacity to imbue astounding depth to the group’s wise elder. Gabriel Alvarado is a scintillating presence as Rafael, with a captivating vigour that reveals a thoroughness in his understanding of the personality and circumstances being portrayed. Likewise with Ebony Vagulans who plays Letitia, leaving us no room to question the challenges she experiences, in an accomplished performance that embraces the complicated nature of a person’s flaws and foibles. Aaron Tsindos may not always be believable as reformed fascist Jason, but his comedic talents are truly an unimpeachable joy.

There is no denying that those who have endured the worst, are also the ones who know the most, about the human condition. In Clyde’s there is no mistaking the injustices at play, in the inequitable and downright unfair ways we have to live our lives. Yet, we are able to access resilience, and through it, form narratives of hope, that can help us see trajectories of salvation which are absolutely necessary, to daily survival and sustenance.

It is true that so much of one’s circumstances are too hard for any single being to control, but a greater truth resides with the notion, that peace and happiness is often an internal function, that the stronger of us, will always be able to reach for, even when the world appears to be falling to pieces.