Review: The House At Boundary Road (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Nov 5 – 16, 2019
Playwrights: Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe, Jordy Shea
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Violette Ayad, Henrietta Amevor, Monique Calarco, Jemwel Danao, Nancy Denis, Felino Dolloso, Adam Di Martino, Jessica Phoebe Hanna, Mark Paguio, David Soncin, Angela Sullen, Mike Ugo
Images by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
It is in Western Sydney’s Liverpool, that we find The House At Boundary Road, and the families who had lived in it over the years. Written by Violette Ayad, Thomas De Angelis, Chika Ikogwe and Jordy Shea, the work comprises four short plays, each featuring a migrant family. De Angelis writes about Italians in the 50s, Shea on Filipinos in the 60s, followed by Ayad’s Middle Eastern sisters who grew up there in the 80s, and finally Ikogwe presents today’s Nigerian inhabitants. Each segment is compact but powerful, for a meaningful encapsulation of our recent history.

The stories are an emotional tribute to difficult times, all of them offering intimate insight that pertain to the migrant working class. Truths about our economic system are revealed, along with the persistently inequitable nature of our nationhood. Directed by Jessica Arthur, the production is appropriately sentimental, presented in a simple style that conveys poignancy for every moment. A deeply evocative set by Keerthi Subramaniam, recalls interiors of modest homes that form the inner sanctum for so many Australian battlers. Kate Baldwin’s lights and Clemence Williams’s sound keep us in a beautiful melancholy, for an intimately resonant representation of both the past and the present.

Actor Felino Dolloso is especially moving as Jovy, the despondent father of the Filipino household, helping us see the pain of displacement in the most sobering way. The captivating Henrietta Amevor plays Chioma, a 14 year-old Nigerian obsessed with boys and selfies, bringing to the role exquisite humour and phenomenal star quality. Nancy Denis absolutely charms as Chioma’s mother, and their neighbour Ugo is portrayed by Mike Ugo, who impresses with an unexpected tenderness, and the effortless warmth he brings to the stage.

Many of us were allowed in, because difficult jobs needed to be done. We are built on the backs of economic migrants, yet they are routinely demonised by those who benefit most, from the smooth functioning of this capitalist way of life. Those at the top of our hierarchies understand that their positions are only tenable for as long as there are people at the bottom holding things up, yet they never fail to take every opportunity to vilify and demean those who are newer to this land, and darker in skin tone. The characters in The House At Boundary Road may look disparate to suspicious eyes, but there is little that separates them besides. The powerful will insist that we are never the same, so that they can keep trampling over us, but as soon as we reject those notions of difference, we can begin a revolution to erase these despicable disparities.

www.bontom.com.au

Review: First Love Is The Revolution (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 1 – Dec 14, 2019
Playwright: Rita Kalnejais
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Amy Hack, Rebecca Massey, Bardiya McKinnon, Sarah Meacham, Guy Simon, Matthew Whittet
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Basti and Rdeca meet one momentous night, and quickly fall for each other. What makes Rita Kalnejais’ rom-com First Love Is The Revolution unusual, is that its female lead is a fox, literally. Kalnejais’ play takes the star-crossed lovers trope to new heights of absurdity, for a story about nature and our interactions with it. The young rebels must walk away from their respective backgrounds, to establish for themselves entirely new ways of being, should they wish to find happiness. The writing is imaginative and daring, extremely mischievous in its flirtations with notions of bestiality, but delicate sensibilities can rest assured that there is never any doubt about sexual consent from any of its characters.

Passionate and joyous, the zesty production is directed by Lee Lewis, who leaves no stone unturned, in her explorations of this idiosyncratic text, to deliver an experience full of tension and intrigue. Funny, intelligent and highly captivating, First Love Is The Revolution is as entertaining as it is meaningful. Designer Ella Butler’s work on set and costumes is remarkable for its exuberance and refreshing use of colour. Lights by Trent Suidgeest, along with music by David Bergman, are memorable for their flamboyant flourishes, appropriately and enjoyably exaggerated in intensified moments of romance as well as comedy.

The luminescent Sarah Meacham plays Rdeca, with exceptional verve and faultless instinct; an astounding talent able to convey thorough authenticity for even the most bizarre, in her portrayal of an adolescent fox. Fourteen year-old Basti too is made very likeable by Bardiya McKinnon, an intricate performer who brings depth and conviction to the role. Rebecca Massey is powerful as the fox’s mother Cochineal, deftly oscillating between silly and serious, convincing from start to end. Amy Hack and Matthew Whittet each play three roles, all of them deeply amusing, with Whittet’s surprisingly poignant turn as Basti’s father Simon leaving a particularly strong impression. A magnetic Guy Simon alternates between fox and hound in two separate parts, wonderfully humorous in both, but terrifying as the bloodthirsty dog Rovis.

When a child grows up to become their own person, apron strings should have to be cut, before a true self can be said to have actualised. Young love is often a precipitating factor that urges one to examine one’s background, in a process that involves rethinking and re-contextualising of circumstances, to attain a more individualised world view. Basti and Rdeca need each other, in order that a destination can be identified for their inevitable departure from home. Growth is painful at any age, but stagnation, although comfortable at times, is a fate worse than death.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Good Dog (Green Door Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 1 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Arinzé Kene
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Justin Amankwah
Images by Jasmin Simmons

Theatre review
Good Dog by Arinzé Kene, details the life of a young black man in working class England. We watch him from childhood, an innocent boy like any other who dreams of owning a bicycle, but who learns instead, the harsh realities of poverty. It is a story about race and class, and how people can be depleted of patience and naivety, in the face of unremitting injustice. Years of deprivation sets our unnamed protagonist on a course of rebellion, that the play appropriately depicts as a valid response to systematic failures of modern economies.

Kene’s writing is intriguing, in a linguistic style faithful to the cultural contexts from which it emerges. Directed by Rachel Chant, the production is sensitive, and dignified, in its portrayals of prejudice and disparity in a foreign land. Sound design by Melanie Herbert is particularly subtle in how it conveys psychological shifts for the one-man show. Kelsey Lee’s lights are an elegant feature, and a set by Maya Keys provides just enough visual cues to spark our imagination. Actor Justin Amankwah is extraordinarily charismatic, but insufficiently inventive and overly naturalistic in the role. Good Dog requires a more expository approach to speak to an Australian audience, and at over two hours long, a stronger sense of theatricality is necessary to sustain our interest.

The power of white supremacist capitalism lies in the way it is able to subjugate so many, for so long. Those of us who are oppressed, not only buy into their myths about hard work and meritocracy, we further sympathise with their prescriptions of politeness and civility. They keep us asking for better, over generations, knowing that their continual denials are only met with perpetual compliance. Once in a blue moon however, a revolution will arise, with people tired of waiting, finally pressed to claim back their due by force. How and when this is going to happen, is as always, anyone’s guess.

www.greendoortheatreco.com

Review: Così (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Nov 1 – Dec 14, 2019
Playwright: Louis Nowra
Director: Sarah Goodes
Cast: Gabriel Fancourt, Esther Hannaford, Glenn Hazeldine, Bessie Holland, Sean Keenan, Robert Menzies, Rahel Romahn, Katherine Tonkin, George Zhao
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Theatre director Lewis finds himself at a mental asylum, not as a patient, but as a facilitator for a one-night-only staging of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, starring clients of the home. This is 1972, many years before deinstitutionalisation had begun, and the personalities Lewis meets are varied in capacities, but uniformly charming. Louis Nowra’s Così is a 1992 comedy with a premise that remains intriguing, but much of its humour has lost its lustre. We have learned to regard mental illness with a diminished sense of alienation, and characters in the play have lost their sense of otherness accordingly, causing many of its jokes to feel archaic.

The production is directed by Sarah Goodes, who does extensive work to reflect a modern sensibility in her iteration of Così. While it does provide an updated sense of cultural appropriateness, with a renewed perspective of people with mental health challenges, we discover that there is little at its heart that truly resonates for today’s audiences. Nevertheless, it is a smartly designed show, with Dale Ferguson’s set and Jonathon Oxlade’s costumes providing a valuable sense of playfulness. Lights by Niklas Pajanti, along with Chris Williams’ music, keep the action jaunty and energised.

Actor Sean Keenan is convincing as the unassuming and somewhat meek Lewis, a sturdy presence who lets his colourful counterparts occupy our attention. Unofficial ringmaster Roy is played by Robert Menzies, who is powerful in the role, and effective in having us invest in his passions for Mozart and classical opera. Bessie Holland is unforgettable as the brassy Cherry, impressive in her ability to deliver big laughs, even with Nowra’s dubious dialogue. Similarly charismatic is Rahel Romahn, consistently and effortlessly funny as Doug the pyromaniac, setting the stage alight at every appearance.

In Così fan tutte, people pretend to be somebody else to discover truths about themselves. Così too, features playacting, with patients of the asylum masquerading as characters in an opera, as though on a recess from their real lives. Individuals can come to new understandings of themselves, when they experience distance from their own existences. Art allows us to step out, and observe the world from a different perspective, which is an immense benefit for all of us who forget the diminutiveness of being, and the inanity of any ego.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au | www.mtc.com.au

Review: The Underpants (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 23, 2019
Playwright: Steve Martin (adapted from Carl Sternheim)
Director: Anthony Gooley
Cast: Beth Daly, Duncan Fellows, Ben Gerrard, Robin Goldsworthy, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Tony Taylor
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Admirers start knocking on Louise’s door, asking to rent her spare room, immediately after the fortuitous incident of Louise’s underpants falling to her feet in public. For a moment, her little apartment feels expansive, as the narrow existence with her controlling husband Theo, begins to look more promising. Steve Martin’s The Underpants (adapted from Carl Sternheim’s Die Hose) is set in early twentieth century Germany, with a focus on the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, that explores our tendencies towards unthinking, parochial lives. We see Louise struggle under Theo’s unreasonable demands as traditional head of household, but with the arrival of new suitors, we wonder if a brighter future is on the cards.

The show begins with excellent humour, directed by Anthony Gooley who encourages an animated playfulness that strikes a chord early on. Lustre is gradually lost however, as the staging grows distant and tired, due largely to a narrative that seems to stagnate after its rambunctious start. It is a polished production, with Anna Gardiner’s set and Benjamin Brockman’s lights providing satisfying imagery, and Ben Pierpoint’s sound design proving effective at crucial plot points.

Gabrielle Scawthorne leads a strong cast, memorable for the unexpected nuance she offers as Louise. Theo is given a radiant presence by Duncan Fellows, whose sardonic approach proves reliable in delivering a delicious sense of irony to the piece. Exquisite comic timing by Beth Daly and Tony Taylor, help to elevate proceedings at each of their entrances, both actors extremely charming, with a dazzling confidence that makes us feel in safe hands. The lodgers are played by Ben Gerrard and Robin Goldsworthy, inventive performers commendable for creating a couple of richly imagined personalities.

In The Underpants, Louise is a tormented housewife at the end of her tether, wishing to be rescued. She spends her time dreaming up ways to move from one man to another, completely ignoring the fact that, even a century ago, independence was a valid option, as exemplified by her idiosyncratic neighbour Gertrude. Social acceptability almost always means that we are required to conform, which implies that to be true to oneself, one could risk being outcast. Louise can choose not to be of the respectable class, but the thought of abandoning the bourgeoisie is almost too hard to bear. Each of us constructs identities that feel immutable, and we form attachments to people and structures that hold us hostage. When walking away seems inconceivable, it usually means that one simply needs to think bigger.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions

Review: The Indian Wants The Bronx (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 24 – Nov 2, 2019
Playwright: Israel Horovitz
Director: Rahel Romahn
Cast: Tristan Artin, Elliott Giarola, Rajesh Valluri
Images by Shayan

Theatre review
As delinquents Murph and Joey wander the streets of New York, they stumble upon Gupta at a bus stop trying to get to the Bronx without knowing the English language. The boys are amused by Gupta’s Indian clothing, and proceed to taunt him, gradually increasing in intensity over the play’s 45 minutes.

Israel Horovitz’s The Indian Wants The Bronx premiered in 1968, the year of Martin Luther King’s death, at the height of America’s civil rights movement. Although the work is undoubtedly dated, with a central Indian character unable to speak English, the way it frames bigotry as an unassailable reality regardless of intentions by individuals, remains valuable in our discourse about race. The young New Yorkers do not think of themselves as xenophobic, but consequences of their actions are certainly racist.

Directed by Rahel Romahn, the show is suitably energetic, fuelled by the irrepressible ebullience of unruly youth. A greater sense of danger, and dramatic tension, is slightly missing in early portions, but the show delivers the goods in its second half. Sound by Kailesh Reitmans provides excellent support in calibrating atmosphere for every scene, and lighting design by Thomas Walsh, although obvious with its objectives, is effective in escalating tensions.

Three accomplished performers take us through this story of racially motivated violence, with Rajesh Valluri leaving a strong impression as Gupta, able to convey a sense of dignity for the character in spite of his unfortunate circumstances. Tristan Artin and Elliott Giarola are strong in their roles, both actors detailed and passionate with what they bring to the stage. The production is an engaging one, made believable by a thoughtful and cohesive team.

One of the boys is Irish, and the other Jewish. Mid-century New York was not always kind to them, yet they are unable to see themselves reflected in their Indian victim. History shows that it is easy for people to forget their own persecution, and dispense upon others the injustices they had previously suffered. Half a century after Horovitz’s writing however, it may seem that the new generations of today, determined to define themselves as unprecedentedly enlightened, have become much more compassionate in how they regard society. The establishment is still in the habit of keeping groups of people subjugated, but opposition to their modus operandi is indisputably growing.

www.chippenstreet.com

Review: Haunted (Spark Youth Theatre)

Venue: Petersham Town Hall (Petersham NSW), Oct 29 – Nov 8, 2019
Concept: Felicity Nicol
Directors: Felicity Nicol, Scott Parker
Cast: Alan Fang, Andrea Mudbidri, Bedelia Lowrencev, Caitlyn Wright, Ellie Oppen-Riley, Emily Pincock, Fanar Moonee, Jeno Kim, Jeremy Lowrencev, Mason Phoumirath, Niamh Kinsella, Pedro Luis Barrientos Rios, Rebekah Parsons, Tirian Tanious
Images by Patrick Boland

Theatre review
It is night time, and a group of young adults are exploring a disused hall, spinning tales involving missing persons from a 1940’s debutante ball. The audience too are on foot, lingering and observing, and soon we find ourselves standing in as ghosts, when the adventurers begin seeing things. Felicity Nicol’s Haunted makes extensive use of an old town hall, one that is similar to the hundreds that exist all over Australia, with performers dispersed throughout the venue, and us behaving like voyeuristic apparitions, tracking their activities over ninety spooky minutes.

Directed by Nicol along with Scott Parker, the work is fresh and playful, impressive in its exhaustive and imaginative use of space. There is pleasure not only in investigating the many curious satellite occurrences, but also in the very experience of exploring a forgotten building. Sensational work on sound by Nate Edmondson heightens all our senses, to have us feeling as though immersed within a world of horror cinema. Lights by Benjamin Brockman are extravagant at pivotal moments, to help convey varying states of surrealism, for a story about young people discovering their local history.

A cast of fourteen performers demonstrate excellent commitment and verve, relying on intuition and physicality, rather than dialogue, to deliver a thrilling, inventive and often beautiful work of modern theatre. Mason Phoumirath and Niamh Kinsella are memorable in their featured roles, proving themselves to be compelling actors, with limitless potential.

The present collides with the past in every moment, but we are rarely encouraged to look back, whilst we wrestle with busy existences dominated by demands of the rat race. Mistakes may not have to be made again, if only we understand their previous incarnations, and evolution would only be in positive directions, if only we remember all former failures. Individuals are only young once, and as a community we too should always strive to mature with each passing day. Lessons learned must not be forgotten, or we will forever be in positions of regret.

www.sparkyouththeatre.com