Review: Taz Vs The Pleb (Flight Path Theatre)

Venue: Flight Path Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Feb 9 – 19, 2022
Playwright: Kasia Vickery
Director: Kasia Vickery
Cast: Natali Caro, Jack Mainsbridge, Lou McInnes, Sophie Strykowski
Images by Noni Carroll

Theatre review
It was five years ago, when the same-sex marriage plebiscite, had come to dominate social interactions in Australia. In Taz vs the Pleb by Kasia Vickery, two high schoolers conspire to rig the vote, in their country town of Albury-Wodonga. Convinced that the adults surrounding them are bigoted and certain to vote against equality, Taz and Shontelle, who are only sixteen and therefore disallowed from directly participating in the democratic process, take it upon themselves to do the right thing for Australia’s queer communities.

Vickery’s re-imagination of events aspires to bring a sense of empowerment, to the many of us who had felt powerless and desperate, when our futures hung in the balance those long months, as the nation toyed with our rights and identities. That helplessness is transformed in the hour-long comedy, into exuberant and radical action, as the two young protagonists flout the law, in attempts to claim autonomy over their own destinies.

As writer and director, Vickery brings a palpable earnestness to this story of youthful rebellion. Some details get muddled in the histrionics, but it is the production’s irrepressible energy that really leaves an impression. Actors Natali Caro and Sophie Strykowski play Taz and Shontelle respectively, with excellent chemistry, and an unassailable sincerity that keeps us convinced and impressed, by the shenanigans of these spirited teens. Jack Mainsbridge and Lou McInnes perform a whacky range of support roles, with varying efficacies, although consistently delightful.

Costume and set designs by Kate Beere are appropriately vibrant, with lights by Thomas Doyle correspondingly colourful and flamboyant. Scott Sohrab Majidi’s sound and music are wonderfully ambitious, able to bring considerable soulfulness to the meaningful tale being relayed.

Taz vs the Pleb pays homage to a generation that values justice, and that believes in political action, at a degree that few had done before. It is the first time that we feel as though, conversations are being persuasively influenced, by those who are yet to even commence higher education, and what they say, and how they say it, seems increasingly irrefutable. In truth, we all know that it is in innocence, that we can find the best of humanity. Allowing innocence to guide us, is perhaps a perennial struggle, but this new turning of tides presents an opportunity for a more righteous balance, in these apocalyptic times. |

Review: Wil & Grace (Rogue Projects)

Venue: FringeHQ (Newtown NSW), Nov 24 – Dec 4, 2021
Playwright: Madeleine Withington
Director: Erica Lovell
Cast: Suz Mawer, Joshua Shediak, Madeleine Withington
Images by Noni Carroll

Theatre review
Grace is having a hard time. Things are not going well in her personal and professional spheres, so having a big boozy night at home with flatmate Varya, is an understandable and much needed distraction. The two discover on the internet, a spell that can raise the dead, and because Grace is a theatre nerd, she chooses to bring William Shakespeare back to life. Next morning, they wake up to a drunk Brit in the living room, and Grace fixates on him being the Bard resurrected.

Wil and Grace, like its sitcom namesake, features a silly plot and unrestrained performances, to deliver light-hearted laughs in its efforts to entertain. Underpinning all the frivolity and impracticable narrative,  however are certain truths about the human experience. Written by Madeleine Withington, the play can be seen as a tribute to a television genre that has touched lives all over the world, with notable hints of unassailable honesty that help us connect fantasy with reality. Something is bothering Grace, and the more she indulges in the bizarre notion that Shakespeare lives in her home, the more we wish to discover her truth.

The show is involving and funny, and director Erica Lovell’s ability to build nuance into the outlandish premise, extends Wil and Grace beyond the single joke that precipitates all the action. Ambitious music by Chrysoulla Markoulli contradicts the sitcom style of presentation, choosing instead to offer glimpses of what is actually going on, inside Grace’s hidden inner world. Jasmin Borsovszky lights the stage with commendable dynamism, bringing much needed variation to the imagery that we see.

Withington performs the part of Grace, sensitive in her portrayal of a troubled individual. Suz Mawer is rambunctious as Varya, wonderfully confident in her embodiment of the role’s flamboyant comedy. The pivotal character of the English visitor, is played by Joshua Shediak whose easy charm and wide-eyed earnestness, helps us invest in the improbable fantasy.

It is never clearer than in 2021, that humans engage, routinely and habitually, in delusions. A businessman who repeatedly asserts his narcissism, is elected President by millions who interpret his greed as charity. Throngs march the streets to fight for the right, to catch a disease and spread it to the vulnerable, in the name of autonomy. Grace insists that a dead man has returned, and sleeps on her couch every night. We are a disturbed populace. We are also optimistic in our interminable belief that brighter days are ahead, although that optimism often seems no different from delusion.

Review: You’re Not Special (Rogue Projects)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 5 – 20, 2021
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Arkia Ashraf, Kate Skinner, Ariadne Sgouros
Images by Kate Williams and Australian Theatre Live

Theatre review
Dan and Ellie are moving in together, as is the convention when humans decide to couple up. They expect to become closer as a matter of course, but like many others, these new living arrangements begin to test their mettle. You’re Not Special by Sam O’Sullivan is thankfully, not another rom-com on the humorous pitfalls of heteronormativity, but an intensely thought-provoking work about the tensions between organic and synthetic, in our age of unprecedented technological advancement. Characters in the play are caught up in their virtual lives on all their electronic devices, and at varying degrees, struggle to negotiate the nature of reality as it stands in the twenty-first century.

O’Sullivan’s writing is wonderfully engaging, with an intellectual curiosity that sustains our keen interest. There is a passion in the way its ideas are disseminated, that gives You’re Not Special a delicious sense of urgency, even though what it wishes to effect can feel somewhat didactic. Director Samantha Young does a splendid job of bringing to life, these concepts of right and wrong, in scenes featuring dramatic confrontations that always feel authentic and powerful. The show is very persuasive.

Arkia Ashraf’s uncompromising naturalism in his approach to the depiction of central character Dan, conveys a valuable quality of the everyman, one that invites the viewer to relate his story to each of our own lives. It is a solid, heavily introspective performance, that benefits tremendously from the intimacy of the space. Ellie is played by an exquisite Kate Skinner, scintillating in moments of vigour, and genuinely delightful when delivering comedy. In the enigmatic and pivotal role of April, is Ariadne Sgouros, who demonstrates excellent capacity for complexity. She revels in the many layers offered by the unusual personality, and challenges us to bring interpretations that are as expansive as the work she presents.

Design aspects are comparatively low-key, although appropriately so. Set and costumes by Anna Gardiner evoke a familiarity that helps us place the action at close psychological proximity. Martin Kinnane’s lights contribute a sense of dynamism to the narrative’s unfolding turmoil, and Kaitlyn Crocker’s sound design is memorable for surprising touches that hint at the surreal.

You’re Not Special asks important questions, but is perhaps too strident in its need to provide answers. Its default position of honouring an imagined point of human origin, and of what is traditionally thought of as “natural”, puts restrictions on the efficacy of its own artistic possibilities. The discussion of humanity and technology, when framed strictly as a duelling dichotomy, can feel mundane and old-fashioned. Technology can be thought of as essentially human, and at this point of our evolution, one could argue that a more futurist appreciation of lifestyles could be beneficial.

Quite certainly, truths often reside in all factions of our debates, and to participate in society, should not require that we must take sides on all issues, all the time. In 2021, it seems we have been conditioned to be irrepressibly opinionated over every matter. Maybe to remain impartial on some things, especially when the ethics involved are not cut-and-dried, means to keep an open mind.