Review: The Tempest (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Nov 15 – Dec 17, 2022
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Peter Carroll, Jason Chong, Chantelle Jamieson, Mandy McElhinney, Shiv Palekar, Richard Roxburgh, Claude Scott-Mitchell, Guy Simon, Aaron Tsindos, Megan Wilding, Susie Youssef
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

Prospero’s story of exile, in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, can easily serve as parable, for the history of white immigration to these lands we now call Australia. There is a stark and perverse contrast however, between Propsero’s determination to seek revenge, and white Australia’s general deference to those who had discarded them. What we do find analogous, is the cruel treatment of antecedent inhabitants. Caliban was born on the island, long before Prospero’s recent arrival, yet is being enslaved by the latter, who seems only able to think of himself as superior and entitled.

In Kip Williams’ abridged and delicately modernised version, we feel the air inside the auditorium seizing up, whenever Caliban takes centre stage to present his view of the world, and indeed to plead for justice. Performed by Birripi/Worimi actor Guy Simon, Caliban becomes the only character we can truly care about. Simon raises the stakes so high, with a portrayal unforgettable for its blistering intensity and scathing honesty, that we leave The Tempest with an entirely reinvented understanding of this otherwise archaic text.

Richard Roxburgh plays Prospero with an elegant strength, understated but replete with impressive gravity. The dainty but powerful spirit, Ariel is beautifully depicted by Peter Carroll, who brings grace and humour, along with unflappable conviction, to deliver a crucial element of ethereality to the show.

Set design by Jacob Nash is deceptively simple, with a generously sized boulder anchored in the middle of a revolve. The gradual revelations of special effects over the course of the production, demonstrates a deep knowledge of the relationship between audience and imagery. Likewise, with Nick Schlieper’s magical lights, we are expertly coaxed into believing that storms are raging and fairies are taking flight, when in fact it is all just smoke and mirrors. Elizabeth Gadsby’s costumes offer a rustic interpretation that appeals to those with a taste, for something more realistic and unassuming. Sound and music by Stefan Gregory construct a fantasy realm, into which we can luxuriate in Shakespeare’s brand of supernatural drama.

It is liberating to see Prospero in a new light, not only as victim, but also aggressor, after knowing The Tempest for a lifetime. The truth that hides in plain sight, implies a nefarious collusion that must be present, in order that lies may take hold. Regarding the rightful custodians of these lands, and those far and wide, entire canons are awaiting re-examination, should our claims of wishing to be democratic and just, are of any veracity.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: The Lifespan Of A Fact (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Sep 20 – Oct 22, 2022
Playwrights: Gordon Farrell, Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell (based on the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal)
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Gareth Davies, Sigrid Thornton, Charles Wu
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
John D’Agata writes essays, in which he seeks truth and beauty. When Jim Fingal enters the frame as a fact-checker, we discover that subjective truths do not always align with cold, hard facts. Based on the collaborative book The Lifespan of a Fact by D’Agata and Fingal, this theatrical version by Gordon Farrell, Jeremy Kareken and David Murrell, explores a concept of the artistic licence, as understood by D’Agata. In the examination of how he accesses the truth, the play encourages us to consider the very nature of truth, and what it means, when in contradiction with objective reality.

It is an intellectually stimulating work, but also entertaining, in its rendering of D’Agata and Fingal as idiosyncratic personalities, and in the excellent humour with which their incessant conflict is presented. Direction by Paige Rattray ensures that the comedy of The Lifespan of a Fact is thoroughly exteriorised, for a show that amuses at all times.

Actor Charles Wu plays the detail-oriented Fingal, with captivating verve, and astonishing precision. His rhythm and timing are beautifully measured, so that we are kept riveted, to both the funny and the serious simultaneously, of his character’s austere perspective. Gareth Davies performs the role of D’Agata with an irony so subtle and persuasive, that makes convincing, even his most extravagant declarations. Davies and Wu bring great energy to the stage, and along with their effortless charisma, this story of rivalry, between personalities and ideas, is made truly delectable.

Similarly ebullient, is Sigrid Thornton as magazine editor Emily Penrose, most effective when adding fuel to fire, in the war between ideologies. Clarinettist Maria Alfonsine lends her vaporous presence, to the discussion of real versus true, introducing live and recorded music in ways that make a strong argument for the importance of beauty, and of aesthetic pursuits in general.

Set design by Marg Horwell is remarkably appealing, in her modernist approach to the evocation of place. It straddles fantastical and authentic, yet leaving no doubt about where we are, even though we are in fact oceans away from New York and Las Vegas. Lights by Paul Jackson are designed with a pleasing simplicity, rarely drawing attention to itself, but always reliable at enhancing the storytelling.

These are precarious times. Over the last few years, we have seen people holding firm to destructive beliefs, in the face of evidence that proves the contrary. False medicines have been sold all through the pandemic, along with fraudulent information about vaccinations. Patriotic feelings were manipulated, to make the British turn against their neighbours, at the detriment of their own economy, and a similar style of nationalism was used in America, for a moment of insurrection that will continue to reverberate for years to come.

It appears truth always exists most resonantly as a subjective experience; what we can feel is often valued more highly than what we can actually see or hear. Even at his most earnest, D’Agata’s ego is apparent. If it is characteristic of humanity to be self-important, then it should come as no surprise, when the universe chooses to have us eliminated.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Aug 6 – Sep 10, 2022
Playwright: Robert Louis Stevenson (adapted by Kip Williams)
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Matthew Backer, Ewen Leslie
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
There is something very queer about Utterson’s obsession, over having to uncover the truth about Mr Hyde. In Kip Williams’ version of the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, it is not the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde that occupies the majority of our attention. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is, on this occasion, more concerned with Utterson’s fervent investigations, showing his indefatigable determination at getting closer and closer to the mystery of Hyde. The audience watches from a vantage point of feeling as though, we already know all there is to the Jekyll and Hyde story, but new revelations in WIlliams’ adaptation emerge, that surprise us much as they do Utterson.

On stage with the actors, are large video screens, up to 6 of them at any one time. Our attention resides with the projected image for virtually all of the duration, yet the live quality of the presentation is unmistakeable. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is cinematic but also certainly theatrical. We have a visceral connection with the energy that emanates from all corners of the stage, but our eyes are kept fixated on oversized monitors that seem to be constantly floating, into all manner of configurations. David Bergman’s video design is gloriously imagined, mostly in vintage film monochrome, and although not flawlessly executed, its ambition is nothing short of breathtaking. A sequence involving staircases is particularly wondrous, able to manipulate space in the most whimsical ways, for a new theatrical experience that feels completely linked with technological ingenuity.

Kip Williams’ adaptation and direction of the piece is relentlessly vigorous in tone. At the centre of the old story, is an exploration of pharmaceuticals, and for the entire show, we too feel as though on artificial stimulants, almost manic in how we have to respond to the work. It is a rich and intense journey that Williams takes us on, as he pushes gregariously at the boundaries of the art form, but it is ultimately the reframing of meaning, that stays with the viewer. Stevenson’s writing is remembered to be about pietistic notions of good and evil, but Williams reminds us that the longevity of the tale and its famous characters, are due largely to our very basic and eternal desire, to understand the nature of truth.

The space, designed by Marg Horwell, positions us as though peering from the backlot of a film studio, with flats wheeling in and out, but facing away from the auditorium. Horwell’s costumes aim for period authenticity, and are fitted immaculately to maximise the appeal of the show’s beguiling stars. Lights by Nick Schlieper are lush and sensual, able to provide delightful imagery, whether our eyes are consumed by video, or when our sight wanders to the real activity taking place on stage. A magnificent sound design by Michael Toisuta envelopes us in tension and extravagance, of the old Hollywood kind, with a grandeur that brings a sense of elevation, to every thought that crosses the mind.

Actors Matthew Backer and Ewen Leslie are highly impressive, not only with the backbreaking technical demands of the production, but also for the sheer amount of dialogue they need to rattle off at lightning speed. Their barrage of words often amount to little more than dramatic urgency, but to see them in action is to witness a kind of superhuman power in motion. Backer plays Utterson, controlled yet desirous, with an astonishing precision to all the details that he delivers. Leslie plays Jekyll, Hyde and a host of other personalities, with wild abandon at a fabulous intensity.

Dr Jekyll understood that there is something important that needs to be unearthed from within, even though social forces keep it vehemently repressed. The original story presents its arguments in a binary way; it is good or evil, and it is all or nothing. Queering the narrative, as Williams does in this update, allows us to see the shades between black and white, and therefore approach its ideas with a greater compassion, for Jekyll and Hyde, and perhaps more importantly, for ourselves.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 21 – Jul 16, 2022
Playwright: Anne Brontë (adapted by Emme Hoy)
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Remy Hii, Tara Morice, Tuuli Narkle, Ben O’Toole, Steve Rodgers, Eliza Scott, Anthony Taufa, Nikita Waldron
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
It was England in the 19th century, so when Helen Huntington suddenly returns to live in Wildfell Hall without her husband, much consternation arises. Published under the pseudonym Acton Bell in 1848, Anne Brontë’s novel The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, was an exploration of family abuse considered daring in Victorian times. This stage adaptation by Emme Hoy certainly seeks to place focus, through a contemporary lens, on the gendered disparity in the ways our societies assign power. Hoy says all the right things, in order that her play bears undeniable gravitas, but the plot although creatively structured, struggles to communicate the story with clarity, leaving its audience confused for significant durations.

Jessica Arthur’s direction of the work succeeds at imbuing modern flavours into an old story, so that we may connect more intimately with the concerns of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, but the play’s anti-chronology is made further complicated by many of the cast having to play multiple yet somewhat similar characters. The abrupt shifts in time also prevents viewers from sufficiently engaging emotions, whether tragic or joyful. Before we can feel in meaningful ways for any part of the narrative, it pivots elsewhere, making our senses adapt to yet another different place.

Thankfully, the cast is uniformly strong, with lead actor Tuuli Narkle demonstrating impressive authenticity for the wide range of mental states that her complex character experiences. Helen is strong and weak, happy and sad, just like any real woman, and Narkle’s portrayal of all those conflicting qualities, proves to be completely convincing. Helen’s love interests are played by Remy Hii and Ben O’Toole, both highly charismatic and compelling, with Hii excelling at creating a comically adorable personality, and O’Toole shining as the contemptible antagonist. Eliza Scott is memorable in her dual roles of Mary and Millicent, able to introduce idiosyncrasy in ways that encourage audience identification. It is debatable whether Scott’s live singing is incorporated seamlessly enough, but their abilities, as actor and singer, are beyond question.

Music by composer Clemence Williams is thoroughly beautiful, and atmospheric in all the appropriate ways, able to place our sensibilities somewhere between the historical and the present, so that we may perceive Helen’s period drama from a decidedly current position. Trent Suidgeest’s lights are at their best when sultry, offering deliciously moody visions that speak on the story’s dangerous aspects. An ambitious set design by the very accomplished Elizabeth Gadsby ensures that our need for spectacle is suitably addressed, and Renée Mulder’s costumes meld theatricality with accuracy, so that Victorian values are never far from our minds.

Whether or not one regards that epoch as part of one’s own history, to live on this land, is to have to contend with the remnants of that English past. Helen’s problems, of having to survive in a man’s world and not on one’s own terms, can however be seen as commonplace and universal. Most of us come from backgrounds, where our mothers (and their mothers) have had to suffer indignity and injustice. Most of us have seen our mothers (and their mothers) struggle to live up to their fullest potentials. It is true that every new generation will inherit those abhorrent conditions, but it is also true that we are capable of learning from the past, even if our evolution can seem forever at snail’s pace.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Death of a Salesman (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Dec 3 – 22, 2021
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Callan Colley, Jacek Koman, Josh McConville, Philip Quast, Bruce Spence, Thuso Lekwape, Helen Thomson, Contessa Treffone, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Brigid Zengeni, Alan Zhu
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Willy Loman is finally waking up to the fact that so many of life’s promises are bound to amount to nothing. The 63 year-old salesman has worked hard for decades, completely invested in the American Dream, but with the impending certainty of death, comes the realisation that he had been sold a big fat lie. It is now 72 years since Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman had first appeared on Broadway. Much has changed in the ways we live, yet the play’s central ideas seem never to lose their pertinence. Capitalism continues to broaden its grip over the very values with which we navigate existence, and no matter how many times we hear Willy Loman’s story, it appears few of us can avoid his fate. Such is the control, that desire for money and status, has over so many.

In her faithful 21st century rendition, director Paige Rattray has ensured a presentation stunning in its aesthetics, with exquisite design work occupying our attention over the near three-hour duration. The legacy of Edward Hopper in particular, is referenced beautifully in its evocation of 1940’s Americana. Paul Jackson’s lights steal the show, painterly and sublimely dramatic, in their bold manifestations of every tragic scene.

David Fleischer’s set design alters proportions of the proscenium, in order that we may obtain more intimate glimpses into the small lives being explored, whilst conveying the decrepitude of the Loman world view that many of us inevitably share. Costumes by Teresa Negroponte make statements about aspiration and disappointment, as they help transport us to a nostalgia that is more disconcerting than wistful. Music and sound design by Clemence Williams is noir-tinged, almost macabre in its grand invocations of regret and broken dreams.

Aspects of the performance utilises the device of a Greek Chorus, thankfully in an understated manner, which help manufacture a sense of gloom, and to prevent the vast space from falling too frequently into an unbearable emptiness. There is however a certain lack of soulfulness in the staging. Undoubtedly we witness a lot of passion being displayed, most notably by Jacek Koman who plays an irrepressible Willy, but the ensemble is not always convincing in their efforts, to represent the spirit of a play that aims to stand up for the little guy.

As Linda, actor Helen Thomson takes every opportunity to bring levity to a dark tale, but a lack in chemistry between the Loman spouses, has a tendency to make the mother and wife character seem somewhat disconnected. Callan Colley and Josh McConville are the sons, Happy and Biff respectively, both amiable personalities, if slightly surface in their depictions of a collapsing patriarchy. McConville does however, bring the show to a satisfying crescendo, late in the piece, when Biff unravels and exposes the truths about his torment.

Willy Loman’s death is important. We will all go about our lives, finding individual ways to figure out what is true and what are lies, based on all manner of evidence and introspection, but featuring prominently in Arthur Miller’s play is the undeniable centrepiece of a person’s death. The decisions we make, the things we value, and the way we love, should never be divorced from the singular fact of certain death, yet we seem in our American Dreams to forever act as though the self is immortal. “You can’t take it with you” is a common refrain, if only we care to listen.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Grand Horizons (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 7 – Jul 3, 2021
Playwright: Bess Wohl
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: John Bell, Linda Cropper, Vanessa Downing, James Majoos, Johnny Nasser, Zindzi Okenyo, Guy Simon
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Nancy has asked for a divorce. Instead of congratulating her on daring to reach for happier days in the twilight years, her adult sons desperately try to change her mind, determined to keep her tethered to a life that she clearly deems unsatisfactory. At the centre of Bess Wohl’s Grand Horizons is Nancy and Bill’s 50-year marriage, offering a framework through which our basic values as individuals and as collectives, are interrogated. The very idea that a person’s efforts to end a bad relationship, are met with despair, is a clear indication of our capacity to be so distorted in the ways we conceive of existence.

It is a surreptitiously philosophical work, accomplished with a wonderful sense of humour, and often with a subversive streak. Wohl diminishes the persuasiveness of her own arguments however, by rendering the family’s wealth invisible in her discussions about female independence. The desire to lead us to a pleasing conclusion too, can feel somewhat of a cop out, but the play is undeniably enjoyable, full of wit and whimsy that makes for a hilarious and thought-provoking experience.

Nancy’s big beige sterile house, is an ironic picture of middle-class mediocrity and boredom. Production designer Renée Mulder delivers a comedic conflation, of aspiration and of depression, in her interpretation of boomer suburban resplendence. Lights by Verity Hampson and sound by Clemence Williams are subtly resolved, to honour all the clever ideas and the incessant jokes, that make Grand Horizons quite the unforgettable experience.

Certainly memorable is actor Linda Cropper, who brings extraordinary complexity, along with brilliant timing, to the role of Nancy. It is a remarkably intelligent performance, conveying great integrity for the older woman who finally realises that she deserves better. Also highly entertaining is Guy Simon as Brian, the gay son, who has a difficult time extricating his own identity from his parents’ parting of ways. Simon plays the flamboyant drama teacher with a dazzling theatricality, keeping the laughter sustained for as long as he remains on stage.

It is a strong cast overall, but supporting player James Majoos is exceptional in his single appearance, as the carefree Tommy, incredibly extravagant in approach, for one of the play’s more outrageous scenes. Director Jessica Arthur proves herself a formidable creator of comedy; her strategies vary from delicate to bold, demonstrating an adventurous creative spirit, and a serious commitment to tickling her audience.

We place far too much emphasis on the length of relationships, and invest far too little into understanding what makes a good one. Elizabeth Taylor married and divorced eight times, because she knew when she had become unhappy, and made sure to improve conditions whenever necessary. For that, she was routinely ridiculed and insulted. On the other hand, people like Nancy who tolerate untold decades of misery, are revered solely for the longevity of their unions, with the actual experience of those years and years, seemingly irrelevant. Few things are worth greater celebration, than when a woman finds the courage to walk away from a failed marriage. The danger and humiliation that she has to contend with, is a price that she is willing to pay, for the promise of a better life.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Fun Home (Sydney Theatre Company / Melbourne Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Apr 27 – May 29, 2021
Book and Lyrics: Lisa Kron (based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel)
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Gilbert Bradman, Ryan Gonzalez, Emily Havea, Mia Honeysett, Lucy Maunder, Jensen Mazza, Maggie McKenna, Adam Murphy, Marina Prior
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
In the American musical Fun Home, based on the autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, we observe the cartoonist hard at work on her drafting table, looking back at memories of her difficult father. Bruce was a baby boomer, and like many queer people of that generation, never came to terms with being gay. Even as Alison began to come out as lesbian, his personal anguish never diminished, struggling even to offer support to his own daughter at a time when she had needed him most.

Clearly intended to be an emotional theatrical experience, the show’s reliance on an unlikeable character is risky, and even though the music is predictably and relentlessly sentimental, it is doubtful if audiences could ever feel the full impact of the hardship that this family had gone through. Alison goes to considerable lengths to find forgiveness and understanding for her father, but it is arguable if the musical provides sufficiently for us to respond with deep compassion, or even to care enough for these characters, to be able to invest adequately into their story.

The staging is a polished one, with Alicia Clements’ design facilitating efficaciously, the need for frequent oscillations of time and space. Matt Scott’s lights are beautiful, especially when depicting illusory moments during which we see characters suspended in the undefined abyss of Alison’s imagination. Director Dean Bryant introduces an excellent sense of pizzazz to the production, making sure that we are entertained to the fullest of the show’s potential. He ensures that the story is told with clarity, including the unsavoury revelations relating to Bruce’s life.

We see Alison at three periods of maturity, from childhood and her college years, to the grown woman she is today. Child star Mia Honeysett is fantastic as Small Alison, wonderfully nuanced and authentic, in her portrayal of a child navigating complicated family dynamics, as well as her own blossoming homosexuality. Medium Alison is performed by Maggie McKenna whose singing voice proves a divine pleasure, and Lucy Maunder is captivating as Big Alison, bringing a palpable tenderness that underpins the show. The striking Adam Murphy does his best to honestly depict Bruce, warts and all, but it is Marina Prior who leaves a strong impression playing his wife Helen. When she finally breaks her silence and delivers a faultless solo number, Prior’s technical prowess brings momentary elevation to the production, inviting us to luxuriate in the sheer genius of her singing.

It should come as no surprise that humans are sometimes much more troubling, than a 100-minute Broadway musical can accommodate. The formulaic nature of these creations, requires a form of storytelling that follows many rules, and we discover that truth can sometimes become its nemesis. Bruce’s sexual encounters with underaged boys, is not forgivable, especially in this space of commercial theatre. Fun Home requires us to regard Bruce’s past sins with generosity, the way his daughter has to, in order that our emotions may become engaged in accordance with the traditional peaks and valleys of a conventional musical. Bruce’s transgressions however, are much too severe, at least for the old-fashion song-and-dance format.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Appropriate (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 15 – Apr 10, 2021
Playwright: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Wesley Enoch
Cast: Lucy Bell, Joel Bishop, Johnny Carr, James Fraser, Brenna Harding, Ella Jacob, Mandy McElhinney, Robbi Morgan, Sam Worthington
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Three siblings return, after the death of their father, to their Arkansas family home, in anticipation of the estate’s imminent sale. They are an unhappy bunch, and like many classics of stage and screen from the United States, these white Americans squabble and weep in each other’s presence, putting on display interpersonal conflicts and psychological trauma, as though resolution could eventually be found through performative acts of catharsis. In Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate however, characters ignore the most serious problems underpinning their very existence, unable to acknowledge fundamental faults that are more about a legacy relating to their Confederate history, than they are about individual infirmity.

Jacob-Jenkins draws a link between a sick society, and private lives constantly in search of emancipation. We are familiar with the idea that personal anguish compels us to seek remedies, but we rarely think about addressing wider contexts (in the case of Appropriate, both societal and familial), as being crucial in efforts to achieve a sense of well-being, or peace. This is especially true for those in positions of privilege. Jacob-Jenkins’ play features an all-white family, none of whom accept that the racism propagated by their forebears, has anything to do with their disquiet, much less be attentive to the racism that they continue to reinforce in their own daily lives.

This political statement, although a hugely consequential one, is made almost surreptitiously. The characters sweep these things under the carpet, and in the absence of an outside world that includes people of colour, none of what the play wishes to say, is presented explicitly. Director Wesley Enoch too, does not bring abundant emphasis to these matters, trusting instead that the message will resonate for those who want to hear it. Positioning the show as a somewhat conventional family drama however, means that Appropriate is not always satisfying. The reliance on a sense of realism, in efforts to make the narrative engrossing, has a tendency to reduce the drama to something slightly pedestrian. The play is much more than rich people fighting and being upset about their parochial concerns, but we are only provided glimpses of the real stakes that are actually involved.

An unevenness in the cast is largely responsible, for the production not conveying as much nuance and depth as required. Sam Worthington demonstrates good focus and intention, but an unfortunate lack in control over his voice and physicality in the role of Bo, makes for a confused, and confusing, performance that leaves us cold. Doing most of the heavy lifting is Mandy McElhinney, who shines brightly as resentful sister Toni, able to inject exuberance and irony into the dark comedy. Johnny Carr plays the intriguingly ambiguous Franz, proving himself a captivating actor, if a little too convincing as the reformed sex offender.

Work on design aspects is accomplished in general, with the closing minutes showcasing a dilapidating house, without actors, leaving a particularly strong impression. Set by Elizabeth Gadsby, lights by Trent Suidgeest, and sound by Steve Francis, combine to create the production’s most striking moments. We witness the house literally falling into disrepair, ravaged by time and by ghosts. We watch the spectacle unfold, and without words, hear the important questions ring through the chilly air. What had been left unsaid, is finally unleashed, but one wonders if this obtuse conclusion, although beautiful, is enough to drive home the moral of the story.

Observing white people in places like American and Australia, deny their racism, is nothing new for people of colour. It is always someone else at fault, and it is always a problem too big to fix today. There is always disowning of liability, and there is always a diminishment of responsibility. They routinely try to make everything vanish into thin air, as though out of sight, out of mind. They are terrified of being labelled racists, but every day prolong and extend the effects of racism. They say they did not create the system, but refuse to acknowledge that they are often its sole beneficiaries. The people in Appropriate will say that the worst is behind us, but what we see before our eyes, is a tragedy that rages on, only in hushed tones.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: The Picture Of Dorian Gray (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Nov 25 – Dec 19, 2020
Playwright: Kip Williams (adapted from the Oscar Wilde novel)
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Eryn Jean Norvill
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Self-preservation is in our human nature, but when it manifests in forms of narcissism, we have to wonder if that urge of vanity, is in fact paradoxically self-destructive. Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray tells the story of a man so taken by his own beauty, he sells his soul in order to forever retain it. That juxtaposition of soul and beauty sets up a dichotomy, that makes us consider the inextricability of one with the other. If the soul is essentially good, Wilde wants us to think that beauty is ultimately impossible, in those who are fundamentally bad. His narrative is compelling, although the evidence in our real lives, may prove those beliefs less convincing.

Kip Williams’ ultra modern version places on the stage, front and centre, screens that display digitalised imagery, most of which can be thought of as selfies of Wilde’s nineteenth century characters, seeming to represent something more tangible than the flimsy yet seductive pixels we encounter in cinematic style. It is a thrilling production, fast-paced and very attractive, able to hold us captive with stunning sights and sounds, inventive from start to finish. Appropriate for our culture, one that has been taken over by mobile devices, and that the show so fervently interrogates, causing the viewer to oscillate between suspecting that it might all be slightly facile, and thinking that maybe there is something to be said about existence in 2020, as we obsess over all things pertaining to facades. In some ways, one could go away thinking that Williams has proven Wilde wrong.

It is the surface that we find glorious in Williams’ vision, with Marg Horwell’s work as designer, and Nick Schlieper’s lights providing an endless stream of breathtaking moments, along with David Bergman’s very sophisticated and thoughtful video work, bringing Australian theatre into a futuristic new era. Clemence Williams too, excels with sound and music, especially memorable when her approach turns baroque, and we feel aroused by the surprising dimensions she is able to build for our senses. Stage Manager Minka Stevens, along with all the crew, must be congratulated for their valiant and expert fulfillment of an exceptionally complex undertaking.

Actor Eryn Jean Norvill plays Dorian Gray and all the other 25 roles. It is the tallest of orders, not only having to switch between personalities at lightning speed for the entire two-hour duration, but also for the extreme demands of an impossibly technical show, involving multiple cameras, and interactions with pre-recorded footage. Norvill’s spirit is indomitable, but we wonder if any human is able to meet every requirement of this merciless challenge.

There is no question that our lives are turning increasingly digital. Some of us might still hang on to ideas that our analogue selves will always be ultimately more genuine, but forces that want us to relinquish remaining parts that are private and physical, are winning every battle. As we transform into pixels and data, at the insistence of those capitalistic entities, we begin to learn that the digital is no longer merely a representation of something else. Images on a screen are becoming more real than what we see without devices as conduit. Also not forgetting, that we are marching towards a time, when the only images we see are either digital or dreams. No one will ever get to Dorian Gray’s flesh, only the evidence of his being, in computerised forms. There is a narcissism in our resistance to this future. We want to believe in our supremacy over technology, as we had believed in our supremacy over nature and other species. Humans seem never to learn that the world is not about us.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Wonnangatta (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Sep 21 – Oct 31, 2020
Playwright: Angus Cerini
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Wayne Blair, Hugo Weaving
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
We see in Angus Cerini’s Wonnangatta, two men in various states of distress, coming to grips with the murder of a friend. The story takes place in the remote Victorian Alps, one century ago, inevitably taking the familiar tone of the Australian gothic fable. Our obsession with the landscape, and the nature of our mateship, come to the fore as the characters wrestle with isolation, despair and terror. Cerini’s writing is remarkably visceral in quality, allowing for ample manifestations of mood in the theatrical form to activate various aspects of our imagination.

Production design by Jacob Nash is sparse but highly evocative, featuring a structure reminiscent of a meandering cliff, that works in conjunction with Nick Schlieper’s lights to convincingly shepherd us into the abyss of Wonnangatta‘s haunting realms. Music and sound by Stefan Gregory provide valuable demarcations that shift our perceptions of time, in accordance with the men’s increasing bewilderment.

Actors Wayne Blair and Hugo Weaving bring undeniable charisma and gravity to the experience, although multiple blunders with collisions of their dialogue prove distracting. Director Jessica Arthur introduces a gradual crescendo to tension levels that sustains our interest, and it becomes evident that the performance is at its most enjoyable when the duo invests in the kinetic poeticism of the writing. An emphasis on the narrative’s linearity can however, work against the strengths of the show. We want to indulge in the despondent beauty of its netherworld, but often find ourselves trying to pay attention to details that detract from its more ephemeral pleasures.

Stories about our forefathers tend to involve hardship, and in 2020, that resonance is certainly apparent. There is a constant sense of foreboding in Wonnangatta that relates so directly to our lives today, as though fear, misery and anxiety are the most fundamental features of our humanity. We are reminded that survival is what we have to do. For decades, many have lived with lofty ideals, thinking that the meaning of life relates to so much more, than keeping alive to welcome the morning. It is a humbling moment, one most of us could do well to appreciate.

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