Review: Diving For Pearls (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 8 – Oct 28, 2017
Playwright: Katherine Thomson
Director: Darren Yap
Cast: Michelle Doake, Jack Finsterer, Steve Rodgers, Ebony Vagulans, Ursula Yovich
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
We ascribe only noble values to the Aussie battler, because we believe hard and honest work to be the greatest of virtues. In our celebration of the underdog, it is easy to forget the injustices that society inflicts on our disadvantaged. Katherine Thomson’s Diving For Pearls shows us the struggles of the poor, but instead of indulging in a pointless admiration of their fortitude, we question how it is that we allow these extreme discrepancies in wealth to exist, as though it is a completely natural and healthy phenomenon.

Barbara is a brassy broad who is more than willing to give life a go, naive in her trust that dreams do come true, that all you have to do is to play your cards right, and all the appropriate rewards will eventually be delivered. She dates Den, less ambitious but equally accepting of his place in the world. The couple do not complain about their lot in life, hardly aware of the forces at work that are determined to keep them at the bottom of the food chain.

Steve Rodgers and Ursula Yovich are the charismatic leads, both tremendously likeable and hence highly effective, in having us empathise with the stories they present, even as their characters make some very questionable choices. Playing young Verge is the remarkable Ebony Vagulans, who leaves a strong impression with her vibrant and animated presence. She brings to the role exceptional nuance, in both physical and psychological terms, that reflects sensitivity and a sophisticated theatrical instinct. The production does not always speak with great power, but audiences will find the tale nonetheless meaningful.

Poverty is required so that the wealthy can retain social dominance. Those at the bottom are made to believe that they are owed nothing by society, and that all the riches of the universe are available to them, if only they were smarter, worked harder, or simply luckier. When Barbara and Den find themselves unfulfilled, we wonder if there is ever recourse for those in their position. If we are comfortable with access becoming increasingly restricted, it will only be radical action that can bring us to something fair and balanced.

www.griffintheatre.com,au

Review: Rice (Griffin Theatre Company / Queensland Theatre)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 21 – Aug 26, 2017
Playwright: Michele Lee
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Kristy Best, Hsiao-Ling Tang
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Yvette cleans Nisha’s office, but it is not the company employing them, that brings them together. Both are Asian-Australian women, and although their personal concerns and interests are miles apart, there is something intrinsic about being ethnic minorities, and of being “the fairer sex”, that makes it easy for them to bond. In Michele Lee’s Rice, we encounter two distinct and fascinating personalities; people we see everyday in our cities, but who rarely make an appearance in the stories we tell in the arts and media. They are regular people, as all our surface pretences portray us to be, but Nisha and Yvette have revelations that are rich enough for any stage or screen.

The two women are imagined with beautiful detail by their playwright. We learn about their worlds, their problems and the way they negotiate life at every turn. Through these keen observations, Lee is able to offer an accurate reflection of how many of us are, in today’s Australia. These ideas however, do not necessarily combine readily for great drama or comedy. The play begins very slowly, with excessive focus on Nisha’s tiresome corporate career, which she pursues with admirable ferocity and little humour. When we discover Yvette’s difficulties at home, the narrative suddenly tightens, but our focus is made to disperse, in Rice‘s ambitions for a more complex structure of storytelling.

We watch Nisha and Yvette go through an emotional time, but we are rarely moved. There is much to cover, and we are rushed through every scene and every possible piquancy. Actors Kristy Best and Hsiao-Ling Tang are the model of conviction, both unshakeable and glorious in their confidence. Best in particular is extraordinarily energetic, especially impressive when playing subsidiary roles, but there is a sense that the actors are compensating for a piece of writing that can otherwise feel muted and underwhelming. We are engaged with the show, usually because the performances are so intense.

The women are an unlikely pairing, and the trust they have for each other is reassuring, though surprising. Against the oppressive power wielded by white men, that attempts to destroy all that they hold dear, Nisha and Yvette find a friendship that offers support and strength. The disparities that exist between them, in the illusory shape of social status, education, wealth and sophistication, are dissolved by a patriarchy that is determined to leave them stripped of all but the perceived weakness of being feminine and coloured. We see them forming an alliance through those very qualities of disparagement, and we await retaliation.

www.griffintheatre.com,au

5 Questions with Kristy Best and Hsiao-Ling Tang

Kristy Best

Hsiao-Ling Tang: What role do you see yourself playing in 5 years time?
Kristy Best: I see myself in a comedy that I’ve written for myself, after all, that’s probably the only way you can play the kind of roles of want to play!

You’ve used cats before as your animal influence for particular characters, what animal best describes you?
I would say I’m a dog, and then I figured that there may just be an online quiz that determines your animal, and hey presto there is, it agrees, I’m a dog. Obviously a dog that googles everything.

Whats your fave meal that prepares you before a show?
In Brisbane we discovered that a beetroot salad and vegan chocolate cake did the trick, right Hsiao-Ling? In Sydney, now that I’m home, it’s most definitely sushi. Anything light but filling really.

Which iconic male character, in film or stage would you like to play?
Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. I’m not too sure with theatre, I’ve always wanted to be a part of an all-female Glengarry Glen Ross. I think that would be fun. It’s obvious I prefer the flawed types.

Next project?
I have more hosting for Nickelodeon coming up and I’m hoping I will get the chance to do more comedy in the new year, I’d really love that.

Hsiao-Ling Tang

Kristy Best: What has been your favourite role in your career and why?
Hsiao-Ling Tang: I loved playing Pearl in Single Asian Female earlier this year. She not only was a strong three-dimensional female diverse character but she had real heart, a real story and she’s funny. Comedy is a joy to do plus I got to sing as well. That role had it all.

If you could play any kind of character, who would you play?
I’ve always wanted to play a villain. I don’t get cast as a baddy. I think they’re fun to play and more interesting in their intentions.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
Well, I’m doing it now as well as acting. I’m a mummy of two beautiful girls. Also travelling and eating my way around the world. I’m a massive foodie.

What would you like to see more of in the Australian theatre scene?
That’s easy, women and diversity. I think its happening more and there’s much more discussion about the issues so its in the theatre-makers consciousness, but we have a long way to go.

What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
End of a long schools tour, we had a trunk on wheels that we stood in as a ship. We stacked it, nearly fell out then got the giggles and took a while to recover.

Kristy Best and Hsiao-Ling Tang are appearing in Rice, by Michele Lee.
Dates: 21 July – 26 August, 2017
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: Sunset Strip (The Uncertainty Principle / Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 14 – Jul 1, 2017
Playwright: Suzie Miller
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Emma Jackson, Simon Lyndon, Lex Marinos, Georgina Symes
Image by Patrick Boland

Theatre review
Phoebe has lost custody of her children, due to a history of illicit drug use. Her sister Caroline has been battling cancer, while dealing with a relationship breakup. Their father Ray is suffering dementia. Life is hard, as we well know, but it is not all doom and gloom with these sisters. They are determined to get on with it, making the best of the cards they were dealt.

In Sunset Strip, playwright Suzie Miller brings a family together at a time when they are in desperate need of each other’s support. None of them realises this kindred reliance of course, for it is easy to take these relationships for granted, and like many of us, Phoebe and Caroline have resentments, jealousies and unresolved issues from the past, so their reunion was always going to be precarious.

Miller’s detailing of that delicate balance, between joy and pain in how they love, is full of tenderness, subtle but powerful. Their interchanges are nuanced, splendidly complex, and always with a gentle, familiar ring that will remind us of our own homes. When families talk, it is what we say between the lines that matters most, and Sunset Strip‘s sensitive explication of those dynamics, is what makes it feel like every person’s story.

Director Anthony Skuse’s quiet approach to storytelling is a perfect fit for the play. In this intimate venue, the drama envelopes as it unfolds, and we fall deeper and deeper into its emotional grip. Skuse’s work for Sunset Strip transcends the need for a dominant narrative, getting us to the heart of its characters by simply presenting four individuals who are so thoroughly authentic and vulnerable, that finding a meaningful connection with them is inevitable. This is theatre at its most moving (sans manipulative show tunes and fantastical storylines), made even more affecting by audience members sobbing uncontrollably in neighbouring seats.

Emma Jackson and Georgina Symes play the siblings, both laid bare spectacularly, allowing us to peer right into their fractured souls. The part of their ailing father is performed by Lex Marinos, who has us transfixed in the precision of his approach, and heartbroken by his depiction of a parent who can no longer provide guidance and care. Simon Lyndon is the love interest who offers much more than meets the eye, with an ability to introduce disarming and devastating poignancy, when you least expect it. These actors are truly wonderful.

No amount of love, can prevent people from growing apart, but it is in the capacity to make sacrifices, that the depths of love is revealed. Love is not about holding tight, in fact, it is more often about letting go, but there will come moments where people are required to sit together, maybe to laugh, or maybe to fight, so that love can do its job. When life turns too hard, loneliness will only add fuel to fire. Not every problem will have solutions, but a warm embrace makes everything, miraculously, easier.

www.griffintheatre.com,au

Review: The Ham Funeral (Siren Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 17 – Jun 10, 2017
Playwright: Patrick White
Director: Kate Gaul
Cast: Andy Dexterity, Eliza Logan, Carmen Lysiak, Johnny Nasser, Jane Phegan, Sebastian Robinson, Jenny Wu
Image by Lucy Parakhina

Theatre review
At the centre of The Ham Funeral is a Young Man without the certainty of a name. Unsure of his own identity, interpretations of what goes on around him is correspondingly ambiguous. Patrick White’s surrealist work is not one to rely on for narrative pleasure, but as a platform for theatrical delight, it swells with possibilities.

Director Kate Gaul identifies the extremities in the play, whether they be comedic, dramatic, grotesque or celestial, and turns them into sequences of sheer and intense pleasure. There is a cohesive whole, but the primary enjoyment of this staging is in the savouring of all its deeply fascinating moments. A vague logic does exist, but our senses, beyond those that comprise the rational mind, are fired up and called upon to engage, in a visceral way that can only happen within a live setting.

It is a waking dream in which we find ourselves immersed. Nothing looks real, but we know that everything points to something authentic. We are gripped by its mystery, and the hypnotic ambience so expertly manufactured by its team of daring creatives. Hartley T A Kemp lights the space so that everything seems to float in an abyss of subconsciousness, and Nate Edmondson’s sensational sounds of ringing and rumbling take over our nervous system, directly manipulating our moods and responses.

Gleefully infectious, the wonderful cast looks and feels to be made up of all those voted most likely to run off and join the circus. Idiosyncratic and profoundly eccentric, we are persuaded to relate to the show in a manner that is perhaps unusual for many. Eliza Logan is the magnificent leading lady, completely enthralling as Alma Lusty; wild, depraved and primal, yet impressively precise with the design and execution of all her choices. Intelligent and inventive, Logan’s performance in the flamboyant, mad world of The Ham Funeral is truly unforgettable. The nameless Young Man is played by Sebastian Robinson with a physical proficiency that adds exceptional beauty to the production’s visual emphasis. Also remarkable is Johnny Nasser, deliciously exaggerated while maintaining a measured sensitivity, in both of his contrasting roles.

A century has past since the dawn of Dada, and all things surreal or absurd may no longer be thought of as immediately relevant, but art must never shy away from conversations that exist at the outer limits of rationality and reason. If we talk only about the things we know, the chance of us meaningfully expanding consciousness is meagre. To break free from incessantly repetitious dialogue that has become a habit of modern living, it can only be beneficial to indulge in something radically new, especially when getting to the point, is not the point of it.

www.sirentheatreco.com

Review: Smurf In Wanderland (National Theatre Of Parramatta / Griffin Theatre Company)

>Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 2 – 13, 2017
Playwright: David Williams
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: David Williams
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Life means little without passion. David Williams loves football, and he is here to tell us all about it, whether we like it or not. Smurf In Wanderland offers us more than a glimpse into the world of a football tragic, and while it may often be tedious for those of us who are sport-averse, Williams’ more general observations about Sydney life are truly valuable. He talks about modern city tribes, and all the silly things we do to feel belonged. There are attempts at explaining desire, the most potent yet bewildering of human qualities, looking at why we do the things we do, and the bizarreness of us all as a species.

There are moments of poignancy, fleeting yet memorable, including a sequence about the discontentment of those in Western Sydney, and our habitual postcode bias against those perceived to be less metropolitan. We delve into the fundamental masochism involved in rooting for teams when games will always insist on having losers. There is a lot to relish about Smurf In Wanderland, but it all lies beneath the surface. We are given an opportunity to understand our community better, but it is not always an enjoyable process. Sifting through Williams’ obsessive detailing of soccer fandom is fun for some, but exasperating for others. It is a story about us and them, told in a way that makes the ostracism it is concerned about, feel very genuine indeed.

As performer, Williams is charismatic and engaging., with a determination that forbids our attention from straying. His enthusiasm for the Sydney Football Club is a propulsive force that fills the stage with energy, and we must respond with anything but ambivalence. At the end of the piece, there will be individuals who experience fulfilment, and those who will feel worse for wear, but it is likely that all will share a fondness for the personality we had met.

The presentation breaks through the superficial walls we erect between one another. We imagine people to be different, as a way to validate our own existences, but we all exist in undeniable parallels. Our values may be different, but the lenses through which we view the world do not alter the world as it is. If art and sport are in opposition, then Smurf In Wanderland forces us out of our echo chambers and disrupts the silo effect, at least for one night. To love thy neighbour is easier said than done, but few things are as worthwhile an exercise.

www.riversideparramatta.com.au/NTofP | www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: The Homosexuals, Or Faggots (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 17 – Apr 29, 2017
Playwright: Declan Greene
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Mama Alto, Simon Burke, Simon Corfield, Genevieve Lemon, Lincoln Younes
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Faggots are a kind of meatball dish, but the word is not usually used for that particular meaning. Like the n-word and the c-word, we have learned that some language has to be curbed, due to the power it exerts over the disenfranchised, who have to be protected from the cruelty that linguistic ammunition can brandish.

In Declan Greene’s important and ultra-modern work, The Homosexuals, Or Faggots, we investigate the nature of this constraint, not only in how we speak, but also in the lived experience of how we negotiate with each other’s positions in society. It is a discussion about the levels of privilege different groups of people are perceived to be inhabiting, and the layers of truth and illusion within those differentials. We think of each other as being certain types of people who exist on various hierarchical levels, but these can be misconstrued.

Warren and Kim are an inner-Sydney gay couple, both white and cis-male*. Having emerged from the systematic prejudice of homosexuals in earlier decades, they are now a part of the establishment; wealthy and entitled. Being the first generation of gays who live openly and free from persecution, their lives are self-imagined, with no prior examples to emulate. Their values have to be invented, and what constitutes a good life becomes a confusing ordeal. New to being top dog of Australian society, they are expected to be compassionate and altruistic, having tolerated insistent subjugation in previous years, but the couple is engrossed in their newfound prosperity, unable to behave in accordance with the responsibilities required of them, or are perhaps simply oblivious to their own elitism.

It is a highly intellectual exercise, dressed up in a lot of low-brow theatricality. Inspired by classic European farce, the show is rowdy, rude and ridiculous, but each of its uproarious manoeuvres is meticulously informed by the progressive politics that burns at its core. The audience relates to the work with a demanding complexity, laughing at every antic but engaging intimately with its cutting edge ideas. The action happens very quickly, and our minds are in a frenzy trying to decide right from wrong, real from false. Director Lee Lewis leaves us no room to breathe, insisting that we are swept up in the anxiety-fuelled mania, of her timely and accurate portrait of life in Sydney, 2017.

The hysterical and sweaty ensemble gives us everything. Simon Burke’s portrayal of middle-aged hedonism is as frantic as the cocaine that cushions his luxuriant existence, and although the production provides little room for nuance, his Warren is a character many of us will find familiar, convincing and unexpectedly sympathetic. His husband, Kim is preoccupied with all things academic, but much as he thinks intently about the world, he too lives on the surface. Simon Corfield’s exquisite performance of that duality is perfectly tuned, and incredible to watch. Also memorable is Genevieve Lemon as Diana, the only person on stage with a real soul. Confidently comedic, yet persuasively moving, Lemon makes us laugh and cry as she wills.

Political correctness may seem to be outmoded, but it remains a necessary protection against ignorance, wilful or otherwise. When we see idiots get voted into government, it is clear that hate is a form of currency that never stops working. The harmful things that people say, do in fact benefit those who trade in fear and stupidity. It is understandable then, that those same people would want to expand the parameters of concepts around freedom of speech. This week, our Caucasian Prime Minister is trying to make it permissible that we use racial differences to offend, insult and humiliate each other. We should never be surprised when the powerful wish to extend their dominance in the world, but when those who have benefited from the fruit of arduous social movements refuse to give back after their ascendancy, the disgust is intolerable.

*Read about cisgender at Wikipedia.

www.griffintheatre.com.au