Review: Cusp (ATYP)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 11 – 28, 2020
Playwright: Mary Anne Butler
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Stevie Jean, Josh McElroy, Nyasha Ogden
Images by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
In a Northern Territory rural town, three young people are about to leave their teenage years behind. Unlike many of their counterparts in big cities, Elvis, Maddie and Rosie have no time to waste. Mary Anne Butler’s Cusp tackles the worlds of those who do not have the luxury to slowly figure things out. It is a story about class and poverty, an exploration into structures we have to operate under that are manifestly unjust and inadequate, yet are rarely questioned. At seventeen or eighteen, characters in the play have to deal with matters as severe as pregnancy and incarceration, with little support and guidance from those who should know better.

Butler’s scintillating dialogue keeps us engrossed in the personalities she introduces. Director Fraser Corfield brings sincerity and honesty to the play, creating a show with genuine resonances, even though its staging can at times feel static and visually repetitive. Lights by Jessie Davis and sound by Brad Fawcett are sensitively designed, for a remarkably elegant style of presentation.

Three impressive actors bring passion and conviction to their roles, all of them adept at having the audience spellbound. As Rosie, Nyasha Ogden is a captivating presence, warm and very believable as the Indigenous girl trying to reconcile wishes of her community with personal desires. Stevie Jean depicts Maddie’s loss of innocence with a charming boldness, effective in helping us contemplate how a very young woman can exercise her agency. A memorable Josh McElroy is detailed and delicate as Elvis, a familiar juvenile type with troubling anger issues.

The sentence “some people get better choices to choose from” is uttered twice in Cusp. There is overwhelming evidence that wealth inequality in Australia has risen to an unprecedented level, with the general population experiencing over half a decade of stagnating wages, while constant reports of GDP growth fool us into thinking that the country is being managed well. We continue to think of ourselves as an egalitarian people, but are simultaneously, completely comfortable with ignoring the fact that only a small percentage is reaping the rewards of a strong economy. The rest of us are stuck with the indoctrination, that if life is not working out well, we only have ourselves to blame. We are in fact kept in the dark, whilst the few who are much better off, steal everything they can, in broad daylight.

www.atyp.com.au

Review: Family Values (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 17 – Mar 7, 2020
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Belinda Giblin, Danielle King, Andrew McFarlane, Jamie Oxenbould, Ella Prince, Bishanyia Vincent, Sabryna Walters
Images by Brett Boardman
Theatre review
It is indeed appropriate that white people in Australia should have serious discussions among themselves about immigration, and other matters that require them to challenge their own privileged positions. They are the ones in power, and so much depends on their ability to make concessions in order that all our lives can become more equitable. In David Williamson’s Family Values, we watch rich white people fighting about the right thing to do, ostensibly about Australia’s refugee intake and the worldwide asylum seeker problem, but in fact, the argument that happens in their dining room is much simpler.

The Collins make a lot of noise in Family Values, each of them fired individually by existential angst, but what should have been philosophical and moral debates are embarrassingly reduced to a basic issue of whether seriously ill people should be allowed to stay in Australia, while their refugee status is being considered. The play distracts us with a lot of hullabaloo, misleading us into thinking that privileged North Shore types are actually having broader conversations about immigration and the future of this country, when they are only actually fighting over the destiny of one very sick woman. Needless to say, how we regard people who require serious medical attention, should never be a matter of contention at all, no matter where they come from.

Director Lee Lewis makes sure everyone on stage gets really riled up, and the drama is often gripping over the 90 or so minutes; people are fighting tooth and nail, and there is an inherent pleasure in watching rich people tear each other apart from the sidelines. Dynamics between personalities may be manufactured but there is no denying the intensity of conflict that takes place. The more unrealistic the characters, the more extravagant the performances, which is understandable from the perspective of actors who wish to create something out of nothing.

Jamie Oxenbould and Ella Prince make very bold choices that are frequently jarring, but the alternative of attempting naturalism would clearly make for extremely flaccid interpretations. The one person of colour waiting to be rescued is played by Sabryna Walters, who as Saba, uses her monologue in the second half to deliver a moment of genuine theatrical magic. Her performance of pleading for mercy is powerful and wonderfully emotional, a real treat that reminds us, if only for a few minutes, what we must insist of our artists.

It does not surprise anyone, spoiler alert, that the father of the household Roger eventually steps up and does the right thing, and of course gets celebrated for it, as though he is the true hero in this asinine effort. Powerful people seem to only do good things when they are rewarded disproportionately. Even when innocent lives are at stake, there has to be a profit motive to spur action, and worse, they see no shame in that. Roger Collins wants to be honoured and revered for following the rules set up by those who were just like him, that had come before him. We need to identify the damage that they cause, and establish new ways to get rid of them.

www.griffintheatre.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: Splinter (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 6 – Oct 12, 2019
Playwright: Hilary Bell
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Lucy Bell, Simon Gleeson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Five-year-old Laura has just returned home, after a nine-month disappearance. Her parents are understandably traumatised, but relieved to have their nightmare come to an end. In Hilary Bell’s Splinter however, we see that the family’s problems do not vanish quite so easily, as questions arise about this sudden reunion. There are only two actors in Bell’s play, with little Lauren an apparition that we all have to conjure up with imagination, which proves a fascinating device for something that positions itself within the genre of psychological thriller. The ideas in Splinter are engaging, but it is arguable if its dialogue and plot structure are always effective in delivering the tension so crucial to this form of storytelling.

The show begins innocuously, perhaps even drearily, as a conventional family drama that overloads the stage with saccharine sentimentality. It takes a considerable while before director Lee Lewis introduces suspense elements that let the entertainment begin, by which time our boredom with the daytime television style of presentation had almost completely taken hold. At just over an hour long, there is little opportunity for us to settle sufficiently into the real substance of the piece, but the intrigue that does eventually manifest, is admittedly chilling.

The late transformation in atmosphere is cleverly manufactured by creatives including Alyx Dennison, whose sound design confirms the gear switch, giving us necessary cues to swiftly change focus in our interpretation of the narrative. Video projections by Mic Gruchy and lights by Benjamin Brockman become increasingly theatrical, thus guiding our minds into more pronounced spaces of fantasy and delusion.

Lucy Bell and Simon Gleeson perform the piece with extraordinary conviction, both bringing admirable intensity to a tale involving unimaginable suffering. Gleeson has the additional dimension of paranoia to help enrich his character, which he utilises compellingly, for several powerful moments of bloodcurdling dread. Bell is given less extravagant material, but nonetheless offers a reliable, self-possessed counterpoint that prevents Splinter from veering away from its central truthfulness.

Genre is infinitely more prevalent in film, because the form deals almost exclusively in illusion, and is therefore perfect for stories that require drastic alterations to reality. Theatre that venture into those territories must be praised accordingly, for even daring to test the possibilities of the live stage. There is a supernatural quality to Splinter that is almost inevitable, in its depiction of psychological disturbance. In those moments, the audience participates in seeing things that are not present, almost like artists who have the Midas touch, able to make something out of nothing, and in the process, giving to their communities a kind of magic that brings elevation to us all.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: City Of Gold (Griffin Theatre Co / Queensland Theatre Co)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 26 – Aug 31, 2019
Playwright: Meyne Wyatt
Director: Isaac Drandic
Cast: Jeremy Ambrum, Mathew Cooper, Maitland Schnaars, Shari Sebbens, Anthony Standish, Christopher Stollery, Meyne Wyatt
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Upon the death of his father, Breythe walks off the set of a television commercial, and returns to Kalgoorlie to be with family. The medical establishment’s neglectful treatment of his father sparks a reaction that sees Breythe and his siblings wrestle with difficult discussions, about surviving racism as Indigenous Australians. Meyne Wyatt’s City Of Gold moves between city and bush, to examine one young man’s fight on colonised land. It is a story about the deep prejudice, and of surreptitious genocide, that pervade this country, inescapable no matter where Breythe may go.

Wyatt’s writing is passionate and urgent, able to entertain while it gradually builds intensity. The fury that it contains is an invaluable expression, often hidden away from so-called civilised, Western modes of exchange, where the oppressed must communicate with polite subservience, only to be routinely ignored. Directed by Isaac Drandic, the production pulls no punches, to make a powerful statement about the woeful state of race relations all across this land. Notable work on sound design by Tony Brumpton adds richness to the piece, deftly emphasising the complex emotional dimensions that City Of Gold aims to convey.

As leading man, Wyatt is a compelling presence, entirely persuasive with all that he brings to the stage. Charming in humorous sections, but it is in explicit moments of political confrontation that he absolutely devastates. Wyatt’s monologue at the beginning of Act 2 ranks as one of the most important theatrical moments in our stage history. His siblings are played by Shari Sebbens and Mathew Cooper, both actors captivating with their sincere portrayals, able to demonstrate a resolute dignity alongside their characters’ experiences of adversity and injustice. We are moved by the performances of Jeremy Ambrum and Maitaland Schnaars, who share an unexpected delicacy in their divergent depictions of Aboriginal identities. Dramatic flourishes by Anthony Standish and Christopher Stollery help to provide tension, as a series of unsavoury types who exemplify so much of what is wrong with our societies.

It is the most generous of gestures when our Indigenous artists choose to embody the trauma and pain of their communities. They put themselves through a state of virtual torment, using bodies that know little difference between real and make believe, so that a predominantly white audience can understand the harm that is being inflicted upon legitimate owners of this land. City Of Gold is an extraordinarily difficult story, one that its storytellers have seen, heard and lived for generations. It is regrettable that the responsibility falls upon those who suffer, to educate the rest of us, but there is nothing more profound than the lessons being dispensed here.

/www.griffintheatre.com.au | /www.queenslandtheatre.com.au

Review: Glittery Clittery: A Consensual Party (Griffin Theatre Co / The Furies)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 8 – 20, 2019
Playwright: Fringe Wives Club (Victoria Falconer, Rowena Hutson, Tessa Waters)
Director: Clare Bartholomew
Cast: Laura Frew, Rowena Hutson, Tessa Waters
Images by Kate Pardey

Theatre review
It is a rowdy cabaret with three women in sequinned jumpsuits, very excited by feminism, and thrilled at the prospect of preaching to the converted. Christened Glittery Clittery: A Consensual Party, the show is perfectly suited to our current climate of placing centre stage, all things woke and womanly. Devised by Victoria Falconer, Rowena Hutson and Tessa Waters, collectively known as the Fringe Wives Club, the work consists of relentlessly amusing songs, and witty repartee that make for an enjoyable hour. It has a coalescing power, through its comical observations and vivacious representations, that makes us feel like a tribal audience, united in laughter against the patriarchy.

Directed by Clare Bartholomew, the cabaret presentation is intensely energetic, if slightly frenetic and unfocused in parts. Music is one of its indubitable strengths, although sound engineering could be improved to exploit more fully, the rousing pop potentials of the backing tracks. The performers bring a palpable warmth to the space, perhaps too polite in their approach, but all three are earnest personalities who insist on our adoration; Hutson is particularly likeable when temporarily assuming the scintillating part, “Lagoon of Mystery”.

Glittery Clittery is a sweaty, joyous mess; its text accurately expresses the thoughts and experiences of modern women everywhere in the Western world, but more importantly, the bawdy vigour with which its characters conduct themselves, is a marvellous exemplification of a new feminist spirit that we can utilise in conjuring up new feminine identities. This “clitterati” is unlikely to be anything close to what our grandparents had envisioned, and that is a sure sign of the progress that is under way for us all.

/www.facebook.com/fringewivesclub

Review: The Happy Prince (Little Ones Theatre)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 25 – Jul 6, 2019
Director: Stephen Nicolazzo
Cast: Catherine Davies, Janine Watson
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
It is the perfect symbiotic relationship, when the swallow meets the statue and they see deep into each other, not through some mutually obsessive infatuation, but by a shared fervour for bringing peace unto others. In this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story The Happy Prince, we observe selflessness as the ultimate joy and fulfilment. Independently, each entity can do little, but together, they are able to help people in need, and it is only in bringing happiness to strangers, that they themselves are at their most exultant.

Directed by Stephen Nicolazzo, the show is correspondingly generous. Its messages are earnest, fiercely so, and it stringently disallows any room for our customary cynicism. A profound sense of melancholia works almost as its guiding light, taking us down a journey of meditative reflection, to facilitate an examination of the values we use to navigate this thing called life. The swallow and the statue exist in a concurrent state of joy and pain, and we feel every nuanced articulation of emotion depicted by this extraordinary staging. Poetic, with a sublime beauty that transcends all manner of convention, The Happy Prince speaks its truth with remarkable clarity, to deliver an hour of theatre that is as moving an experience as any fairy tale could wish to be.

Music by Daniel Nixon holds us tight, keeping us firmly in the grasp of a show determined to connect with the best of our humanity. Nixon’s work is tender, tremendously stirring, and we respond only with an attitude of pure benevolence. Katie Sftekidis’ lights have a similar effect, drawing us into a sentimental dreamscape, gently pushing away inhibitions so that our capacities know to welcome all the warmth, and wistfulness, of Wilde’s story.

Catherine Davies and Janine Watson are our players, both enchanting and majestically impassioned, full of soul in their performance of a piece that all our broken hearts need to encounter. Watson is the statue, the eponymous Happy Prince who shows us that glory means nothing when left enshrined and static. The actor communicates powerfully, the best of human nature, with a stylistic restraint that barely contains the urgency of what she wishes to convey. Davies takes flight as the swallow, giving us comedy and pathos in equal potent measure, precise at every point in the illustration of her character’s vacillating transformation, from apathetic to spirited. The robust couple is inventive, with an extraordinary charisma that demands our attention. Their sensuality adds a dimension of eroticism to the work, that operates to enhance the theme of compassion, as the play’s central concern.

It is easy to think of sacrifice in terms of loss. In The Happy Prince however, we are reminded that the purpose of sacrifice is to attain something greater, that more often than not, paying a price will lead us to a reward. We watch the statue and her swallow go through considerable suffering, but we are left without doubt as to the immense satisfaction they experience as a result of their pain. Pleasure does not always involve the sting of its cost, but when one is compelled to give until it hurts, what returns is usually from the realms of the divine.

www.littleonestheatre.com.au