Review: Give Me Your Love (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 4, 2017
Playwright: Jon Haynes, David Woods
Director: Jon Haynes, David Woods
Cast: Jon Haynes, David Woods

Theatre review
Not only is Zach trapped in his room, he has resolved to stay inside a cardboard box, never to emerge. Jon Haynes and David Woods’ Give Me Your Love portrays life after war, for a Welsh soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although wildly imagined, the work never deviates from a sense of authenticity in the way it discusses mental illness. The comedy is clearly outlandish in style, but the scope of its concerns remains faithful to a sense of accuracy, and urgency, in its depiction of a veiled but serious social problem.

It is an enormously witty show, and fantastically inventive, not only with its clever dialogue, but also in the sheer theatricality of what it presents. Jacob Williams’ set design is viscerally affecting, powerfully evocative of spaces in and around our protagonist. Zach’s tattered box is wielded masterfully by Woods, like an oversized mask. In his best moments, we connect in a profound way to the agony being explored, and reach a decent understanding of the difficult psychology and emotions, as experienced by those who live with PTSD. We can see that Zach is being ridiculous, but in quite an inexplicable way, we know what it feels like, to persist with behaviour that makes no sense.

Give Me Your Love relies on our universal need for empathy. The audience is introduced to an extraordinary set of circumstances, but the storytelling touches us intimately, and we recognise Zach’s dysfunction to be fundamentally human. It is also about sacrifice, personal and communal, inevitable and unfortunate. Life does not permit anyone to go through it unscathed. Damage will be done, but it is when we learn to heal the wounded, that we can begin to regain some control.

www.ridiculusmus.com

Review: No End Of Blame (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 12 – 28, 2017
Playwright: Howard Barker
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Akos Armont, Angela Bauer, Danielle King, Sam O’Sullivan, Monroe Reimers, Lizzie Schebesta, Amy Usherwood, Bryce Youngman
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
In No End Of Blame, Howard Barker creates a hero out of political cartoonist Bela Veracek, who begins his life in Hungary at the end of the 19th century, and ends up in England decades later, after a stint in Lenin’s Russia. It is a man’s search for truth, through decades of war and social unrest, and an artist going against every grain to make sense of the world.

First published in 1981, the piece is stylistically representative of English male playwrights of the time, angsty and very wordy. Thatcher had become Prime Minister, and the righteous had much to fight for; Barker is certainly argumentative in No End Of Blame. Damien Ryan’s production updates the work from the punk era to something altogether more earnest and refined.

Projected on a large, white backdrop, are drawings by Nicholas Harding, David Pope and Cathy Wilcox, who bring an extraordinary dimension of artistry, constantly pulling our attention back to the actual medium being celebrated. Also remarkable is Alistair Wallace’s sound design, utilising a meticulous selection of music that takes us to places far away and sublime.

There is a lot of excellent acting to be enjoyed. Akos Armont is the charismatic and passionate lead, dependably convincing even though Bela’s emotions seem always to be operatic in scale. Supporting roles are all vibrantly rendered, with Danielle King especially memorable in a range of small parts, and highly effective as newspaper editor Stringer, delivering a tremendous sense of poignancy at show’s end.

As commentators of our world, cartoonists have the noble responsibility of pointing their finger at all that is wrong. This usually means that it is the powerful that come under the pencil’s attack, and it is necessary for us all to be cognisant of how those powers will try to quash their naysayers. Bela’s story came before the internet age, but even though we no longer have the same reliance on the print industry to provide a battle ground for democracy, those same dynamics exist today in how we use our phones and computers. The bad guys are able to control our freedoms, in some ways easier than before, and our resistance must remain vigilant and tenacious.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: The Nether (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 13 – Oct 7, 2017
Playwright: Jennifer Haley
Director: Justin Martin
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Alan Faulkner, Katie Fitchett, Kim Knuckey, Alec Snow
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
The Nether takes place in a future where people are able to spend as much time as they want, in the virtual reality of an advanced form of the internet, where they can smell the trees and touch the flesh of another. Jennifer Haley’s entertaining and provocative play takes us into an imaginary new frontier of pornography, and has us consider the ethics surrounding online sexual behaviour, beyond rationalisations that pertain to simplified concepts of the consenting adult.

Sims is a paedophile who runs a secret playground that he has invented, designed to satisfy the urges of people who share his egregiously sexual and violent compulsions. The children in his world are however, not creations of artificial intelligence or robotics. Other adults are required to play these roles, destined to be savagely defiled by Sims’ paying customers. The police are investigating this underground community, and Detective Morris is determined to have the mastermind prosecuted.

Cleverly structured, with layers of surprising complexity that has us gripped from the very beginning, The Nether is an edgy and thrilling ride, that appeals to our perpetually conflicted feelings about the ways we regard technology and sex. Justin Martin’s direction is crisp and powerful, keeping us attentive for the entire duration, while we engage with the philosophical and contentious material being presented.

The production is beautifully designed in all its aspects. Pip Runciman’s set, Melanie Liertz’s costumes, and Christopher Page’s lights, are ambitiously conceived and splendidly cultivated, for an appropriately seductive peek into the precarious moralities being explored. Music and sound by the talented duo, James Brown and Tom Hogan, are on hand to enhance dramatic tension, and to facilitate an ominous atmosphere around the disturbing story.

Excellent performances by all five actors deliver a vivid rendition of the play, tightly paced and sharply focused, so that we find ourselves completely mesmerised by its extraordinary narrative. Pseudo child Iris is convincingly portrayed by Danielle Catanzariti, whose deftly exaggerated infantile femininity is a constant reminder of the artifice being represented, whilst maintaining an impressive emotional realism that allows us access to a genuine humanity that lies behind the illusion. Equally memorable is Kim Knuckey as Sims, the dubious character we find ourselves vacillating between hating and wishing to protect. Knuckey’s ability to let us see the good and bad that co-exist in his character, gives the show a level of sophistication that is quite remarkable.

It can be argued that The Nether contains some glaring plot holes in its sci-fi manifestation that require some finessing, but there is no question that this is theatre that will tantalise. We have not reached the future that it depicts, but we already share that same potent sense of guilt in our current reliance of technology. To posit real and virtual worlds as binary oppositions is increasingly suspect, and to argue that the organic is essentially better or more important than the synthetic is no longer easily persuasive, but we certainly do find ourselves giving pause here.

www.catnipproductions.com

Review: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 3 – 19, 2017
Playwright: Dale Wasserman (adapted from novel by Ken Kesey)
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Matilda Brodie, Laurence Coy, Patrick Cullen, Anthony Gooley, Travis Jeffery, Felicity Jurd, Stephen Madsen, Wayne McDaniel, Joshua McElroy, Tony Poli, Nick Rowe, Di Smith, Wendy Strehlow, Bishanyia Vincent, Johann Walraven
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
The action takes place inside a male psych ward, except of course, the allegory is in reference to the mad world that all of us inhabit. In Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, McMurphy (made famous by Jack Nicholson in the film version) represents the wild man that we have to tame. He turns up full of life, impressing upon us that he is not in fact insane, but a product of nature in its splendid rawness, and is clearly out of place in this environment of medicated placidity. It is probably no surprise that in this 1962 work, it is a woman who is charged with the business of suppressing that sublime nature.

Nurse Ratched has successfully emasculated everyone we see, and McMurphy must find a way to escape her wicked depravity. Man’s authenticity is upheld as desirable and esteemed, even if all the women who cross McMurphy’s path are debased and humiliated. The rebel’s story is always a powerful one, and it is no different here, whether or not we warm to its central character. It is after all, a battle for dignity and innocence, and we will only be allowed to side with the righteous hero.

Anthony Gooley’s charisma serves him well in the role of McMurphy. Dynamic and intuitive, and effortlessly captivating, it is a pleasure to watch the actor fill the stage with his brand of robust theatricality. Simultaneously portraying qualities that are menacing and vulnerable, the character that he presents is complex, considered and hence, convincing. Ratched is a surprisingly human manifestation, under Di Smith’s interpretation. Hints of warmth and kindness make her a believable personality, but an impotent villain. In the absence of a formidable opponent, McMurphy looks to be a rebel without a cause, and dramatic tension is significantly compromised.

Director Kim Hardwick’s approach is a contemplative one, and although never lacking in verisimilitude, sections that deal with aggression and chaos, can seem too gently manufactured. Individual patients in the show are fascinating, often beautifully performed, but they feel strangely distant. Without a threatening presence, the group misses an opportunity to have us more viscerally engaged. The production however, boasts accomplished design work, especially noteworthy are Martin Kinnane’s lights; compelling when subtly rendered, and utterly remarkable when his creativity turns bold or extravagant.

We play by the rules, thinking them necessary for self-preservation, even when we judge them unsound. When one’s own sanity comes into question, it is invariably societal expectations that provide the measure at which behaviour must be gauged and contained, whether or not conditions of that acceptance are based in logic. McMurphy’s radical disobedience involves him acting from unmitigated impulse, alone, and the consequences he has to face are dire. It is true, that much of what we endure, is unfair. It is also true, that rules are made to be broken, and when the lunatics take over the asylum, redress can be achieved, if unity, and solidarity, can be found.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Shit (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 18 – 29, 2017
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Susie Dee
Cast: Peta Brady, Sarah Ward, Nicci Wilks
Image by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
It is the story of three wasted lives. Awful women whom we marginalise and detest, the ones we are contend to let rot. The question of course, is how they have come to be. In Patricia Cornelius’ Shit, Billy, Bobby and Sam never had a chance, abandoned as children, lost in a broken system of foster homes, they have grown up hopeless and beyond repair.

Cornelius’ writing is undeniably powerful, in terms of its social pertinence, as well as its extraordinary representation of language. For some, the work may be entertaining, but for many, it is a highly discomforting experience having to be in the presence of these monsters, although the moral that it carries is applicable to all.

Faultlessly executed, the production is directed with ingenuity and incisiveness by Susie Dee, who translates the uncompromising vision of the piece with remarkable potency. Marg Horwell’s set and Rachel Burke’s lights provide unexpected dimension within its sophisticated theatricality, allowing us to see deeper into the recesses of the difficult tale.

The actors are uniformly marvellous, creating a type of character rarely seen on Australian stages. Their voices are deeply familiar, so too are the physicalities they present, yet we are shocked by the incongruity of their appearance at the theatre, within our structure of bourgeois art. Peta Brady, Sarah Ward and Nicci Wilks form an ensemble precise and accurate with all of their depictions, aggressively challenging but shrewdly vulnerable, in a discussion about humanity at the fringes.

The boldness of Shit is provocative, but its ugliness is alienating. Tough art and tough issues bear that same pull-push quality. We understand that everything that is considered defective has to be mended, but it is easy to turn a blind eye. The neglected is given a voice in this play, but how we deal with the information being dispensed, is the crucial other half of the dialogue.

www.seymourcentre.com

Review: Cyrano De Bergerac (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 15 – 24, 2017
Playwright: Edmond Rostand (adaptation by Damien Ryan)
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Andrew Johnston, Barry French, Bernadette Ryan, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Damien Ryan, Drew Livingston, Francesca Savige, James Lugton, John Turnbull, Julian Garner, Lizzie Schebesta, Madeleine Jones, Melanie Dobson, Thom Blake, Tim Walter, Wendy Strehlow
Image by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Women, no matter how intellectual or beautiful, are not to be trusted with their own decisions in Cyrano De Bergerac. Edward Rostand’s 120 year-old play is a romantic fantasy about an ugly man who successfully deceives and misleads the object of his desire, so that his feelings can be reciprocated. His nose, of legendary proportions, clearly does not stand in the way of human vanity.

Roxanne’s lust for the handsome Christian, is presented as foolish and absurd, hence illegitimate, in the old-fashioned play, because of course, the verbosely articulate Cyrano is the appropriate match, if a girl is to experience true love. Women are once again infantilised, and our sexuality subjugated, in order that patriarchal ideals can be presented as superior.

Tiresome ideologies of the original are retained in this recent adaptation, but there is no doubt that Damien Ryan’s remarkable wit and extraordinary talent with words, have polished up Cyrano De Bergerac, rolled it in glitter, and all but blinds us from its inferior politics. Ryan’s work is supremely clever, often very beautiful, and for the many who find enjoyment in its brand of outlandish romance, this is a play that will prove deeply satisfying.

Ryan’s work as actor too, is marvellous. Brilliantly funny, and irresistibly charming, he convinces us that sexual attractiveness is completely irrelevant, and that Cyrano is the only man for Roxanne. Lizzie Schebesta expends her efforts into the side of Roxanne that is repeatedly emphasised to be intellectual, and does all she can to elevate the role from the embarrassing gullibility that is Rostand’s creation. It is a very vivacious cast, relentlessly amusing, and audiences will be held captive for its entire 3.5 hour duration.

There are no big pertinent messages in Cyrano De Bergerac that need our urgent attention. We can certainly be entertained by other much more relevant stories, but this French play continues the perseverate tradition of European occupation of the arts in Australia. For over two centuries, we import these works, as though the purposes they serve are somehow irreplaceable or worse, more resonant than what we can find in the art of our own region. It offers an accurate reflection of the ongoing attitude of colonisation that persists (why else would all 18 actors on this stage be of Caucasian appearance?), even though we wish to think ourselves a modern, progressive and inclusive society.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: 2071 (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 26 – Jun 10, 2017
Playwrights: Duncan Macmillan, Chris Rapley
Director: Tim Jones
Cast: Lucy Brownlie, John Gaden, Heath Jelovic, Ellery Joyce, Jacqueline Morrison, Sasha Rose, Matthew Simmons

Theatre review
In 2071: a performance about climate change, we have to listen closely to a lesson about the science of our climate. There are projections to look at, and children forming occasional tableaux to help illustrate the point, but it is only the words that we should pay close attention to. Clearly a very serious matter, and for those of us less keen on scientific study, the details are challenging. It is an issue that requires tremendous focus, but when we invest, with determination, to hear what is being said, 2071 is undoubtedly rewarding.

Essentially a monologue, the writing feels no different from a lecture, dense with facts and evidence. The layperson would struggle to absorb every sentence uttered, but there will certainly be pertinent points that resonate for each individual who is present. It contains no surprises, but the production does communicate a sense of urgency to drive home the message. Music by Andrée Greenwell, and actor John Gaden’s delivery, are responsible for the hastened air of impulsion at conclusion.

The science points to an impending ecological disaster. Whether or not one wishes to accept the causes that lead to this state of devastation, every citizen of the world must commit to improving the conditions in which we have to live. Only the most masochistic and nihilistic will choose to persist with the status quo, but it must surely be a very small minority that wants to watch everything come to a painful ruin. Now is the time to be fearful of complacency and inaction.

www.seymourcentre.com