Review: Albion (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 27 – Aug 20, 2022
Playwright: Mike Bartlett
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Jane Angharad, Joanna Briant, Claudette Clarke, Alec Ebert, Deborah Jones, Mark Langham, Rhiaan Marquez, Ash Matthew, Charles Mayer, James Smithers, Emma Wright
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review

After making a fortune from her retail business, Audrey decides to revive a stately home, located some distance away from her usual London residence. What initially looks to be a noble enterprise, soon reveals itself to be a project that is more problematic, than Audrey had ever imagined. Mike Bartlett’s Albion explores the meanings of conservative values in the twenty-first century. In a literal way, characters play out the repercussions of one rich woman’s desire to preserve a relic. Wishing to hold on to the past, can be thought of as part and parcel of being human, but in Albion it becomes evident that to resist change, is perhaps one of the most extravagant indulgences, that only the privileged can afford.

Bartlett’s writing is irrefutably magnetic, replete with confrontational ideas and delicious scorn. The staging on this occasion, as directed by Lucy Clements, gleams with emotional authenticity, although its humour feels needlessly subdued, and its politics ultimately shape up to be somewhat muted in effect. A reluctance to cast explicit and pointed judgement over Audrey, diminishes the dramatics that the story should be able to deliver.

Actor Joanna Briant is a very convincing leading lady, with a performance that looks and feels consistently genuine, but other elements of the production bear a certain uncompromising earnestness that detracts from her work. Briant makes excellent choices at creating a personality who only thinks of herself as sincere and well-meaning, but other forces can work harder to create a sense of opposition to Audrey’s behaviour.

Thankfully, Briant’s is not the only strong performance from the cast. Claudette Clarke’s spirited defiance as Cheryl the ageing house cleaner, is a joy to watch, with an edgy abrasiveness that thoroughly elevates the presentation. Also highly persuasive is Charles Mayer, who plays Audrey’s ride-or-die lover Paul with a lightness of touch, humorously portraying the complicity of bystanders who have every opportunity to intervene but who choose to ride passively with the tides.

Imagery from this staging too, has its moments of glory. The collaboration between production designer Monique Langford and lighting designer Kate Baldwin, is a fairly ambitious one, able to invoke a grand landscape on foreign lands, with only the power of suggestion. Music and sound by Sam Cheng provide a gravity befitting the stakes involved, reminding us of the wider impact of these personal narratives.

Romantic nostalgia, the kind that Audrey is so invested in, represents a longing that those, for whom the system works, is bound to have. Of course Audrey is able to look back with rose-tinted glasses, now that she has her millions. There are others who simply cannot look at those symbolic structures, without having to wish for improvements. We do not regard icons with the same reverence, or indeed irreverence, because they mean different things to different people. The way in which we live our lives, have hitherto relied upon power discrepancies and injustices. Of course Audrey and her ilk will want to retain old things, but unless they can afford to make up for all the sacrifices, that the lower classes are no longer willing to submit to, then they too will have to move on with the times.

www.seymourcentre.com

Review: Before The Meeting (White Box Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 21 – Jun 11, 2022
Playwright: Adam Bock
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Alex Malone, Tim McGarry, Jane Phegan, Ariadne Sgouros, Tim Walker
Images by Danielle Lyonne

Theatre review
In a church basement somewhere in America, one of the world’s many Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is being held. Four individuals become friends through this process, offering support and guidance to one another, as each seeks to navigate this arduous thing called life. Adam Bock’s Before the Meeting offers a glimpse into the experience of sobriety, and by implication, the effect of alcohol consumption on some people. Bock’s writing is acutely observed, with palpably realistic characters. Alternating between funny and serious, the play is careful not to dwell too heavily in the bleak, but the insight that it ultimately delivers can feel somewhat surface.

Kim Hardwick’s direction of the show is earnest, with a gentle and benevolent humanity that underscores all the action. The quietness in approach is reflected in Chrysoulla Markoulli’s music compositions and in Pru Montin’s sound design, both appropriately subtle in their calibrations of atmosphere. Lights by Jasmin Borsovszky provide a warmth to accompany these stories of the heart, and production design by Martin Kinnane manufactures a visual realism that we can easily relate to. 

A uniformly impressive cast steers us through 80 minutes of emotional authenticity. Jane Phegan is particularly memorable as Gail, proving herself a remarkably thorough artist, who ensures each word of dialogue is imbued with intent and nuance. Tim McGarry turns on the charm as Ron, taking every opportunity to lighten the mood, in a production that can often be overly sombre in tone. Alex Malone brings a beautiful volatility, that demonstrates the daily precarity of trying to survive the world as Nicole. Newcomer to the support group Tim, is played by Tim Walker whose convincing naturalism is quite a wonder to behold. Ariadne Sgouros’ dramatic intensity is a very welcome inclusion, when she appears later in the piece as Angela.

The world that humans have created is evidently intolerable. It therefore makes complete sense that, from time to time, we need chemicals and substances to be able to stomach it. Problems arise when these intoxicants overwhelm, and we find one big problem adding to another. So much of our attitude in dealing with the world’s troubles, is to turn introspective and try to make changes within. We are encouraged too often to think that the problem lies with the individual self, instead of interrogating the sets of circumstances that make things terrible for many. The powers that be, will always want us to look away, so that they may plunder and exploit as they wish. The first step to addressing obstacles, is to look at the world clearly.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: Heroes Of The Fourth Turning (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 23, 2022
Playwright: Will Arbery
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: Micaela Ellis, Madeleine Jones, Eddie Orton, Kate Raison, Jeremy Waters
Images by Richard Farland

Theatre review
Four friends are gathered in a Wyoming backyard after a celebration, for their mentor Gina’s induction as president of their Catholic alma mater. Prompted by traumatic events of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally just two days prior, and with the assistance of alcohol, conversations quickly become passionate, and revealing, between these conservative Americans, at the height of the Trump era.

Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning is an exploration of the political discord that seems to have permeated so much of contemporary life. The unrelenting vilification of the other side, without ever getting to really know any of those adversaries in meaningfully personal ways, has created new societal structures that are increasingly fractured, and that feel dismally irreconcilable. In Arbery’s play, we are given the opportunity to look intimately at those who pride themselves as being conservative. The work is often challenging, especially when it skates close to drawing precarious equivalences between left and right, in efforts to make us find empathy for the enemy. The thorough frankness of Arbery’s writing though, encourages introspective reflections that would at least have us reconsider our own incapacity for generosity, when acceptance of conservative ideology remains appropriately an abhorrent idea.

Directed by Craig Baldwin, the dense and bombastic text of Heroes of the Fourth Turning is translated into unexpectedly entrancing drama, the tension of which is unabating and marvellously delicious. Brilliantly confronting, Baldwin’s staging does the hitherto unimaginable task, of making one find understanding for the other, whilst reaffirming one’s own oppositional convictions.

Production design by Soham Apte conveys authenticity for place and characters, with quiet but detailed renderings that serve well to tell the story. Lucia Haddad’s lights are similarly understated, effective in placing us in the right time and atmosphere, to connect with the play’s less than charming personalities. Baldwin’s own sound design offers elegant solutions to sustain our attention, and to keep it firmly focused on the show’s complex dialogue.

An exquisite ensemble of five actors, individually compelling, and powerful as a collective, conspire with great cohesiveness to take us through this tumultuous but highly satisfying examination, of tribes and factions. Madeleine Jones’ flawless recitation of some spectacularly wordy and convoluted alt-right diatribes, as the exasperating Teresa, proves to be maddeningly impressive. Kevin’s crisis of faith as a Catholic with compassion, is conveyed with dazzling fervour and excellent humour, by Eddie Orton. Micaela Ellis’ oscillations between soft and stern, for the role of Emily, provide much needed moments of relief for the audience.  The strong, silent Justin is played by Jeremy Waters with a beautiful restraint, leaving us plentiful room to cast judgement however we wish. Woman of the moment Gina, is given a splendid sense of grace by Kate Raison, who also does us a great favour of putting terrible Teresa in her place.

Humanising one’s foe is necessary, if only to keep our eye on the ball, and not be distracted by endless other conflicts that serve little to advance the cause. Heroes of the Fourth Turning does well to aide us in understanding how these American conservatives think and behave. It is true that the very mechanics of our humanity do not vary much; our need to fight for what is right, seems to be universal, and how our circumstances push us to grow vehement with our beliefs, also looks to run parallel. Any ideology, no matter why they come about, whose flourishment requires the subjugation of large categories of people however, simply cannot be allowed to thrive.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: The Museum of Modern Love (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 22 – 30, 2022
Playwright: Tom Holloway (based on the novel by Heather Rose)
Director: Timothy Jones
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Julian Garner, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Sophie Gregg, Glenn Hazeldine, Aileen Huynh, Tara Morice, Jennifer Rani
Images by Ten Alphas

Theatre review
It is 2010 in New York City, and legendary performance artist Marina Abramović is presenting her work of endurance The Artist is Present, in which she sits face to face with random gallery visitors, for a total of over 700 hours, across three months. In Tom Holloway’s play The Museum of Modern Love (based on Heather Rose’s novel), we meet several people in attendance at Abramović’s exhibition, and catch glimpses of their most intimate selves, in what may be considered a snapshot of the people we are, in this moment, in the middle classes of the Western world.

It may be a touch narcissistic to say that these representations of us on stage, are fascinating and surprisingly likeable. In The Museum of Modern Love, we appear to be nice people, full of vulnerability yet passionate, and even at our worst, we seem to always operate from the best of intentions. The writers do not fear the darker parts of being, but all their depictions come with a fundamental sense of hopefulness, that makes the work an ultimately uplifting one.

Directed by Timothy Jones, the production is elegantly rendered, with perhaps a little too much restraint applied onto the expressions of these very human stories. There is a cool and distanced approach to the storytelling (that feels so much like a visit to any modern art museum), but although detached, there are scenes that will certainly resonate, even if their touch can feel too gentle.

The stage is designed by Stephen Curtis, who very effectively recreates the severe and chilly ambience of conventional museums, with plain colours and straight lines. Alexander Berlage’s lights give enhancement to that astringent aura, but also softens at crucial points to draw attention to the inevitable sentimentality of  these human explorations. Costumes by Veronique Bennett look to be appropriately American, principally functional whilst endeavouring to be subtly stylish. David Bergman’s work on sound and video, elevates the production in a manner that helps to disarm the audience, so that we may respond with emotions rather than rationale, as if a reminder that the experience of life, is never only about logic.

Eight performers are positioned on stage for the entirety, including Julian Garner whose Arky opens and closes the show, and therefore seems to be somewhat the centre of proceedings. Garner introduces a captivating volatility, that makes believable his character’s confounding behaviour. The remarkably committed Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Tara Morice play his daughter and wife respectively, with Morice’s enigmatic presence leaving a particularly strong impression. Sophie Gregg and Aileen Huynh too are memorable, for the vibrancy they deliver each time they occupy centre stage. Justin Amankwah, Glenn Hazeldine and Jennifer Rani bring idiosyncrasies that make The Museum of Modern Love feel intensely truthful, as a kind of testimony about our emotional lives in the early parts of this troubled century.

At MoMA, Abramović was resolutely present, but the intimacy she had tried to embody, can over time, appear contrived. In The Museum of Modern Love, Arky and others are hardly present with their loved ones, but it is that portrayal of absence that makes us understand intimacy. To put forward the case that we are essentially masochistic, is not such an overwrought stratagem. It seems that it is our nature to value things the most, only when we have lost possession of them. It is no wonder then, that we do so much that is determined to put happiness in jeopardy.

www.seymourcentre.com

Review: 44 Sex Acts In One Week (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 12 – 16, 2022
Playwright: David Finnigan
Director: Sheridan Harbridge
Cast: Priscilla Doueihy, Matt Hardie, Emma Harvie, Rebecca Massey, Keith Robinson  
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Celina is not making rent, and Australian workplace relations law is allowing her boss to hire her only on a contractual basis. To ensure the clickbaity publisher gives her more work, Celina decides to write a review of a social influencer’s controversial new book 44 Sex Acts In One Week, after trying out all of the book’s recommendations. David Finnigan’s play of the same name however, is not about sex work, even though that is ostensibly what we witness Celina to be engaging in, for the entire duration. Neither is it about the nature of human sexuality in the twenty-first century. The play’s actual concern, is the blind eye we turn, away from ecological disasters that are ongoing in real life.

That link between our frivolous obsessions and life’s real problems, are not always made explicit in Finnigan’s play. He makes us indulge instead, in a plethora of silly sex jokes (ranging from the painfully juvenile to the surprisingly clever), as an allegorical strategy perhaps, to illustrate the point of our wilful ignorance. One has to be grateful that the conservation message is never dealt with in a heavy handed manner, but its dizzying style of humour, is unlikely to be widely appealing.

Sheridan Harbridge’s direction is gaudy and boisterous, with a sense of exhilaration that is perfectly suited to the themes of 44 Sex Acts In One Week. The raucous atmosphere is greatly enhanced by Trent Suidgeest’s colourful lights and glitzy set design. Elements of the show utilise foley techniques, as though for a radio play; Steve Tolumin’s sound design contributes substantially to the madcap quality of the presentation. Sound engineering though, is somewhat a problem for the production, with dialogue occasionally lost in the vast auditorium.

The eminently charismatic Emma Harvie is perfectly cast as Celina, with an air of naivety that prevents any sexual content from turning overwrought. Her comedic timing is in a word exquisite, and her ability to appear completely impulsive and present, is a real gift. Rebecca Massey plays two roles, both privileged and irresponsible women, who get lampooned exuberantly through Massey’s vivacious approach.

Priscilla Doueihy too performs double duty, but it is in the huge contrast between both characters, that she delivers the biggest laughs. Celina’s sex partner Alab is depicted by an alluring Matt Hardie, who brings appropriate playfulness to the experience. Finally, Keith Robinson is the narrator, reliably dignified as he takes us through each mischievous scene.

Evidence shows that we care little for the environment, and that human extinction is likely to be, just a matter of time. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are, by and large, a destructive species, yet what is distinctive about our behaviour, is that we seem determined to act as though life is eternal. Even during a pandemic, we go to bed assured that tomorrow will come. Nothing seems to be able to put a damper on our certainty that life will go on, and so we keep doing what we do, thinking only of ourselves, when there is no denying that so much of what we do, is akin to mass suicide.

www.clubhouseproductions.com.au

Review: Ulster American (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), May 13 – 29, 2021
Playwright: David Ireland
Director: Shane Anthony
Cast: Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Brian Meegan, Jeremy Waters
Images by Richard Farland

Theatre review
Ruth has come to London, from Northern Ireland, to begin rehearsals on her play. Unlike the show’s lead actor Jay, and its director Leigh, Ruth the playwright is not a star of the stage, and neither is she a man. This gendered imbalance of power is apparent right from the start, in fact even before Ruth appears, when the two men involve themselves with political conversations, in the absence of anyone who might understand first-hand, any experience of marginalisation. Ruth’s subsequent entrance proves an unbearable disruption, as we witness the savage implementation of patriarchal violence upon the young woman, at her every attempt to exert her rights, as a supposed equal creator in the artistic process.

All of this happens in David Ireland’s satirical Ulster American, a piercing interrogation of the uncomfortable relationship that the privileged have, with what seems to be a trendy phenomenon, of performative virtue signalling. Both Jay and Leigh believe themselves to be on the right side of history, always consciously using language that demonstrate their purported progressiveness, but it is their action that speak louder. In Ruth’s presence, the men cannot help but operate from positions of power and authority, fiercely protecting their status of dominance, and therefore the status quo.

Irreverent and genuinely funny, Ireland uses searing comedy to make palatable, ideas that are usually conveyed too dry and sanctimonious. It is perhaps an ironic choice to have a white man at its helm, but director Shane Anthony injects excellent nuance to ensure that we are always made aware of meanings and intentions. The production is fast-paced, enjoyably so, and Anthony validates that entertainment does not have to come at the price of a valuable message. Additionally, set design by Veronique Bennett and costumes by Claudia Kryszkiewicz, contribute a sleekness to the staging’s imagery, further convincing us of Ulster American‘s dissections of the contemporary bourgeoisie.

Actor Harriet Gordon-Anderson brings to the role of Ruth, a marvellous complexity that prevents her from devolving into a simple victim of circumstance. There is a confidence to her presence that offers fortitudinous juxtaposition against the two hysterical men railing against her. Oscar winner Jay is played by the highly engaging Jeremy Waters, who once again establishes himself as a storyteller of the highest calibre, in a brilliantly amusing and sarcastic take on the vacuous Hollywood monster archetype. Brian Meegan as English theatre director Leigh, is comically imposturous, and wonderfully authentic in its portrayal of a man who imagines himself a much better person than he actually is.

So much of art education, involves a certain inculcation of humility. Whether in the making of, or in the appreciation of it, one learns that the ego, is almost always a destructive force. In Ulster American, we watch egos get in the way, and observe how a person’s sense of aggrandized selfhood, prevents the creation of anything good. This manifests as a fight for space in David Ireland’s play, with the implication that those with privilege can only conceive of justice as a zero-sum game. When under threat, Jay and Leigh scramble to win back lost ground, always thinking in terms of deprivation, instead of dreaming up possibilities of more for everyone. Ruth has to fight tooth and nail, even resorting to unscrupulous means, but that is only because no real recourse is available to the oppressed.

Greed is not good, yet it remains central, in the pursuit of what so many of us perceive to mean success. Our lives need redefinition. Priorities and values need to be adjusted so that justice can prevail. It is debatable if a revolutionary overhaul is the answer, or if small steps and big words can count towards improvement, but to do nothing is without question, reprehensible.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Maureen: Harbinger Of Death (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 15 – 23, 2021
Playwright: Jonny Hawkins
Director: Nell Ranney
Cast: Jonny Hawkins
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
In the prologue, we learn that some of Jonny Hawkins’ best friends are old ladies. It is a somewhat strange declaration to make, but the truth is that very few young Australians, can say that they spend much time at all with the elderly. As a colonised nation, we routinely ignore the old. Youth is money, and money is everything, in this Western style civilisation we all have to live. Thank heavens then, that Hawkins has created a play that shifts our focus, making us look intently at a woman in her glorious eighties. Maureen: Harbinger Of Death may not be an entirely true story, but none of it ever feels less than real.

This one-person show involves Hawkins themself performing as Maureen, sat permanently in a chair, never tiring of a nice, long chat. Her advanced years lead her to believe that she has the ability to foreshadow the death of friends, for she has seen them depart one by one. The writing is witty, extremely warm and often very poignant. Direction by Nell Ranney is extraordinarily elegant, for an appropriately restrained production featuring a larger than life character. Lights by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Steve Toulmin, are quietly resolved but always just right. Isabel Hudson’s work on set and costume is delicately considered, and a visual delight.

As performer, Hawkins is remarkable. They inhabit and convey wonderfully, the luminous essence of Maureen, a woman any audience will find instantly loveable. Their generosity of spirit offers a bridge, one that invites us to regard the octogenarian in the same way. Hawkins’ sharp comedic sense ensures that we are riveted, and the ease with which they command the stage, is quite a marvel to observe.

Maureen: Harbinger Of Death is a dignified portrait, of a person otherwise overlooked and forgotten. All of us are valuable cogs of the same machine, yet only a few at the top are ever celebrated. Our way of life requires that each must give till it hurts, but how we are rewarded for the same pain, is certainly unequal and unjust. So many are chewed up and spat out; so many are given use-by dates, and mercilessly abandoned thereafter. By contrast, many of our minority cultures revere the elderly. If only we knew to make better choices.

www.nellranney.com.au

Review: Superheroes (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 25 – Oct 31, 2020
Playwright: Mark Rogers
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Gemma Bird Matheson, Claire Lovering, Aleks Mikic
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Superheroes by Mark Rogers tells the stories of two women at opposite ends of the world; Jana is near Sarajevo, and Emily is near Sydney. Their lives are different as can be, but on this one stage, we cannot help but draw parallels, such is the nature of being human. We create meaning from things we observe, and make distinct each personality whom we encounter, focussing quite naturally on how they are separate, but in this strange juxtaposition of experiences within Rogers’ text, we are additionally compelled to find ways to see ourselves as a unified species. We examine microcosms in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina and a more privileged Australia, finding ways to understand the people that we are, wondering if vastly different environments mean that we are necessarily disparate, or essentially one and the same.

Rogers’ scintillating writing is brought to life by Shari Sebbens’ dynamic and vigorous direction. The show brims with passion, offering emotional intensity from start to end. Claire Lovering is exquisite as Jana, delivering a deeply considered and precise portrayal, of a woman unable to emerge from the trauma and conflict that has shaped her community. It is an unequivocally profound performance by Lovering. Emily is played by Gemma Bird Matheson, memorable for her exuberance and an enjoyable sense of rawness she introduces to the production. It is an extremely likeable presence that she brings. Aleks Mikic takes on separate roles as male counterparts to the leads, succeeding on both counts, with his uncanny ability to convey authenticity whilst dispensing generous measures of natural charm.

Also noteworthy is lighting design by Verity Hampson, efficient yet refined as it helps us navigate movements in time. Production designer Renée Mulder exercises restrained elegance for her work on costumes and set. David Bergman’s sound and music are dramatic but unobtrusive, surreptitiously manipulating our emotional responses as the plot unfolds.

Even in the most ordinary of lives, courage is paramount. Even the most cowardly, have known moments of bravery in order that they may survive. In these challenging times of 2020, we are startled to realise the strength and resilience each can possess. The most noble of us however, have the capacity not only to stay afloat, but to keep making the best choices for the sake of all, when self-preservation seems the order of the day.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: The Campaign (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 11 – 28, 2020
Playwright: Campion Decent
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Tim McGarry, Simon Croker, Mathew Lee, Madeline MacRae, Jane Phegan
Images by Jasmine Simmons

Theatre review
Up until 1997, some of the harshest anti-homosexuality laws in the Western world, were found in our very own Tasmania. In Campion Decent’s The Campaign, we witness the rife homophobia in the Australian state, as well as the hard work by rights groups that fought tooth and nail to bring legislative reform. The story begins in 1988 when community leader Rodney Croome was arrested alongside many others of the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group (previously known as the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group), for setting up a stall at Salamanca Market collecting signatures for a petition, towards the decriminalisation of consensual sex between adult males.

A verbatim work featuring first-hand accounts by activists from that critical decade of LGBTQI history, The Campaign feels a thorough and accurate compilation of memories pertaining to that period of incredible dedication by a group of tireless advocates. With focus placed almost entirely on political machinations, the play can suffer from a lack of drama and theatricality, even though director Kim Hardwick’s determination to inject colour and movement into the staging is evident. Her efforts to keep things pacy, helps liven up dialogue that tends to be dry and stoic.

A disarmingly earnest group of five performs a big number of roles, with Mathew Lee memorable for the authentic emotions he brings to the stage, in the role of Croome especially. Jane Phegan too is a genuine and purposeful presence, as is Tim McGarry whose rigour is a joy to watch. Simon Croker and Madeline MacRae are commendable for bringing both gravity and dynamism to their various characters, in an ensemble that proves itself remarkably well rehearsed, and full of magnanimous conviction.

The Campaign is about the heroes of the movement, but occasional glimpses of villains, make us wonder if those vicious sentiments can ever be extinguished. It has taken a very long time to attain legislative protections, but as witnessed in national debates relating to the 2017 same-sex marriage referendum, people’s attitudes can still be extremely malicious and harmful. For many of us, the reasons for that hatred may have to remain a mystery; the incomprehensible need to vilify those whose identities and actions are completely of no consequence to others, is absurd, and unfortunately relentless.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: The Underpants (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 23, 2019
Playwright: Steve Martin (adapted from Carl Sternheim)
Director: Anthony Gooley
Cast: Beth Daly, Duncan Fellows, Ben Gerrard, Robin Goldsworthy, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Tony Taylor
Images by David Hooley

Theatre review
Admirers start knocking on Louise’s door, asking to rent her spare room, immediately after the fortuitous incident of Louise’s underpants falling to her feet in public. For a moment, her little apartment feels expansive, as the narrow existence with her controlling husband Theo, begins to look more promising. Steve Martin’s The Underpants (adapted from Carl Sternheim’s Die Hose) is set in early twentieth century Germany, with a focus on the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, that explores our tendencies towards unthinking, parochial lives. We see Louise struggle under Theo’s unreasonable demands as traditional head of household, but with the arrival of new suitors, we wonder if a brighter future is on the cards.

The show begins with excellent humour, directed by Anthony Gooley who encourages an animated playfulness that strikes a chord early on. Lustre is gradually lost however, as the staging grows distant and tired, due largely to a narrative that seems to stagnate after its rambunctious start. It is a polished production, with Anna Gardiner’s set and Benjamin Brockman’s lights providing satisfying imagery, and Ben Pierpoint’s sound design proving effective at crucial plot points.

Gabrielle Scawthorne leads a strong cast, memorable for the unexpected nuance she offers as Louise. Theo is given a radiant presence by Duncan Fellows, whose sardonic approach proves reliable in delivering a delicious sense of irony to the piece. Exquisite comic timing by Beth Daly and Tony Taylor, help to elevate proceedings at each of their entrances, both actors extremely charming, with a dazzling confidence that makes us feel in safe hands. The lodgers are played by Ben Gerrard and Robin Goldsworthy, inventive performers commendable for creating a couple of richly imagined personalities.

In The Underpants, Louise is a tormented housewife at the end of her tether, wishing to be rescued. She spends her time dreaming up ways to move from one man to another, completely ignoring the fact that, even a century ago, independence was a valid option, as exemplified by her idiosyncratic neighbour Gertrude. Social acceptability almost always means that we are required to conform, which implies that to be true to oneself, one could risk being outcast. Louise can choose not to be of the respectable class, but the thought of abandoning the bourgeoisie is almost too hard to bear. Each of us constructs identities that feel immutable, and we form attachments to people and structures that hold us hostage. When walking away seems inconceivable, it usually means that one simply needs to think bigger.

www.facebook.com/sugaryrumproductions