Review: Moby Dick (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 9 – 25, 2018
Playwright: Orson Welles (based on the novel by Herman Melville)
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Danny Adcock, Rachel Alexander, Mark Barry, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Jonathan Mill, Wendy Mocke, Thomas Royce-Hampton, Francesca Savige, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Bryden White-Tuohey
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Ahab’s war on nature in Moby Dick seems altogether too familiar yet tragic. The eternal discord between humankind and our environment, is the site on which we can examine the disquiet of who we are as a species, especially in relation to our curious inability to be at one, and in peace, with nature. We are determined to extricate ourselves, always asserting a superiority that can never be. Orson Welles’ adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic, is abstract, often impenetrably so, but its concerns about our adversarial relationship with nature lay appropriately at its centre.

It is essentially a fight with the self that Ahab has to go through, and our vantage point allows his story to function as a sort of introspective interrogation, in order that we may recognise that futile struggle that we too, resolutely participate in. Director Adam Cook’s show is a vibrant cornucopia of activity that brings to energetic life, the whaling obsession that Ahab and his crew of sailors embark on. Their dialogue may confuse, but the production is a rich tapestry from which our creative minds can detect symbols, decipher language and find meanings.

A very accomplished merger of design talents help sustain a sense of magical fascination. Set and costumes by Mark Thompson are handsome, evocative and grand. Lights are industriously assembled by Gavan Swift, who manufactures a surprising beauty for the story. Sound designer Ryan Patrick Devlin keeps things lively with exciting music, much of which is thrillingly performed on stage by percussionist and actor Tom Royce-Hampton.

Danny Adcock leads the cast, suitably rhapsodic as Ahab, with an impressive presence that proves to be highly persuasive, in this mad man’s tale. Rachel Alexander is compelling as Pip, particularly memorable in a powerful scene with Ahab discussing things political and esoteric, then proclaiming with theatrical histrionics, “death to whiteness”. The role of Queequeg is beautifully portrayed by Wendy Mocke, who introduces valuable glimpses of emotional authenticity to a slightly too distant universe.

We send rockets out into the ether looking for life, trying to find points of connection with all that we deem to be alien. Back on earth, we go to great pains to alienate ourselves, in a never-ending project of division and of segregation. We have convinced ourselves that we are inexorably distinct from flora and fauna, and further, have formed an interminable habit of creating power structures and hierarchies within all our human societies. The albino whale swims in peace; its violence is only ever a result of provocation.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Which Way Home (Ilbijerri Theatre Company)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 4 – Aug 4, 2018
Playwright: Katie Beckett
Director: Rachael Maza
Cast: Katie Beckett, Kamahi Djordon King
Images by Snehargho Ghosh

Theatre review
Tash and her father are on a road trip to Lightning Ridge. Even though Tash is the one behind the wheel, she is jittery and hesitant, while her father is at peace, completely trusting that they are going to reach their destination with no troubles at all. Katie Beckett’s Which Way Home is a tender work about the father-daughter relationship, and a look at the ageing process. Young and old are placed in contrast with one another, for an appreciation of the way we mature, and for the value that elders embody in our communities. At its best, the play contains profound observations about family that are rarely articulated in our art, but a tendency to mollify the harder questions about kinship, results in a reduction of poignancy with what is being delivered.

Directed by Rachael Maza, the show feels warm and buoyant, and whether or not we are able to identify with its characters, an effortless charm from both actors keeps us engaged in their journey. Beckett takes on the role of Tash, proving herself a detailed performer adept at telling stories with remarkable clarity. Kamahi Djordon King is an affable presence, with an inviting sense of humour that wins us over. A more naturalistic approach to acting would provide a more authentic experience, but the pair brings a beautiful energy to the piece that many will find reassuring.

Life’s lessons require time. Words of wisdom can be spoken but they are not always heard. It is perhaps our greatest weakness, that the young are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, but nature will have its way and insist that we let it take its course. Tash learns all she can from her father, but she can only take things at her own pace. We all have a duty to leave this a better place than how we had found it, and the older we get, the more salient that notion becomes. The children must be taught the best we know how, and we can all but hope that things do keep getting better.

www.ilbijerri.com.au

5 Questions with Katie Beckett and Kamahi Djordon King

Katie Beckett

Kamahi Djordon King: How do you feel about playing back on home turf at the Seymour centre with a different actor in the role of Dad?
Katie Beckett: I am so excited to be playing back in Sydney. I love Sydney. The west and the inner west are my hoods. I was born out in Western Sydney, went to primary school there in north St Mary’s. Moved to QLD, then moved back. And as an adult lived around the inner west, Redfern, Newtown, Enmore, Glebe and now Lilyfield. So Sydney holds a special place in my heart. The last time I did the show in Sydney it was part of the Sydney Festival at Belvoir and we smashed it out of the park. Sold out with an extra week. 

I love working with Kamahi as Dad. My dad even loves Kamahi as playing him. Kamahi brought a breath of fresh air to the character, love and comedy to the role. Professional and easy going to work with. It’s been a dream having him.

Has the end result of the work surpassed your expectations on how the work is received by audiences?
Yes!! I’m surprised for me it was just a little family yarn. A way of healing and coping with dad’s fifth heart attack. So I write with heart. And it’s beautiful seeing the audience take it.

Question to the writer. What are three things you would change about your character and why?
Considering it’s my first play and I now have a bit more experience of writing I would change my character to be softer in moments. And make her grow up a bit more. I find her annoying and childish at times. But I also did that to get the comedic elements to work with the dad.

What did you see yourself doing at this age twenty years ago?
I saw myself working in the camera department in film and tv industry. I dreamed of being a cinematographer. But here I am an actor and writer for theatre, film and tv.

What has the impact been on you as an actor with a new person stepping into the dad role? 
The impact has been fantastic and I found things I discovered before in my character. I have a different connection with Kamahi so it’s easier to do.

Kamahi Djordon King

Katie Beckett: Were you worried about coming into a role that has already been played by another actor?
Kamahi Djordon King: I was a little at the start until I figured you and Rachael were not expecting me to be exactly the same as the other actor. 

What made you say yes to taking on this role?
It was going to be my first tour with an Ilbijerri produced play and I though it would be nice to work on a tour again.  Especially a long tour like this.  Plus it was an affirmation that I was getting older and playing someone’s dad is the best thing for that, as an actor challenge-wise I mean. 

I’m impressed with you learning the script in 2 weeks. Can you share your secret to learning and developing your character in a short time?
Yes, the honesty and truth of the character comes from the physicality of the actions.  The memories are created by rehearsing the script up on the floor.  It is almost like muscle memory with dancers.  After a while the lines sink in together with the actions of the character and a memory is created so that when you are doing the play, the memories become your inner monologue and you deliver your lines with their actions creating honesty or truth.  I learned this from The Actors Workshop in Brisbane with Lynn Kidd.

I hear you are close to Constantina Bush. Any chance she will pop up along the tour? Has she said anything about the show?
Yes, we are close although very much in competition with each other all the time.  I think she said she is popping in to do shows in Mildura and Canberra. She reckons she will try to catch the show at one of those places although I wouldn’t count on it.  She has never once seen one of my shows.  Nor I hers for that matter… 

You are a true artist… writer, actor, singer, dancer, painter, female impersonation. And do it all incredibly well. And always in demand. How do you manage to balance all your artistic ventures?
The balance seems to happen naturally, very rarely do I double book, although it has happened. The art is something that keeps me busy when either of us has no work.  The visual art side of things is something that I have been doing for a long time and it does sell which keeps me in money when the performance side is quiet.  I come from a family of artists so that is natural. The performance is something that i have had to learn and perfect though and I only get better with everything that I do and take on such as this play.  It will be great for when I have to play someone’s dad again, haha.

Katie Beckett and Kamahi Djordon King can be seen in Which Way Home , by Katie Beckett.
Dates: 24 Jul – 4 Aug, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: The Rolling Stone (Outhouse Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 5 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Chris Urch
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Henrietta Amevor, Nancy Denis, Zufi Emerson, Damon Manns, Mandela Mathia, Elijah Williams
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Dembe is an 18 year-old gay man living in Uganda. His family thinks of themselves as being exemplary Christians, but for many in their culture, the killing of homosexuals is not only a permissible deed, it is often exhorted to be a godly act. When Dembe falls in love, the personal and the social can no longer be reconciled. The persecutions illustrated in Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone, are extremely cruel, but we know them to be factual. Urch pulls no punches in his storytelling; the passions are wild, whether evil or virtuous, and we are not spared the worst of human nature, even as we delve into the purest of our emotions.

Much of the play is horrifying and depressing, but an overt theatricality in the production’s tone chooses our minds over hearts, in how it wishes to keep us engaged. Adam Cook’s direction requires of us, a cerebral approach in our appreciation of his show, so that we may come to a greater understanding, of the colossal stakes at play, and of the mechanisms that drive the barbarism being depicted. The Rolling Stone steers clear of ever turning itself into torture porn, ensuring that Dembe’s conflicts and suffering are used, not for masochistic indulgence, but for a greater sociopolitical purpose.

Elijah Williams is a powerhouse leading man, completely captivating with a larger than life presence, and disarming with the extraordinary degree of vulnerability he is able to convey. Dembe’s love interest Sam, of Northern Irish and Ugandan descent, is played by Damon Manns, deeply impressive with the nuance he puts into the portrayal, of a man unable to escape the oppression he has to endure for his sexuality, in both Europe and Africa. The actor delivers remarkable dynamism and complexity, for a role that he makes wonderfully convincing.

Also very endearing is Henrietta Amevor as Naome, the young woman who has lost her voice to trauma. Amevor’s performance speaks louder than words, perfectly calibrated to tell us all we need to know of her secret story. Zufi Emerson proves herself very likeable, pairing an effortless warmth with technical precision, for a surprisingly memorable turn as Dembe’s sister Wummie. Nancy Denis and Mandela Mathia are splendid in more dramatic scenes, both bringing chilling power to the formidable malice they represent in this painful tale.

There are noteworthy technical elements in the production, including Isabel Hudson’s sophisticated take on scenic design that adopts traditional style wings to complement the show’s classic acting traits. Lights by Sian James-Holland give the stage an astonishing beauty, even when the action turns daunting. Ryan Devlin and Nate Edmondson keep music and sound design understated, but there is no denying the efficacy, and elegance, of what they accomplish.

The Rolling Stone is an important story for people of colour everywhere. LGBT activism has achieved exceptional advancements in many white communities, but whether in developing or industrialised nations, there is no question that gay liberation has thus far failed many queer people of colour. The abuse and murder of gay and trans people that occur every day, no longer make the Australian news. With the passage of marriage equality, we have convinced ourselves that the work is complete. Even if we do not wish to spare a thought for atrocities overseas, what happens in the neglected enclaves of black and brown Australia must not be ignored.

www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: The Flick (Outhouse Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Apr 5 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Annie Baker
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: Justin Amankwah, Matthew Cheetham, Mia Lethbridge, Jeremy Waters
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Almost every cinema in the world has completed the transition from analogue to digital, and with it comes aficionados bemoaning the loss of authenticity and tradition, in an art form that touches the lives of all. In Annie Baker’s The Flick, not only is celluloid under threat of annexation by blu-ray, the employees at a small picture house have friendships that are challenged by what they think to be real or illusory. They spend days together, becoming increasingly intimate, but always conscious of the distances between. They experience comfort in each others’ presence, but trust is never a certainty. When push comes to shove, the surprise of betrayal rears its ugly head, and like the technology in their projection room, convenience and cost takes precedence.

The play is beautiful in its sensitivity, and wonderfully humorous. Development of its characters and relationships, are cleverly written, replete with nuance and acuity. Dialogue is amusing and brilliantly observed, with contemporary colloquialisms thoughtfully utilised, for an accurate reflection of Western society at this very point in time. These people may or may not be familiar, but we always know exactly how they feel. For cinephiles, The Flick‘s obsessive enthusiasm with film culture, is a very big added bonus.

It is a glorious set, designed by Hugh O’Connor and constructed by Rodger Wishart, thrillingly realistic in its replication of the typical interiors of a movie theatre. Music paying tribute to genres of film, are meticulously crafted by Nate Edmondson, who also creates a variety of unmistakably unique sounds, in the form of whirrs and purrs to be heard emanating through the walls whenever we congregate for a movie. Martin Kinnane achieves a surprising range of atmospheric modifications with his lights, and has us transfixed with the unusual perspective offered by having us looking, wrong way round, into the projector lens, watching rays instead of images that have accompanied us hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. Led by stage manager Steph Kelly, technical aspects are remarkably well managed for this production of The Flick.

Directed by Craig Baldwin, the show is full of resonance; comical, whimsical and emotional. Chemistry between actors is masterfully harnessed, for a thoroughly honest and genuine depiction of social dynamics in The Flick. Actor Justin Amankwah is convincing, and very charming, in the role of Avery, the withdrawn youngster who loves movies more than he does any human being. His minimal, but precise approach gives depth and intrigue to the story, with a portrayal of mysterious qualities that has us captivated. Also very entertaining is Jeremy Waters as Sam, the Gen X slacker who finds himself suddenly older but not much wiser. It is an endearingly animated performance by Waters whose nuances are a joy to watch, and whose confidence with punchlines delivers some excellent laughs. Mia Lethbridge plays Rose the projectionist, with a delightful playfulness that prevents the less than agreeable character from becoming too alienating. The three form a tight partnership, and even though the show does extend to the three-hour mark, we never tire of their company.

The Flick is completely satisfying, but there is no question that in it, people are disappointing. Avery’s adoration of Hollywood is a reflection of his idealism, and his struggles in engaging with real life can be considered in terms of society’s deficiencies, or we can think of it as Avery having problems understanding the world as it actually is. Accompanying the cynicism in Annie Baker’s play, is our unambiguous desire for virtue. The stories we tell may not always be happy and uplifting, but they invariably contain our eternal faith in things that are good. Although new films no longer come to us on film, nothing will stop us from imagining better lives and better worlds, in all our arts and sciences. Of humanity’s many flaws, our naive belief in progress seems forever invincible.

www.outhousetheatre.org

5 Questions with Dina Panozzo and David Soncin

Dina Panozzo

David Soncin: In five words how would describe your character, Momma Bianchi?
Dina Panozzo: Heart, big-love, the-boss, fire and wit!

Do you find your character, or the play as a whole, has any similarities to your life personally?
I think we’re similar in her immediacy and, sometimes, her hot head! The play is a direct shot to my heart of the past as my family, with my 18 month old brother and 3 month old baby me, arrived in Melbourne in 1955, just at the time of this play’s setting! So these people are so like my people back then.

Have you found any challenges with approaching this particular text?
To fight my prejudice against the assumption of its clique-ness! In my first read of the play, the Italians, written with the ‘accent’ in the lines by an Anglo writer, read as an Australian fairytale to me… non-authentic. But, as I’ve gone deeper into the process of telling this story along with my fellow actors, I find it to be profound and moving — with Tony Poli who plays my husband, we go into the sound of our first language — and it is coming to life and so, so much more complex than I first thought. It is an important study on racism and tolerance I believe.

Do you have any inspirations for approaching Momma’s character, or even your work in general?
My mamma e papà, Maria Panozzo e Bruno Panozzo, who were and are still brave and true, and — I have to say even if too “woggy” sounding — all the immigrants who want to belong (like Gino, our son in the play, who is really the only one who stands up for his right to belong).

If you could pick out of Momma Bianchi’s two children, why is Gino your favourite?
Because he’s still young enough to kiss and hit if cheeky!

David Soncin

Dina Panozzo: What five words would you use to describe The Shifting Heart?
David Soncin: Immigrants, assimilation, family, racism, pride.

What’s the most difficult part of bringing this play/Gino to life?
Probably exploring and understanding that part of Gino that seeks acceptance – understanding the struggle with indifference, and his determination to assimilate, which he does with total optimism – and finding those similar things in myself. That, and singing 4 bars of “Americano”.

What do you think Gino dreams about for the future?
I think Gino deep down just wants to live a good life in his new country: get married, have kids, have a successful business with his brother-in-law and, most importantly, be accepted by his Anglo counterparts as a true Australian.

What do you love about the play?
Well firstly, I love the fact we have an Australian classic that explores Italian culture and, having a full Italian immigrant background on both sides of the family, it’s exciting that I get the chance to tell these types of stories. It deals with the psychology of racism, discrimination, racial and domestic violence, and the cultural struggle of an immigrant family. But I also love the fact it doesn’t shy away from the humour of a loud Italian family because that shit is funny!

How do you think this play relates to us in the here and now?
I could probably write a whole essay answering that question, but the school students seeing the show might plagiarise. The short answer is, I absolutely believe the play is still relevant, for many reasons. The Shifting Heart highlights the negative patterns of thinking and physical behaviour towards immigrants, different cultures and ethnicities, and that those patterns seem to keep seeping through the cracks each generation. I don’t think the play’s intention though is to put Italians specifically in a sort of victim pigeon hole, but I believe it’s an important period of reflection of Australian immigrant history.

The play also comments on the interesting notion of subtle/subconscious racism in everyday language, like jokes about one culture being okay, but not others; when is it innocent and when is it racist? I have my own experiences but not necessarily the answers. But, as opinions are often the lowest form of knowledge, I’d have to say come and see the show! I’m always curious to hear about audiences’ own experiences on the play’s subject matter.

Dina Panozzo and David Soncin can be seen in The Shifting Heart by Richard Beynon.
Dates: 8 – 24 Mar, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: The Shifting Heart (White Box Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 8 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Richard Beynon
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Laurence Coy, Lucas Linehan, Dina Panozzo, Tony Poli, Di Smith, David Soncin, Ariadne Sgouros
Image by Danielle Lyonne

Theatre review
It is Christmas time 1956, and the Bianchi home in Melbourne is bustling with activity. The family is getting excited about the festivities ahead, occupying themselves with the frenzied yet mundane business of the Australian summer. We soon discover, however, that beneath the Bianchis’ attempts to go about their normal lives, they have to contend with the social stigma of being recent immigrants to a land where strange and cruel attitudes prevail, about which people are deserving, and not deserving, of being here.

Richard Benyon’s 61 year-old play The Shifting Heart is concerned with a peculiar brand of racism that we undertake, whereby earlier immigrants persecute later immigrants, whilst Indigenous peoples are routinely neglected. The Bianchis discover that although legally permitted to settle here, many do not extend them a welcome. Benyon portrays the family trying to get on with life the best they can, amidst the unjust obstacles heaved at them every day.

It is a sensitive piece of writing, offering insights that remain pertinent; a valuable study of how racial prejudice operates in societies like ours, with an ever evolving racial composition. As a work of drama though, scenes of emotional vigour seem to occur few and far between, and its manufacture of tension tends to be overly understated.

Directed by Kim Hardwick, the production is a persuasive one. We may not be heavily invested in its personalities, but their stories are certainly believable. Isabel Hudson’s set and costumes, along with Martin Kinnane’s lights, are beautifully evocative, affecting our imagination with flair and efficiency.

Dina Panozzo and Tony Poli, as Momma and Poppa Bianchi, bring chemistry and warmth to the stage, both effective in transporting us to another time of our shameful history. David Soncin leaves a strong impression as Gino Bianchi, the gregarious and passionate young Italian-Australian determined to live unhampered by prejudice. Their neighbour Leila Pratt is played by the very likeable Di Smith, relied upon to deliver much needed humour, and effervescence, in this weighty observation of Australian life.

There is no denying that humans everywhere cannot help but create difference, seemingly for the purpose of baseless discrimination. Bigotry is not natural to our children but somehow, a need to hate is developed as we mature, and whether it pertains to race or to other arbitrary features, we learn to feel good about ourselves by exerting power over others. This is ubiquitous, but we must never think it irreversible.

www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au