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

Review: Strangers In Between (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 14 – Mar 2, 2018
Playwright: Tommy Murphy
Director: Daniel Lammin
Cast: Simon Burke, Wil King, Guy Simon
Image by Sarah Walker

Theatre review
Not everyone is lucky enough to have families who offer affection and support. For many LGBTQI people, the system of kinship is often a manufactured one, relying on families that we have chosen for ourselves rather than the ones we were born into. The prejudices that continue to divide us, are very alive in Tommy Murphy’s Strangers In Between, a story that takes place in the early years of this new century. Shane has left the country town of Goulburn, for the bright lights, and acceptance, of the broadminded city folk in Sydney. The teenager runs from the systematic bigotry of home, in search of a community he hopes would be welcoming. Queer children will always be birthed by straight parents, so the threat of domestic conflict will perhaps never completely diminish, therefore Murphy’s tale of belonging can be thought of as a timeless one.

Actor Wil King is dramatic, but convincing, in the role of Shane. Delivering both theatricality and nuance, King is as compelling as he is sensitive, for a depiction of innocence that is unexpectedly moving. His intensity can occasionally prove overbearing, but there is no denying the trenchant perspectives he brings to the stage. The middle-aged gay man Peter, is played by the delightful Simon Burke, who creates a camp and compassionate personality many will find endearingly familiar. It is a delicate performance that combines a cool exterior with a warm heart, to accurately portray a Darlinghurst “scene queen” type. Also very accomplished is Guy Simon, who impresses in his dual roles of Will and Ben, characters as different as night and day, but both equally authentic with all that they convey. Director Daniel Lammin does exceptional work in bringing the play to life. His minimal approach ensures that the bonds that form between the men, are depicted with clarity and profundity, so that the audience is transported to a space of reflection and appreciation for the communities that we are part of.

The LGBTQI rights movement has delivered significant change to perceptions and acceptance, but the more freedoms we attain, the less likely we seem to want to attach ourselves to ideas of community. The Darlinghurst in Strangers In Between, from just thirteen years ago, has now lost its vibrancy. What was once a tight-knit locale, is now dispersed and aloof. The queer city slickers today are powerful and entitled, protected by advancements in attitudes and legislation. We no longer hold on to each other for dear life. In the past, young ones like Shane were able to fall into the nurturing arms of Oxford Street, but what happens today and hereafter, looks to be ever less optimistic.

www.dontbedown.net | www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

Review: Joan (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Feb 16 – 18, 2018
Playwright: Lucy J Skilbeck
Director: Lucy J Skilbeck
Cast: Lucy Jane Parkinson
Image by Robert Day

Theatre review
When they burned Joan of Arc to death at the age of 19, it was punishment for the charge of heresy, of dressing in men’s clothes. In Lucy J Skilbeck’s Joan, we acknowledge the warrior as a queer figure, finally indulging in the highly probable idea that the hero was in fact transgender. For those whose gender identities are never a complicated matter, this might seem a little like making mountains out of molehills, but for many LGBTQI individuals, Joan’s story of persecution is one that needs to be recognised for what it is.

In Skilbeck’s revised account of events, we sometimes see Joan as a lesbian in love with Saint Catherine, sometimes a drag king, but mostly we are encouraged, finally, to regard Joan as a person unable to comply with age-old rules of gender. The masculine armour was not merely an instrument of practicality for the fighter. We now know those struggles to be commonplace, that trans people exist everywhere, and that we always were. The restoration of queer and trans perspectives in our legends and histories is crucial to the way we think about ourselves, and represents an urgent demand that society validates all our contributions to the world; past, present and future.

Lucy Jane Parkinson showcases a wealth of talents, as performer of the one-person show. A captivating presence, versatile and confident in their effortless vacillation between goofy and sentimental, Parkinson presents a character determined to steal our hearts one way or another. Their ability to maintain a personal connection with all of the audience, for the show’s entire duration, is a stunning feat, achieved through an intense sense of vulnerability and a precise, exhaustive familiarity with the work.

Joan of Arc’s legend was always about gender, yet for centuries, that story was told with a major obfuscation at its very core. When society refuses trans people the freedom to be ourselves, by misgendering us, and by forcing us to adhere to its narrow definitions of gender, that cruelty and injustice will invariably have reverberations beyond the immediate, and the damage caused is always greater than any of us would be ready to admit. This is why reinstating Joan’s truth in our historical memory, for the benefit of LGBTQI generations hereafter, is important. The meaning of gender is little more than the imposition of restrictions, to manufacture a system of control over individuals. It benefits few, yet virtually all of us participate in its fictions. We can dream to demolish these beliefs, but before we reach that point of enlightenment, all these rules have to be loosened, if only to salvage what is left of our humanity.

www.milkpresents.com

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