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

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