Review: Before The Water Gets Cold (Smoking Gum Theatre)

smokinggumVenue: Sydney Theatre School (Chippendale NSW), Aug 23 – 27, 2016
Playwright: Charles O’Grady
Director: Lucinda Vitek
Cast: Samuel Beazley, Robin Chen, Julia Robertson, Amy Zhang

Theatre review
Part poetry, part dance and part play, Before The Water Gets Cold is a multidisciplinary exploration into the nature of artistic expression. With themes of love and loneliness providing its main threads of inspiration, what we see on stage are four performers inhabiting a range of personalities, not to convey a narrative, but to evoke sensations and emotions that we are all familiar with.

The work is guided by an innovative spirit, and is often a refreshing experience, although significant portions can seem clichéd, due to its inability to transcend the derivative. Writing, direction and choreography exhibit moments of beauty through their various modes of experimentation, but a greater sense of originality, or perhaps boldness, is missing in the production.

Performer Julia Robertson is memorable for her captivating presence, and a surprising authenticity that she brings, even to the more absurdist sequences of the show. Her work with Robin Chen in a montage composed of romantic movie quotations is particularly delightful. Composer Josephine Gibson and sound designer Jeaux Pfeffer contribute proficiently to this collaboration, both sensitive and understated in style, for a delicate air that envelopes the auditorium.

Before The Water Gets Cold wishes to marry logic with something more ephemeral, but a greater trust in the visceral instance would allow us to dive in deeper into its artistry. The mind gets in the way of much of life’s pleasures, and at the theatre, an opportunity for us to be in touch with the magic of the here and now is always present, if only we resist the temptation to analyse everything even before it begins to happen.

Review: Rosie, Ruth, & Susan (Smoking Gum Theatre)

smokinggum1Venue: M2 Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 29 – Aug 3, 2015
Playwrights: Finn Davis, Charlie O’Grady, Lucinda Vitek
Director: Lucinda Vitek
Cast: Finn Davis, Charlie O’Grady, Lucinda Vitek

Theatre review
The idea is simple.Three artists create a verbatim work of theatre from interviews with a grandmother. The temptation is to lead the conversations to specific points of interest or contention, and then manufacture tension and drama as you would a conventional work of fiction. Rosie, Ruth, & Susan resists those expectations, and lets the conversations be, with minimal embellishment introduced into the resulting script.

Staging the work in an art gallery allows an intimate proximity that produces an unusual theatricality. We are encouraged to observe the performers from a more active perspective than one would normally adopt in an auditorium type setting. Our focus shifts between tepid tales and the delicate presences recreated by the cast. It is widely believed that elderly women are among the most invisible of society, and the sensation of sharing space with their vitality so tenderly portrayed is unusual for many. Finn Davis’ performance is particularly captivating as Rosie, who looks back at her younger days as a university student and doctor in the early-mid twentieth century. There is no mistaking the sincerity of the piece, but it is needlessly mild, and opportunities for more obvious applications to socially important concepts like feminism and ageism could be expressed more powerfully.

We must always listen to our elders, because their wisdom is invaluable and irreplaceable. The youth can often be preoccupied with arrogant pride, and mistakes are made because of that all-too-common know-it-all attitude. On personal levels, we may make erroneous decisions about careers and relationships, but on a larger scale, nations go to war and commit the same aberrations as previous generations had done. Technological progressions give the illusion that humans are constantly advancing, but we are clearly unable to prevent similar atrocities from repeating at every era. “Careful the things you say, children will listen,” Stephen Sondheim advises, but when we stop listening, the consequences are dire.

Review: Fallout (Smoking Gum Theatre)

smokinggum1Venue: Exchange Hotel (Balmain NSW), Mar 18 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Lauren Pearce
Director: Finn Davis
Actors: Michele Conyngham, Ian Ferrington, Jim Fishwick, Louise Harding, Moreblessing Maturure, Patrick Trumper

Theatre review
It is admirably audacious that artists go out on a limb, almost as part of their job description, to experiment in public and to risk failure in spectacular style for all to see. The nature of theatre as a commercial experience requires that strict deadlines are to be adhered to, so that a show has to have at least a semblance of readiness on its advertised opening night. Smoking Gum Theatre’s Fallout needs, among other things, more time in its creative process. Lauren Pearce makes her debut with an apocalyptic script, ambitious with big ideas, but her characters are not sufficiently formed, and its structure is not yet settled.

Most things can be said to have room for improvement, especially in art where nothing is perfect, but Fallout is a distance away from being able to communicate its intentions. Direction by Finn Davis does not deviate from the writing, and he show signs of an adventurous spirit in the way he choreographs physical movement for the piece. Performances are apprehensively grounded. It is a very quiet approach that shows little inventiveness, but actors Moreblessing Maturure and Patrick Trumper demonstrate good focus and conviction. Design is a challenge in the makeshift venue, and the creative team’s efforts are evident especially Angela Toomey’s video projections, which add a touch of polish to the production.

Outside of our education institutions, young artists have to brave the same conditions as all other theatre practitioners. Any paying audience will have expectations, and it can be a cruel world for those who achieve less than desired. Fortunately, it is rarely a dramatic case of sink or swim, because the factor of time is crucial to all artistic practice. It is the body of work over the expanse of a career that matters, and it is longevity and tenacity of the last persons standing that will make an impact.

5 Questions with Moreblessing Maturure

moreblessingWhat is your favourite swear word?
I would have to say fucking, except it has to be pronounced a certain way. Silent ‘F’ replaced with a soft ‘P’ sound then the rest kinda sounds like ‘uggin’. In summary it’s how you would imagine Alf Stewart saying it.

What are you wearing?
I would like to have you all believe that I’m wearing trackies and a pyjama top because I’m about to sleep but lesbehonest, actually no, we’ll go with that.

What is love?
Ooowwooaaahhhh woo ooohh. Well it’s the decision to always make the effort no matter if it’s reciprocated, noticed or appreciated.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Wow it’s been too long. It would be Missing Pages by Lainey Molloy and Bianca Zouppas shown at ATYP Theatre had me sitting on the edge of my seat hyperventilating as stuttering Lewis Carol was trying to remember why he was at the trial. 6.53 stars easily.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Look. I’ll be honest, it’s not going to be just any good, it’ll be the best goods in town. You’ll have to laugh otherwise you’ll cry. Tickets will sell like whatever came AFTER hotcakes.

Moreblessing Maturure is appearing in Fallout, by Lauren Pearce.
Show dates: 18 – 27 Mar, 2015
Show venue: Exchange Hotel Balmain

Review: It’s Been A While (Smoking Gum Theatre)

smokinggumVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 16 – 19, 2014
Playwright: Jordy Shea
Director: Lucinda Vitek
Cast: Stephen Bracken, Chris Circosta, Luke Holmes, Zara Stanton, Kathryn Wenborn

Theatre review
It’s Been A While is a story about youth, friendship and sexual awakenings. It centres around the suicide of an 18 year-old, and a group of five friends who come to terms with adulthood and death. Jordy Shea’s script is structurally ambitious, with separate timelines interweaving in a constant state of flashing backwards and forwards. Its frank portrayal of our youth’s interests and concerns is refreshing, and the work provides an important voice to the diversity of our artistic landscape. The production is just over an hour long and although everyone enjoys a succinct piece, Shea’s script needs deeper exploration of its themes and personalities. He sets up interesting premises but they require more thorough excavation for scenes to sizzle. The writing could also benefit with more varied speaking patterns. There is some effort put into individualising characters, but they need to have more distinct voices to create greater colour for the stage.

Performances are earnest and energetic. The cast is green, but it is clear that they put their all into the show. Luke Holmes is a lively Tom. He is a slightly grown up class clown, who is always keen to contribute a sense of lightheartedness. Kathryn Wenborn is effective when her character Maddy becomes introspective, and memorable for her heartfelt delivery of an emotional sequence at the play’s conclusion. Dean is played by Stephen Bracken who has a strong presence and good focus, but as with the entire group, more training and stage experience would be helpful.

The plot’s complexity present a challenge. It is frequently unclear which of the two chronologies is being depicted, and the confusion that transpires is distracting. Scene transitions require further finessing, and design elements while adequate, could be more adventurous. Lucinda Vitek’s direction is tightly paced, but an extended rehearsal period would make the friendships more believable and cast chemistry more exhilarating. The subject of teen suicide is interesting, and probably one that many can relate to. We feel like we know what the characters are going through, which also means that our imaginations are vivid, and our expectations need to be met. It’s Been A While does not hit every note right, but it is a gallant effort that tells a meaningful story.