Review: Fallen (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Apr 6 – 22, 2017
Playwright: Seanna van Helten
Director: Penny Harpham
Cast: Lucy Goleby, Megan Holloway, Chantelle Jamieson, Abbie-lee Lewis, Moreblessing Maturure, Rebecca Montalti, Eloise Winestock
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
It is 19th century England, and the women in Seanna van Helten’s Fallen are told what to wear, how to act, and which to think. The story takes place in a kind of halfway house, where women who have transgressed morality are banished, to be put through a process of rehabilitation. There is a Victorian severity to these characters’ lives, but what the play demonstrates more relevantly, is how those archaic ways retain control over us today; we still insist on telling women how they should look and behave.

Van Helten’s writing is subtle, a quiet mystery with depths of emotion and meaning, discoverable under surfaces of restrained tumult. The six women of Fallen reveal little, but an authenticity is nonetheless present. The work is challenging to perform. Actors are required to imagine all that is hiding between the lines, and the bolder they are at manifesting the unsaid, the more effective their show becomes. It is a likeable ensemble, but not always powerful enough to overcome the cryptic nature of the writing. Lucy Goleby is matron of the house, a staunch, stern character who is depicted with a greater sense of definition than the rest. We rely on Goleby to bring the drama, which she does often, especially when she taps into the eerie, slightly gothic quality that the piece lends itself to.

The production has a mild temperament, almost timid in its expressions. At its best, Fallen is haunting and transcendent, but the show can quickly turn tepid and consequently lose connection with its audience. We wonder what the women had done to have them condemned, and who they truly are, but our interest seems to swell and wane, through different junctures of the plot. There are moments of design brilliance to relish; Raya Slavin’s music and Sian James-Holland’s lights are attractive, even though inconsistencies in atmosphere add to the show’s issues with dramatic tension. We see all the potential on this stage, and wish for greater impact, with more audacious approaches.

The women in Fallen have no choice but to be compliant. Our world today is significantly different, with much more liberated attitudes than before, yet we submit everyday, to fears of stepping out of line, whether or not repercussions are real. We alter our own behaviour to conform and to appease, and expect the same of other women. Well-behaved women seldom make history, but it is not only for the momentous that we should dare to be ourselves. It is what happens in our regular day-to-day that requires us to be vigilant over the power that we own and that we should never be fearful of.

www.sportforjove.com.au

5 Questions with Lucy Goleby and Moreblessing Maturure

Lucy Goleby

Moreblessing Maturure: Fallen is a new Australian work. Why do we need new work and why did you choose this new work?
Lucy Goleby: I think it’s really important that theatre reflects, questions and challenges its social, geographical and political context. New work speaks to audiences with an immediacy, an urgency and a familiarity that makes an audience’s experience inside the theatre change the way they interact with the world outside it. This play, Fallen, allows audiences to do some of that metaphorical work themselves, asking them to draw conclusions and discover points of similarity and difference between London in 1848, we create for them onstage, and the world of Sydney in 2017, as they create for themselves offstage. Fallen seeks to explore the role of women in a patriarchy, how their relationships within a patriarchy are constructed and destroyed, and what, ultimately, empowerment looks like.

Is working in the female-led space that She Said Theatre encourages different to your previous acting experiences? If so, how?
Working with She Said and the incredible company of women has been challenging and empowering. I talk of Facebook and social media as an echo chamber, with my own opinions and passions reverberated back at me by like-minded individuals. In this room, I am surrounded by opinions and passions as fervent as my own. In simultaneously supporting and challenging each other, we have been strengthening ourselves as women to support and challenge the society we live in. Knowing that these remarkable women are conducting themselves with poise, passion, determination, intelligence and love makes me feel stronger and safer in my pursuit to do the same.

How can today’s 21st century society hope to relate to this text and its characters?
I think today’s audiences are smart story-recipients. They’re clever and quick with metaphor and symbolism, and easily capable of drawing comparisons between their own lives and experiences and those presented to them. Beyond that, the enormous revolution in television in the last five-odd years has created an audience that understands how to invest in multiple characters and multiple plotlines. Stories matter to us when we can see ourselves in them. This play and its women are both deeply familiar and uncomfortably confronting to the experience of 21st century Australian women. And men who’ve ever met a woman.

What would your character, Matron, think of 21st Century Australia?
I think Matron would be entirely overwhelmed and relieved. She is in the unenviable position of upholding and maintaining the very system that disenfranchises and devalues her. We’ve been talking a fair bit in rehearsal about the perpetuation of bad advice, and the insidious inheritance of unconscious bias. I believe in that idea that you can only dream what’s seen, and Matron’s capacity to make any kind of difference for the girls in her care is fundamentally flawed because she can’t dream a life for them that’s any different from her own.

Who should I invite to come and see this show?
Anyone who cares about what it means to be human. And those who like a stunning multimedia, fragile soundscape, emotionally rich direction, clever, detailed language, an intricate flexible set or a fully boned corset complete with hand-sewn period dresses. And your mum.

Moreblessing Maturure

Lucy Goleby: Describe the world of the play Fallen in five words.
Moreblessing Maturure: Precarious. Tense. Measured. Full. Live

What is one of the questions you hope this play asks or answers?
This is probably the thing I look forward to the most about this play- the foyer conversations before the play, during the intermission and in pubs, cars and trains after the curtain call. I asked a lot of questions after my first reading and I’d be more than content if the audience was also curious after watching the play, curious enough to read up about the history of Urania Cottage, the history of Australia, the herstory of women and particularly, these women. One burning question I’d hope this play asks is “where are we know?” Compared to 1846- where are we as a society when it comes to our relationship with our history, with femininity and liberation.

What has been the most unexpected moment or discovery of the process so far?
Aside from the phone call from Penny (the director) telling me I was going to play Julia, realising how noticeably different working in an unapologetically female-led and centred space was. Not only for myself as an individual but also as an artist, realising that “the norms” of a theatre space, which I’d learnt to be the ‘rules’ of theatre making-didn’t have to be so- that there was a different way to approach, to analyse to process to imagine stories- and that way was equally as valid . #suchdeep #muchwow

How is your character, Julia, similar to and different from you and what have you learned from her?
Julia, unlike myself, has a steadfast faith in the system she finds herself, in meritocracy- the notion that hard work leads to success (however that manifests) and thus any failure is due to individual inadequacy. That was the first big obstacle i had to work through in understanding Julia, as to WHY someone who has been wronged by her society in so many ways, continues to obey by the rules that actively maintain her lowly position. Julia also manages to be very similar to me in the way she navigates her world, in her ability to master the act of appeasing and knows how to keep-up-appearances when all she wants to do is yell to the heavens..yeah, we’re pretty Kool Kats

How will this play have changed you, as an actor and a person?
As a testament to Penny’s incredible ability, It’s introduced me to a new way to approach, discover and understand a character. This play has also set a precedent for myself as an artists as to the amount of complexity and nuance I am will accept in a role. Female roles aren’t accessories to adorn a male centric narrative- they deserve to be written with truth and dimension and dare I say: virility.

Lucy Goleby and Moreblessing Maturure can be seen in Fallen by Seanna van Helten.
Dates: 6 – 22 Apr, 2017
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: Antigone (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 6 – 22, 2016
Playwright: Sophocles (adapted by Damien Ryan)
Directors: Terry Karabelas, Damien Ryan
Cast: Andrea Demetriades, Anna Volska, Deborah Galanos, Elijah Williams, Fiona Press, Janine Watson, Joseph Del Re, Louisa Mignone, Marie Kamara, Thomas Royce-Hampton, William Zappa
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
In Damien Ryan’s adaptation of Antigone, a single word ‘terrorism’ leads the charge in transforming the ancient text into a story for our times. Language and its accompanying sensibilities are disarmingly modern in the suddenly new play, and we are compelled to engage with its ideas in a thoroughly contemporary manner. It makes us think about the inconvenient evolution of democracy in the age of social media, and the frightening consequences of vacuous personalities running for office. We confront the demonisation and scapegoating of people who have been turned into the public enemy du jour, and examine the eternal dilemma of making sacrifices for the greater good. Almost like a time capsule of culture as it stands, with many of today’s concerns contained in a tale from ages past.

The production encourages our minds to build associations between the unfolding story with our immediate realities, delivering resonances that can feel disparate and divergent, but direction of the work (by Ryan and Terry Karabelas) maintains a dramatic focus with its emphasis on characters and atmosphere. The use of percussive instruments provide tremendous manipulation to mood, and to meaning; Thomas Royce-Hampton’s ability to create just the right sounds at every crucial moment of tension is one of the show’s strokes of genius. The chorus is effectively utilised to steer our moral compasses, along with our emotions, for a theatrical experience that captivates our senses and intellect. It must be noted that there is an elegance and often very delightful approach to the chorus’ stylistic work that brings surprising texture to the show. Visual design is beautifully considered and confidently executed, with Matt Cox’s lights and Melanie Liertz’s set, impressive from the very start.

It is an appealing cast, fortified by excellent chemistry and timing, exuberantly alive for the entire duration. Andrea Demetriades is an earthy Antigone, restrained and almost minimalist in performance style, but consistently believable. More could be made of her crises, that will allow the actor greater space to showcase her abilities, and for us to feel closer to the plight of Thebes’ people. Courage, determination and strength of will are Antigone’s dominant qualities, but they are often left offstage. We witness the aftermath of her heroic deeds, but not the very moments of bravery that are central to how we know her to be. When Antigone defies the demands of community and the state’s decree, she is moved by conscience and love. Through her actions, we arrive at an absolute truth, discovering something fundamental to human experience. She urges us to persist with what we know to be right, and her tender age teaches us to be suspicious of grown-up notions of shades of grey. How a person chooses to live in the real world, becomes that person’s own reality. Antigone is dead at 15, but her life held only pure and good.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Three Sisters (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 28 – Aug 13, 2016
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (translated by Karen Vickery)
Director: Kevin Jackson
Cast: Tom Campbell, Paige Gardiner, John Grinston, Noel Hodda, Zoe Jensen, Graeme McRae, Michael McStay, Kenneth Moraleda, Lyn Pierse, Lauren Richardson, Shane Russon, Justin Stewart-Cotta, Dorje Swallow, Janine Watson
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
There are few absolutes in life, but change is certain. The world transforms from moment to moment, and how each person experiences the flux of being is where we discover meaning. In Chekhov’s Three Sisters, characters talk about progress, expressing hopes for the future, but are unable to propel themselves into action. Passivity is the enemy, and they succumb to its control. Years pass by and each day in their provincial estate becomes increasingly forlorn and depressed. There is something about the comfort of wealth that prevents individuals from reaching the best of their potentials; in the absence of urgency, one is left frozen, unable to attain greatness that can only result from courage and risk.

The production is both courageous and risky. Under Kevin Jackson’s direction, actors make bold decisions with how their stories are told. They commit to a highly animated style of presentation, uncommon in our day and age, that delivers wonderfully amusing results, but can at times be jarring to our benumbed bourgeois sensibilities. Whether or not we find interpretations believable in psychological terms, Jackson brings a level of clarity to the ideas being discussed that allows the hundred (and some) year-old Three Sisters to speak with an unexpected relevancy.

The director’s love of acting is evident in the amount of detail he encourages from the cast, but at over three hours long, the play is too much of a good thing. Nonetheless, the delightful ensemble of twenty diverse actors (resplendent in costumes by Emma Vine) is teeming with vigour, and evenly impressive. The most memorable scene belongs to Irina, Masha and Olga in Act III when they confide in each other, sharing feelings about sad events, but guffawing at themselves. The contradictions they perform are not only effective in reinforcing Chekhov’s commentary on aristocracy, but a sophisticated device that marries irony with theatricality, for a complex representation of humanity at a moment of despondence.

The tragedy of not being able to realise one’s dreams is made more pitiful when there is nothing ostensibly in the way. The women and men of Three Sisters have no one to blame but themselves for their disappointments, and we react with laughter and with sadness, a bittersweet acknowledgement of their predicament that we readily relate to. In the play, happiness is a concept detached from realities, and the concept becomes increasingly abstract with age. We end the show with women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but the conclusion is a buoyant one for it provides answers to burning personal questions, along with an optimistic perspective of what can often be a very dark existence.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Away (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 22 – 25, 2016
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Damien Ryan, Samantha Young
Cast: Angela Bauer, George Banders, James Bell, Michael Cullen, Danielle King, Berynn Schwerdt, Georgia Scott, Lizzie Schebesta, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Eloise Winestock, Amy Usherwood, Sarah Woods
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Michael Gow’s Away is about ordinary lives and their hidden struggles. The action takes place in 1967 Australia, but the problems faced by its characters are of a personal nature and therefore eternal in their resonance. Social turbulence evolves with each era, and although we think of the world as being a different place with different challenges through time, Gow’s play demonstrates the constancy of our inner struggles. We can imagine ourselves existing in any period, but human mortality is the basis of how we conceive of ourselves; the awareness of death’s inevitability tells us what we want from each day and what we wish to leave behind.

Away is not essentially of an operatic scale, and its many intimate qualities are lost in the very vast theatre space. The production is attractively designed, sleek and refreshing in its simplicity, but the set has an asymmetry that causes the play to project to approximately two-thirds of the auditorium, leaving remaining seats cold. Direction is similarly negligent of this spacial imbalance. Actor Sarah Woods is a clear stand out for her deliberately exaggerated performance, gripping the audience with an over-the-top entrance, and keeping us engaged with her dramatic flourishes as her character Gwen proceeds to reveal her surprising complexities.

The text has an interest in the dark and messy sides of life but the show has a sterility that disconnects from its intentions. The story might be conveyed well to the better seats in the house, but its message is not delivered with sufficient power. We congregate at the theatre to listen, and those on stage have the responsibility to reach out to all who have made the effort to participate. The room can be packed full through commercial brilliance, but the night proves to be fruitless if people leave with emptiness.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: The Taming Of The Shrew (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 19 – 28, 2016
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Robert Alexander, George Banders, Angela Bauer, Michael Cullen, Barry French, Terry Karabelas, George Kemp, Danielle King, James Lugton, Lizzie Schebesta, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Amy Usherwood, Eloise Winestock
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
The Minola sisters are the very antithesis to each other’s being. Bianca is sugar, spice and everything nice, while Katharina is outspoken and rebellious. In Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew, we witness patriarchy at its worst, exposed through the way women are idealised and diminished, made to conform to rules that apply only to their gender. Bianca is perfect, but Katharina is flawed, never mind that Katharina’s behaviour, although vilified, is much closer in essence to the menfolk’s than the anomalously agreeable personality of Bianca. Women are not allowed the same liberties. Like the men in the story, Katharina is too loud, she complains too much, and is uninterested in marriage, but she alone is a figure of contention, and the world resolutely inflicts upon her, that same subjugation and suppression virtually all women have had to endure.

Damien Ryan’s direction does not provide the answer to how we can subvert Shakespeare’s writing for a feminist interpretation, but it is a thought-provoking work nonetheless, sensitive to modern sensibilities regarding representation and politics of gender. The highly controversial speech by Katharina that concludes the play, and that demonstrates the successful vanquishment of her spirit, is orchestrated not with a celebratory tone as originally intended, but with an aura of tribulation. The words are offensive but they are not censored. Ryan does his best to convey the problematic nature of ideologies that underpin the play, but it is ultimately a reverential work that asks many right questions without actually hitting back at its master’s sins. Politics aside, the production is highly entertaining and wildly inventive, leaving no stone unturned for a theatrical experience rich with spectacle and wonder.

If the most significant trait of live performance is the very liveness of its reality, then The Taming Of The Shrew is a triumph of energy and impulse. Although tightly rehearsed, the ensemble is doggedly present and full of vitality. Danielle King is the shrew in question, unapologetically feisty in her portrayal of delicious recalcitrance. Playing the softer sister, but no less powerful, is Lizzie Schebesta, impressive with her physical agility and humour. Both actors bring to the stage passion and strength, creating characters independently admirable, shifting slightly the text’s repugnant power imbalance of genders. Also memorable is Terry Karabelas as Hortensio, full of dramatic exuberance, enthralling in all his scenes and irresistibly funny with every deliberate gesture.

The production begins with an announcement of thanks to supporters of independent theatre, but we soon discover that our associations of independence with smallness has no bearing at all on the scale of talent displayed here. Design aspects of the show are uniformly superb. Anna Gardiner’s set design is charming, surprising and gloriously innovative. Lights by Sian James-Holland are boundlessly dynamic and sophisticated, and sound by Tom Allum is replete with instinctual accuracy. We are treated to a thing of great beauty, marvellously polished and thoroughly delightful with its aesthetic explorations.

With patriarchy reinforced by Katharina’s transformation and her eventual discovery of love and happiness, the audience is left in two minds. If we believe in happily ever after, then our protagonist’s debasement is to a certain degree, justified. We can acknowledge that playing by the rules of the boys’ club has its rewards, but it does not take extraordinary incisiveness to perceive the immorality that is at play. Authenticity is compromised, and the cards are stacked against half of us, in a game that we all have trouble avoiding. Shakespeare’s persistence in our cultural landscape is a reflection of the maleness that flaunts its dominance. Unable to help ourselves, we keep going back to the Bard and all his archaic ideas, that we insist on perpetuating for all time.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Edward II (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 1 – 17, 2015
Playwright: Christopher Marlowe
Director: Terry Karabelas
Cast: Angela Bauer, Barry French, Belinda Hoare, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, Gabriel Fancourt, Georgia Adamson, James Lugton, Julian Garner, Michael Whalley, Richard Hilliar, Simon London
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Christopher Marlowe’s 1593 tragedy Edward II charts the downfall of a king in a political system controlled vigorously by the church. In the play, Edward’s controversial relationship with one of his minions Gaveston, provides a motive for the barons and Queen Isabella to depose of Edward in favour of his son. In addition to the unorthodox love in question, the king is also portrayed to be an ineffectual leader with few redeeming qualities. The other personalities in the script who plot his demise are similarly repugnant, resulting in a narrative that is emotionally distant in spite of its many scenes of passion. There is no one for us to side with, and we do not feel badly for anybody’s anguish.

Terry Karabelas’ direction emphasises the fleshly pleasures and pains of Edward II. The magnification of sexuality, along with graphic scenes of torture, give the show a refreshing contemporariness. The omnipresence of religion as an insidious force that instigates every objectionable act is a another subversive interpretation that attempts to bring paradigms closer to today’s standards but ultimately, little poignancy is to be found in the production.

Although performances are uniformly polished and energetic, characters rarely communicate beyond the surface. Personalities are insufficiently compelling, and the story turns simplistic. Leading man Julian Garner has a dark and alluring presence, with an intensity that holds our attention, but there is little for the actor to work with. Characters lack complexity and the cast struggles to elevate the play from its predictability. More noteworthy is lighting design by Ross Graham whose excellent work helps to manufacture a sense of theatricality, and atones with emotional dimensions lacking in the text.

Betrayals, mutinies and dethronements are themes more than familiar to any Australian, therefore dealing with those subjects require a level of insight beyond the pedestrian. The changing of prime ministers and governments lead the news on a daily basis, and in spite of its many murders, what Edward II presents is strangely placid. It is unfortunate that the knifing of leaders is now commonplace, but the drama that accompanies those stories should never turn mundane.

www.sportforjove.com.au