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.

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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

Review: Of Mice And Men (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjove2Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 9 – Aug 1, 2015
Playwright: John Steinbeck
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Andre de Vanny, Andrew Henry, Anna Houston, Anthony Gooley, Charles Allen, Christopher Stollery, John McNeill, Laurence Coy, Terry Serio, Tom Stokes
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Lennie’s intellectual disability in Of Mice And Men reveals the forgotten innocence inherent in all of humanity. His experience of the world is one that everyone can identify with, but the virtuous purity that he exemplifies is utterly absent from our daily adult lives. Unlike Lennie, we have grown too complicated and are often dishonest in the way we treat one another and ourselves. Few of us can remain idealists, and even though John Steinbeck’s play inspires the longing for a simpler and truer existence, the inevitability of its demise is also exposed. We question the corruptness that we allow in, and meditate upon the dynamics in our communities that instigate these unfortunate states of affairs. Most people are good, but when we come together, bad situations easily arise. Of Mice And Men looks at a group of men, bound by poverty and by dreams, and their journey towards a calamitous fate.

This production, directed by Iain Sinclair, is a near flawless rendering of Steinbeck’s 78 year-old text. Beautifully realised by a brilliant design team (Michael Hankin is production designer, with Nate Edmondson on sound, and lights by Sian James-Holland ), the show feels rich with authenticity and provides our senses with a satisfying approximation of how Northern America must have been at the Great Depression. Sinclair’s consummate control of atmospherics delivers a transportative pleasure that pulls us into the emotions and actions of characters that are a world away from our current realities. Each personality is conveyed with compelling idiosyncrasy, and chemistry between every actor in every scene is calibrated just right, so that stories and events are convincing and splendidly detailed.

The cast is uniformly strong, with a sense of egalitarianism in the ensemble that supports the play’s themes of camaraderie and community. Andrew Henry is sensitive, tender, and unquestionably touching as Lennie. His work is performative but also heartfelt, so that the audience’s engagement with his creation is much more than skin deep. Instead of applying a basic treatment to a simple character, Henry’s approach is meticulously inventive and the results are as entertaining as they are moving. The other leading man of the piece is Anthony Gooley, who fills the stage with charisma and a magnetic energy that is impressively dramatic. In the role of George, his empathy for Lennie is depicted powerfully, which is key to the plot’s effectiveness, but the final scene requires greater pathos from the actor for a more explosive conclusion. Charles Allen and Laurence Coy play smaller roles but are individually captivating. They generate theatrical magic with deeply nuanced interpretations of identity and sentimentality, both enthralling in their moments of eminence.

Classics resonate through the years because they encapsulate something true and universal that time is unable to diminish. Of Mice And Men represents our belief in justice, and the right of all persons to seek improvements for their circumstances. It appeals to our need to define right and wrong, and that desire to understand the differences between. Most of all, it serves as a reminder that we should strive to be better people, and to avoid the complacent and inferior, even if it requires going against every tide.

www.sportforjove.com.au

5 Questions with Charles Allen and Anna Houston

Anna Houston

Anna Houston

Charles Allen: How do you prepare to play a character that isn’t even given a name in the play, you are only referred to as Curley’s Wife?
Anna Houston: I work like a script detective … what clues are in Steinbeck’s script, his novel? Then I broaden the scope to look at the time period she came from. That helps with filling in the gaps about domestic life, socio economics, education, and so on. The rest is imagination and intuition. So much of what you bring to a role is intuitive, emotional. That’s the fun stuff. I also found a beautiful letter that Steinbeck wrote to Claire Luce, the first actress to play Curley’s Wife on Broadway in 1937. In it, he discusses her background, her motivations and desires. That letter does a lot to restore her dignity and humanity.

Curley’s Wife wants to be a star in the movies… which would you choose, being a star on stage or in the movies?
Can I do both, please? I think I’ll go with being a star on stage, paid movie star money.

5 words you’d use to describe working with a cast of 10 actors.
A noisy explosion of creativity.

Favourite down time activity on your days off from acting?
Sleeping.

Why should people see Of Mice And Men?
Because it’s Steinbeck! It’s gritty, heart breaking and timeless. It’s epic on the most intimate and vulnerable scale. And the artists at the helm of this production are at the top of their game. Excellent direction, design and performances. It deserves a damn big audience!

Charles Allen

Charles Allen

Anna Houston: Of Mice And Men is controversial for its language and the social environment surrounding its only African American character Crooks, how do you feel playing a role like that?
Charles Allen: Well, that comes down to separating the ego of the actor from the behavior of the character. I feel fine especially considering playing such a character requires me to stretch as an actor.

Crooks likes to read a lot of books, which book have you read recently that you really enjoyed?
I’m into Memoirs Of A Dutiful Daughter right now and I am really enjoying that.

Which actors inspire you?
My friend and fellow actor Mark Nassar. He isn’t well known but I’d put him in the ring with any actor past or present.

You are currently based in Brisbane… what is the first touristy thing you’ve done in Sydney?
Take a picture of the Opera House.

Why should people see Of Mice And Men?
Because it’s an atypical love story that is destined for tragedy. It uses simple characters to tell a complex story. It’s beautiful.

Anna Houston and Charles Allen will be appearing in Spot For Jove Theatre’s Of Mice And Men/em> by John Steinbeck.
Dates: 9 – 25 July, 2015
Venue: Seymour Centre