Review: The Iliad Out Loud (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jan 23 – 27, 2019
Playwright: William Zappa
Director: William Zappa
Cast: Blazey Best, Heather Mitchell, Socratis Otto, William Zappa
Images by Lisa Tomasetti, Jamie Williams

Theatre review
Homer’s ancient poem is adapted and abridged in William Zappa’s The Iliad Out Loud, first for radio, and now for the stage. This iteration of the epic stretches across three parts, each three hours long, presented by four actors and two musicians, in the form of a staged reading. It takes after what is believed to have happened in 8th century BC, when the original was performed, to be heard and not read. Zappa’s text can easily be repackaged as a novel, and often we wonder if that would have been a better format, especially during the very many drawn out battling sequences, which require only visualisation and no analysis on our part.

This condensation of events would likely be more rewarding for those who are already fans of the story. A thrilling ride for some can prove an ordeal for others, as the production routinely rushes past character development to cover significant occurrences. Without sufficient background understanding of personalities, we struggle to resonate with their trials and tribulations in all the warfare, that Zappa so exhaustively conveys.

Michael Askill and Hamed Sadehi are musicians and stars of the show, a two-man band that makes a real art form of their accompaniment. In the absence of more conventional theatrical imagery, Askill and Sadehi pull out all the stops to stoke our imagination, adding infinite colour to the pages of words being dispensed. Lighting by Matt Cox too, is inspired, with a series of elegant transformations to illumination, helping guide us through states of emotion.

Zappa is an outstanding reader, full of dynamism on his stage, holding our attention with extraordinary ease, effortless in sharing his immense enthusiasm for a seminal work of his heritage. It is a confident cast that travels with us on this journey, impressive in their detailed familiarity with every twist and turn of the 9 hours.

The warring men blame their behaviour alternately, on one woman Helen, or on the gods Zeus and his ilk. Their inability to face their own culpability in all the conflict, feels an accurate reflection of every war in every era. It may not be true that women are never in favour of such brutality, but it is certain that none of these atrocities can ever be perpetrated without men. All the war heroes in Iliad can be thought of as good guys, and our continual inclination to excuse them of the horrors that they choose to enact, reveals, at least in part, why we remain in a perpetual cycle of bloodshed.

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Review: Ear To The Edge Of Time (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 11 – 27, 2018
Playwright: Alana Valentine
Director: Nadia Tass
Cast: Belinda Giblin, Gabrielle Scawthorn, Christopher Stollery, Tim Walter
Images by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Martina is a young astrophysicist, poised on the brink of greatness. When she meets Daniel, a poet assigned to observe and write about her experiences at the culmination of her PhD work, a fissure transpires, revealing the entrenched gender inequity that works against Martina and other women in the field of science. Structural sexism is not an easy phenomenon to dissect, but in Alana Valentine’s Ear To The Edge Of Time, we are presented persuasive evidence of how power is wielded to the exclusion of women, especially at the highest ranks of our authoritative organisations. It is perhaps inevitable that substantial portions of the play would feel alienating for those dulled by science, or for those suffering from political apathy, but there is no denying Valentine’s embracive diligence in her crafting of this purposeful work.

It is a simple staging, directed by Nadia Tass, who puts immense faith in her actors to deliver all. Gabrielle Scawthorn is astonishing with several big passages of science speak, that she launches into with tremendous aplomb. Some depictions of emotional turmoil can seem slightly exaggerated, but she provides admirable clarity in her depiction of Martina’s oscillating mental states, to unveil the intricately shifting strategies required of women in managing our careers. Daniel is played by Tim Walter, impressively precise, and a passionate, dependable presence adept at sustaining energy levels. Supporting roles are manifested with rich vibrancy, by Belinda Giblin and Christopher Stollery, who introduce unexpected complexity to their parts, both engrossing and delightfully entertaining.

Women navigate their careers in different ways, but by virtue of simply being women, we have additional hurdles put before us, all along our trajectory towards the glass ceiling. Ear To The Edge Of Time is by no means unique in its messaging. These issues have in recent times, been discussed repeatedly and quite obsessively. It is undeniable that the problem has now become visible, but the solutions that it asks for, remain elusive, at least in our art. There can only be two ways that this groundhog day will conclude; either our concerted efforts will help us make headway and we progress onto a new consciousness, or feminism will once again fall out of favour. We need only to look at legacies of the three previous waves for answers, and be able to find assurance that change is indeed afoot.

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Review: Moby Dick (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 9 – 25, 2018
Playwright: Orson Welles (based on the novel by Herman Melville)
Director: Adam Cook
Cast: Danny Adcock, Rachel Alexander, Mark Barry, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Jonathan Mill, Wendy Mocke, Thomas Royce-Hampton, Francesca Savige, Vaishnavi Suryaprakash, Bryden White-Tuohey
Images by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Ahab’s war on nature in Moby Dick seems altogether too familiar yet tragic. The eternal discord between humankind and our environment, is the site on which we can examine the disquiet of who we are as a species, especially in relation to our curious inability to be at one, and in peace, with nature. We are determined to extricate ourselves, always asserting a superiority that can never be. Orson Welles’ adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic, is abstract, often impenetrably so, but its concerns about our adversarial relationship with nature lay appropriately at its centre.

It is essentially a fight with the self that Ahab has to go through, and our vantage point allows his story to function as a sort of introspective interrogation, in order that we may recognise that futile struggle that we too, resolutely participate in. Director Adam Cook’s show is a vibrant cornucopia of activity that brings to energetic life, the whaling obsession that Ahab and his crew of sailors embark on. Their dialogue may confuse, but the production is a rich tapestry from which our creative minds can detect symbols, decipher language and find meanings.

A very accomplished merger of design talents help sustain a sense of magical fascination. Set and costumes by Mark Thompson are handsome, evocative and grand. Lights are industriously assembled by Gavan Swift, who manufactures a surprising beauty for the story. Sound designer Ryan Patrick Devlin keeps things lively with exciting music, much of which is thrillingly performed on stage by percussionist and actor Tom Royce-Hampton.

Danny Adcock leads the cast, suitably rhapsodic as Ahab, with an impressive presence that proves to be highly persuasive, in this mad man’s tale. Rachel Alexander is compelling as Pip, particularly memorable in a powerful scene with Ahab discussing things political and esoteric, then proclaiming with theatrical histrionics, “death to whiteness”. The role of Queequeg is beautifully portrayed by Wendy Mocke, who introduces valuable glimpses of emotional authenticity to a slightly too distant universe.

We send rockets out into the ether looking for life, trying to find points of connection with all that we deem to be alien. Back on earth, we go to great pains to alienate ourselves, in a never-ending project of division and of segregation. We have convinced ourselves that we are inexorably distinct from flora and fauna, and further, have formed an interminable habit of creating power structures and hierarchies within all our human societies. The albino whale swims in peace; its violence is only ever a result of provocation.

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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.

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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.

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Review: Cyrano De Bergerac (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jun 15 – 24, 2017
Playwright: Edmond Rostand (adaptation by Damien Ryan)
Director: Damien Ryan
Cast: Andrew Johnston, Barry French, Bernadette Ryan, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Damien Ryan, Drew Livingston, Francesca Savige, James Lugton, John Turnbull, Julian Garner, Lizzie Schebesta, Madeleine Jones, Melanie Dobson, Thom Blake, Tim Walter, Wendy Strehlow
Image by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
Women, no matter how intellectual or beautiful, are not to be trusted with their own decisions in Cyrano De Bergerac. Edward Rostand’s 120 year-old play is a romantic fantasy about an ugly man who successfully deceives and misleads the object of his desire, so that his feelings can be reciprocated. His nose, of legendary proportions, clearly does not stand in the way of human vanity.

Roxanne’s lust for the handsome Christian, is presented as foolish and absurd, hence illegitimate, in the old-fashioned play, because of course, the verbosely articulate Cyrano is the appropriate match, if a girl is to experience true love. Women are once again infantilised, and our sexuality subjugated, in order that patriarchal ideals can be presented as superior.

Tiresome ideologies of the original are retained in this recent adaptation, but there is no doubt that Damien Ryan’s remarkable wit and extraordinary talent with words, have polished up Cyrano De Bergerac, rolled it in glitter, and all but blinds us from its inferior politics. Ryan’s work is supremely clever, often very beautiful, and for the many who find enjoyment in its brand of outlandish romance, this is a play that will prove deeply satisfying.

Ryan’s work as actor too, is marvellous. Brilliantly funny, and irresistibly charming, he convinces us that sexual attractiveness is completely irrelevant, and that Cyrano is the only man for Roxanne. Lizzie Schebesta expends her efforts into the side of Roxanne that is repeatedly emphasised to be intellectual, and does all she can to elevate the role from the embarrassing gullibility that is Rostand’s creation. It is a very vivacious cast, relentlessly amusing, and audiences will be held captive for its entire 3.5 hour duration.

There are no big pertinent messages in Cyrano De Bergerac that need our urgent attention. We can certainly be entertained by other much more relevant stories, but this French play continues the perseverate tradition of European occupation of the arts in Australia. For over two centuries, we import these works, as though the purposes they serve are somehow irreplaceable or worse, more resonant than what we can find in the art of our own region. It offers an accurate reflection of the ongoing attitude of colonisation that persists (why else would all 18 actors on this stage be of Caucasian appearance?), even though we wish to think ourselves a modern, progressive and inclusive society.

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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