Review: Dorr-e Dari: A Poetic Crash Course In The Language Of Love (PYT Fairfield)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 20 – 24, 2021
Director: Paul Dwyer
Cast: Mahdi Mohammadi, Bibi Goul Mossavi, Jawad Yaqoubi
Images by Anna Kucera

Theatre review
In Dorr-e Dari, the aspect of Sydney we call a cultural melting pot, comes to life, as artists with roots in Kabul, Tehran and Quetta collaborate to present a work based on Persian poetry. Subtitled “A Poetic Crash Course in the Language of Love” we are treated to philosophical perspectives on affairs of the heart, not restricted to the romantic, but relevant to all tender parts of humanity. Many of the words are foreign, but the sentiments of Dorr-e Dari feel to be wholly universal.

On stage for the entirety, a trio of artists Mahdi Mohammadi, Bibi Goul Mossavi and Jawad Yaqoubi present a bilingual show that often deals with tradition, but tailored to a modern Australian sensibility. With an English-speaking audience in mind, they find ways to cross bridges, and formulate translations, so that through these ancient writings, a new cohesion can be forged, especially between tribes that seem, on the surface, to be incompatible. It appears that to locate commonalities in the details of how our emotions work, is to create a sense of peace in how we experience and understand the world. For a work about love, it is indeed the nature of our shared existence on this one land that becomes fundamental.

Directed by Paul Dwyer, the show is unexpectedly beautiful in its somewhat fragmented form. Sequences can be naturalistic or theatrical, conversational or ceremonial, spiritual or didactical; there are dance sequences, comedic anecdotes, and videophone footage (live and pre-recorded), Dorr-e Dari is unconstrained in the ways it wishes to communicate. The tone is however, pleasantly cohesive, with all three performers proving to be highly likeable, and very welcoming presences, even if slightly unseasoned by conventional standards.

As we become used to the notion of having to bring diversity to all our social and professional endeavours, we gain a new appreciation for a post-assimilation world, where cultures of colonisation should no longer dominate our conversations. It is of great significance that Dorr-e Dari commences with a welcome to country by Indigenous elder, Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor (who also contributes her own love poem). As a people with roots from all over the planet, the only point of convergence for Australians, should we ever feel the need to have only one, must always have a First Nations emphasis. This is the most rational, and the most just, way for us to advance as a nation. The future of Australia needs to provide dignity for all, not only for the most barbaric.

www.pyt.com.au

Review: Maureen: Harbinger Of Death (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jan 15 – 23, 2021
Playwright: Jonny Hawkins
Director: Nell Ranney
Cast: Jonny Hawkins
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
In the prologue, we learn that some of Jonny Hawkins’ best friends are old ladies. It is a somewhat strange declaration to make, but the truth is that very few young Australians, can say that they spend much time at all with the elderly. As a colonised nation, we routinely ignore the old. Youth is money, and money is everything, in this Western style civilisation we all have to live. Thank heavens then, that Hawkins has created a play that shifts our focus, making us look intently at a woman in her glorious eighties. Maureen: Harbinger Of Death may not be an entirely true story, but none of it ever feels less than real.

This one-person show involves Hawkins themself performing as Maureen, sat permanently in a chair, never tiring of a nice, long chat. Her advanced years lead her to believe that she has the ability to foreshadow the death of friends, for she has seen them depart one by one. The writing is witty, extremely warm and often very poignant. Direction by Nell Ranney is extraordinarily elegant, for an appropriately restrained production featuring a larger than life character. Lights by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Steve Toulmin, are quietly resolved but always just right. Isabel Hudson’s work on set and costume is delicately considered, and a visual delight.

As performer, Hawkins is remarkable. They inhabit and convey wonderfully, the luminous essence of Maureen, a woman any audience will find instantly loveable. Their generosity of spirit offers a bridge, one that invites us to regard the octogenarian in the same way. Hawkins’ sharp comedic sense ensures that we are riveted, and the ease with which they command the stage, is quite a marvel to observe.

Maureen: Harbinger Of Death is a dignified portrait, of a person otherwise overlooked and forgotten. All of us are valuable cogs of the same machine, yet only a few at the top are ever celebrated. Our way of life requires that each must give till it hurts, but how we are rewarded for the same pain, is certainly unequal and unjust. So many are chewed up and spat out; so many are given use-by dates, and mercilessly abandoned thereafter. By contrast, many of our minority cultures revere the elderly. If only we knew to make better choices.

www.nellranney.com.au

Review: The Rise And Fall Of Saint George (Performing Lines)

Venue: Barangaroo Reserve (Barangaroo NSW), Jan 15, 2021
Music: Paul Mac
Lyrics: Lachlan Philpott
Director: Kate Champion
Cast: Andrew Bukenya, Jacqui Dark, HANDSOME, Joyride, Brendan Maclean, Ngaiire, Marcus Whale, Inner West Voices, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Images by Bianca De Marchi

Theatre review
English pop music legend George Michael passed away Christmas Day 2016. His death (and life) holds special meaning for the diverse and bohemian suburb of Newtown in Sydney, where a mural was painted soon after by graffiti artist Scott Marsh, on a wall outside the home of musician Paul Mac. Passengers on a busy train line would pass by many times every hour, watching a sanctified commemoration of St George, complete with spliff and beer bottle, as if blessing Sydneysiders from an ironic but unequivocally loving heaven.

It was a difficult time for Australia, leading up to the same-sex marriage referendum in Sep 2017. Our divisions had become severe and overt like never before, but there he was, St George with a Pride flag draped around his shoulders, in a mock religious style, providing comfort and reassurance. The gay icon had left behind an unparalleled legacy. Emanating from the spray painted image, were memories of his achievements, escapades and defiance, a constant reminder that all will be fine, in the midst of daily homophobic attacks on virtually every media platform.

Days after it was made official that marriage equality would come to pass, our beloved St George was defiled. Black paint was smeared all over what had quickly become a landmark, by Christian fundamentalists, who claimed it an insulting portrayal of Jesus Christ. Our community was left reeling. The artists went to work. The Rise And Fall Of Saint George is a collection of songs by Paul Mac and playwright Lachlan Philpott, documenting that assault on Newtown and Sydney’s queer community. It deals with trauma not only of that fateful moment, but is in fact, a meditation on the lifelong persecution suffered by all of us whose sexual and gender identities dare deviate from the straight and narrow.

Like Michael’s own music, the work here is consistently melancholic, whether the rhythms are buoyant or sentimental. Peppered with deeply affecting moments of Mac addressing the audience from his piano, with first-hand accounts of precious memories, the entire experience is a tender one. A choir (conducted by Emily Irvine) and solo singers perform each number with admirable passion, often with flamboyant embellishments, but always sincere in their approach. Video projections by Tony Melov are evocative enhancements offering invaluable flashbacks, that return us to some very emotional days.

From his early days hiding in the closet, afraid of the myriad devastating repercussions if found out, to a rejuvenated existence that is unapologetically loud and proud, the George Michael narrative is one that all in this community is intimately familiar with. Violence is nothing new to us, and the more we have to endure it, the more brilliant we shine.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: AutoCannibal (Oozing Future)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 13 – 17, 2021
Director: Masha Terentieva
Cast/Creator: Mitch Jones
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
The show is named AutoCannibal because in the dystopic future of Mitch Jones’ creation, he is seen gradually eating himself to death, literally. Starting with expendable parts of the anatomy, like hair and nails, we watch his desperation gradually escalate, and wonder if the moment of inevitability will take place right before our eyes. A one-man show in the physical theatre tradition, reminiscent of the work of artists like Buster Keaton and Marcel Marceau, Jones pushes the envelope towards something very dark, although not altogether unfunny.

There are many horror dimensions to AutoCannibal, involving self-mutilation of course, but also isolation, madness and other hard to name fears resulting from the end of the civilisation. A short video at the beginning hints at the usual suspects, namely climate, capitalism and politics, that lead us to this point of abject destruction, but in 2021, there really is very little need for explanations about the sad state of affairs in which our protagonist finds himself. We may be conditioned to interpret dystopic visions as futuristic cautionary tales, but at this present time, it takes little stretch of the imagination, to read the presentation as an allegory for so much that is happening today.

Design aspects of the show are highly accomplished. Sound by Bonnie Knight is dynamic and compelling, a crucial element in lieu of dialogue, that guides us through varying states of distress and humour. Paul Lin’s lights are moody but magical, effective in establishing something very close to a living nightmare before our eyes. Michael Baxter’s set design too is noteworthy, able to provide more than functionality, for a stage that looks genuinely terrifying.

Under Masha Terentieva’s direction, Jones performs a wordless theatre that is just scary enough, often pushing us to psychological limits, without taking the action to a point of alienation. There is ample opportunity for showing off Jones’ athletic and comedic talents, but AutoCannibal is not always sufficiently engaging for the intellect. When the audience witnesses a human pushed to the extremes in art and entertainment, we cannot help but wonder about the point of it all, and there is little that could provide satisfying complexity to how we can contextualise these horrors.

We live in a world of scandalous abundance, yet so many are hungry. It boggles the mind that people everywhere are left to die of starvation, while most of us fill our days with hoarding and accumulating the thing commonly known as wealth. Conditioned to think of people as either worthy or unworthy, we are completely at ease with the idea that some are simply lesser, and that their suffering is justified. We are taught to fear, taught to submit, taught to accept that some babies will grow into rich people, and others will languish in poverty, as though this is all natural and the irreversible course of the world. To watch the character in AutoCannibal eat himself to death, is to have our morals called into serious question.

www.oozingfuture.com

Review: Sunshine Super Girl (Performing Lines)

Venue: Sydney Town Hall (Sydney NSW), Jan 8 – 17, 2021
Playwright: Andrea James
Director: Andrea James
Cast: Luke Carroll, Jax Compton, Tuuli Narkle, Katina Olsen, Kyle Shilling
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
Living legend Evonne Goolagong ruled tennis through the 1970s, a remarkable feat by anyone’s standards, but her successes as a young Aboriginal woman can never be underemphasised. Systemic forces put in place through all these years of colonisation, means that any instances of excellence by the Indigenous population of our land, represents a defiant tenacity, whether or not the individual chooses to identify along political lines. In Andrea James’ Sunshine Super Girl, our heroine thinks of herself as apolitical, however there is no mistaking her achievements as anything but an immense source of pride and inspiration for Australians of all stripes.

Written and directed by James, the work is a captivating study of not just the sporting icon, but also the environment in which all Indigenous women have to endure. Sunshine Super Girl‘s discussions of gender and race, although handled with a lightness of touch, does not shy away from the hard realities that women of colour deal with every day and everywhere. The actual narrative of Goolagong’s glory years is uncomplicated and rarely overtly dramatic, but James’ meticulous direction, along with marvelous choreography by Katina Olsen and Vicki Van Hout, work in collaboration to deliver a rich and soulful creation, that many will find genuinely moving.

There is a tender sincerity to the production that makes its 90-minute duration a terrific experience. Music and sound by Gail Priest are intricate and sensitive, while lights by Karen Norris and projections by Mic Gruchy help us reach emotional depths beyond that which dialogue can provide. Set and costumes by Romanie Harper and Melanie Liertz convey contextual information with great efficiency, able to manufacture a sophisticated aesthetic that is elegant, authentic and very pleasing to the eye.

Leading lady Tuuli Narkle is a charismatic and truthful presence, who impresses with the thoroughness of her reflections, and the precision with which she executes her creative ideas. As a young Goolagong, Narkle is confident, nuanced and simply brilliant. The supporting cast comprises Luke Carroll, Jax Compton, Katina Olsen, Kyle Shilling, a formidable team beautifully cohesive at every turn, yet each performer is able to demonstrate distinct strengths that appeal to the audience in varied ways.

The importance of success stories and role models for minority communities, are often overlooked. Without sufficient examples of accomplishments by people like us, it is easy to think that everything is out of reach. On the other hand, these extraordinary personalities draw attention to the irregularity of people like us making it big. We must place attention on structural mechanisms that are hindrances for particular groups. This often means that dominant cultures have to consciously cede power, before parity can ever have a chance to be attained. Not many of us can be Evonne Goolagong, and we should not have to be exceptional in order to walk this earth with joy and dignity.

www.performinglines.org.au

Review: The Last Season (Force Majeure)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 6 – 10, 2021
Director: Danielle Micich
Cast: Paul Capsis, Olwen Fouéré, Pamela Rabe, Isabel Bantog, Owen Beckman-Scott, Luka Brett-Hall, Maddie Brett-Hall, Imala Cush, Niamh Cush, Nicholas Edwards, Ember Henninger, Piper Kemp, Poppy McKinnon, Julia Piazza, Tallulah Pickard, Louis Ting
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Thirteen young creatures are hatched at the beginning of The Last Season, and we follow them through their first year, witnessing transformations alongside as they progress through the months commencing in Summer. The first three sections of the 4-part show feature a central character, a mature personality juxtaposing against these tender entities. Presented in a non-narrative format, it suggests ideas of legacy and progeniture, placing focus on past/future and parent/child, to ask fundamental questions about our very existence.

Directed by Danielle Micich, The Last Season is an ambitious work. Marg Howell’s set and costumes, Damien Cooper’s lights, and Kelly Ryall’s music, all conspire to create something that indicates an unmissable sense of the epic; the themes under investigation certainly are of that grandiose scale. Transcendental in its tone and feel, the production however never really moves us to the sublime. Its abstraction places us in a cerebral state, yet what it wishes to say, seems to remain in the pedestrian.

Although insufficiently inventive, The Last Season‘s experimental nature is to be lauded. The youthful ensemble is full of intensity and concentration, with every member displaying admirable generosity in their commitment to the art form. Senior performers bring colourful variation, each one distinct and memorable. Paul Capsis is especially powerful, with the poignant humour and sincerity that they are able to introduce to the piece. Olwen Fouéré’s extraordinary style and energy provide a remarkable sense of elevation, and Pamela Rabe’s august theatricality establishes a necessary gravity that keeps us attentive.

With each generation, we wonder if it is just history repeating, or if a new frontier is being forged. Life is a mystery, but we know for sure that there will always be individuals who refuse to toe the line, and new innovators who will create something never before seen. Conformity is death, so it is fortunate that living amongst us, are those who will ensure that our extinction is kept at bay, for a little while longer.

www.forcemajeure.com.au

Review: Wake In Fright (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 11 – 15, 2020
Playwright: Declan Greene with Zahra Newman (adapted from the novel by Kenneth Cook)
Director: Declan Greene
Cast: Zahra Newman
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Included in the price of entry, are a pair of earplugs. There are some loud noises in the production that delicate members of the audience might want to shield themselves from, but symbolically, they are a sarcastic dig at our Australian propensity to shut out any discussion about race that goes too close to the bone. Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel Wake In Fright is re-framed by director Declan Greene and performer Zahra Newman, so that the classic gothic horror becomes an apparatus that exposes the anxiety of the white man on this colonised land. School teacher John is trapped in a country town, where he encounters a string of dubious characters determined to inflict degradation, using alcohol and other vices, so that he turns into one of them, over the course of a weekend.

More than a tall poppy story, this reiteration of Wake In Fright is about Western masculinity’s relentless need for destruction. The Indigenous have long disappeared from fictitious Bundanyabba, but the carnage continues, now with European settlers exerting their irrepressible barbarism onto themselves. Having once been a scary movie, this bleak tale is again given the genre treatment, with outstanding work by Verity Hampson on light and projections, alongside James Paul’s thrilling sound design and Melbourne duo friendships’ intuitive music, providing eerie and meaningful discombobulation to our experience of the show. Although not frightening in a sensorial manner that films are notoriously capable of, director Greene certainly conveys powerfully, the fearsome quality of this dark tale. Aussie larrikins gone wild are not to be toyed with.

The exceptional Newman is breathtaking in her one-woman show, unforgettable for delivering extraordinary complexity with what could have been a simple story. She has us on the edge of our seats for the show’s entirety, keeping our minds active with the many dimensions and depths that she alchemizes on stage. It is noteworthy that this version of Wake In Fright works particularly well with a woman of colour at its helm. Newman’s gender and skin are constant cues that prevent us from forgetting about the masculinity and whiteness that are central to the catastrophe unfolding.

The earbuds remain a personal choice. Many will choose to ignore the obvious, because much of the power of the status quo relies on its ability to keep us feeling debilitated. It also succeeds at misleading many into insisting that the problems with society are about deficient individuals, and not the overarching systems that govern us. It is no coincidence that the horrors that overwhelm John are imposed by people who fit a particular description. We need to learn to see patterns, and form understandings that will help us in more substantive ways, than to replace bad eggs in structures that will never accommodate good ones. The outback town in Wake In Fright is sick, but we fear the overhaul that is required, and choose instead to let it languish in perpetual revulsion.

www.malthousetheatre.com.au

Review: Songs For Nobodies (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 23 – Feb 9, 2020
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: Bernadette Robinson

Theatre review
There are ten women in Joanna Murray-Smith’s Songs For Nobodies, a collection of five stories about famous singers and the ordinary lives they had touched. It is a series of juxtapositions, of diva and goddess, of women on stage and women from other walks of life, all being put through their paces in one form or another. Murray-Smith’s poignant humour works a charm, able to imbue each character with dignity along with a sense of the divine, not only for the celebrities, but also for the women-next-door that it depicts so lovingly. All women can be regarded with reverence, if we know to value them appropriately.

Bernadette Robinson is the extraordinary talent who introduces us to all the characters in Songs For Nobodies. When impersonating Maria Callas, Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf, she is impressive not only for the likeness that she quite magically achieves, but also for the very virtuosity she displays in each of the unforgettable standards that she sings. Her portrayals of the every woman too, are commanding, whether American, English or Irish, Robinson is convincing, engaging and gloriously charming, able to elevate forgotten souls, as a reminder that all women are sometimes truly sublime.

Directed by Simon Phillips, the show is elegantly rendered, very subtle in approach, but nonetheless affecting. Orchestrations by Ian McDonald are dramatic and highly evocative, able to seize our imagination in a flash, to transport us through time and space for momentary immersions, that make us feel as though in the presence of legends. Scott Rogers’ lights too are notable, for their romantic warmth, able to take us away from the humdrum and the mundane, that we too often think of as the only reality.

Very few women ever get to see things from the top, but there is no rat race that we should feel compelled to participate in. More than the rich and famous, are the many examples of fulfilling and self-determined existences that are plain to see. Many of us will not know what it is like to influence millions, and to never have succeeded in accordance with stipulations of dominant paradigms, but in this current moment of a new understanding around centuries of relentless destruction, we should more than ever before, appreciate those we think of small people, who have had no power in our collective journey to impending extinction.

www.duetgroup.com

Review: The Visitors (Moogahlin Performing Arts)

Venue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Jan 22 – 26, 2020
Playwright: Jane Harrison
Director: Frederick Copperwaite
Cast: John Blair, Damion Hunter, Colin Kinchela, Nathan Leslie, Leroy Parsons, Glenn Shea, Kerri Simpson
Images by Jamie James

Theatre review
Seven men gather on the shore of Gadigal land, debating whether to welcome or to repel those arriving on ships from overseas. It is 1788, but in Jane Harrison’s The Visitors, these Aboriginal leaders are dressed in three-piece suits, and they speak an English that sounds more like characters from Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, than even any of us would today. Indeed, Harrison’s writing assumes not only the style of classic white theatre, its narrative structure is modelled after the conceit of that 1954 play, involving a council being disrupted by the doubts of a single cautiously deliberative soul.

As though purposefully addressing a Western audience, The Visitors pulls out all the stops so that there is no mistaking the Aboriginal work’s intent to question and to confront. With both content and form shaped in a way that is unequivocally understandable to colonisers, we watch these Indigenous characters painstakingly discuss an appropriate response for what they had imagined to be temporary entrants. Their compassionate struggle with the matter is only made more moving, by the enormity of the fallout that remains unbeknownst to them, that is to become the daily lived experience of all their descendants.

Directed by Frederick Copperwaite, the staging is as polished as it is passionate, with important arguments delivered in ways that are precise and affecting. Visually satisfying, with Lisa Mimmochi’s exacting set and costumes, along with Chloe Ogilvie’s elegant lights, providing a sense of sophisticated dynamism to the story. Sound design by Phil Downing, with additional music by Tim Gray, too are instrumental in transporting us deep into the psyche of rightful land owners past and present.

The ensemble is marvellously cohesive, unwavering in their dedication to this powerful tale. John Blair and Glenn Shea are particularly memorable for their exquisite timing, both performers turning on the charm, having us absolutely captivated by their effortless humour. An impressive gravity is contributed by Leroy Parsons, very convincing and engrossing as Walter, the brave one who dares go against the tide. The show is brought to an intense conclusion by Damion Hunter’s disarming soliloquy as Gordon, who in the crucial moment reveals emotions that are just as raw today as they were at the dawn of this catastrophe.

It may seem that our Indigenous are always meeting us halfway. In The Visitors, they dress and speak like their oppressors, almost like a last-ditch attempt to get people hearing. Characters in the play fail to understand why the whites feel the need to steal; that basic question so many continue to evade today. Colonisation in Australia has been a ruthless project ongoing for over two centuries, and its pace only ever gets more ferocious. One of the men in the play expresses bewilderment at the felling of just one tree in the hands of the whites. Little did he know the true depth of destruction that was to come.

www.moogahlin.org

Review: Bran Nue Dae (Opera Australia)

Venue: Riverside Theatres (Parramatta NSW), Jan 15 – Feb 1, 2020
Book: Jimmy Chi
Music and lyrics: Jimmy Chi, Kuckles
Director: Andrew Ross
Cast: Czack (Ses) Bero, Marcus Corowa, Adi Cox, Ernie Dingo, Damar Isherwood, Taj Jamieson, Tehya Jamieson, Teresa Moore, Andrew Moran, Tuuli Narkle, Callan Purcell, Bojesse Pigram, Ngaire Pigram, Tai Savage, Danielle Sibosado
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Bran Nue Dae is the semi-autobiographical story of Aboriginal music star Jimmy Chi, who as a teenager in the 1960’s, hitchhiked from his mission school back home to Broome. A musical of the coming-of-age variety, the work features splendid songs written some thirty years ago by Chi and his band Kuckles, now beautifully nostalgic and sentimental, with strong country and soul influences that move us evocatively to the Western Australia outback.

Musical direction by Patrick bin Amat and Michael Mavromatis provide an emotional dimension to the show, effective in conveying a sense of the Australian bush, and of Indigenous cultures through their sensitive arrangement of each and every tune. Directed by Andrew Ross, the comedy is a sleek one, but insufficiently humorous, often lacking in the energy required to fill the large auditorium.

Performer Ernie Dingo leaves a strong impression, with an easy charm and confidence as Uncle Tadpole that sustains our interest. Protagonist Willie is played by an equally likeable Marcus Corowa, who lights up the stage with his vocal cords whenever they get a workout. The ensemble is a nimble uplifting group, with the four women proving particularly memorable, when singing their bright and resonant choruses.

Being the very first Aboriginal musical, Bran Nue Dae is undoubtedly significant in theatrical history. What is more important however, are the subsequent shows that should follow, but examples are scarce. Of course, Indigenous peoples continue to practise other art forms that are culturally specific, and the wider community must always provide support when invited to, although the dream remains, where Western institutions can be much more inclusive, that more Indigenous participation can be seen in what has become this nation’s dominant platforms. The fact that our black sisters and brothers continue to be missing from so much of our cultural activity, is a seismic problem that we cannot afford to take lightly.

www.brannuedaemusical.com.au