Review: Crazy Brave (Cross Pollinate Productions)

crosspollinateVenue: San Telmo Studio (Chippendale NSW), Sep 17 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Michael Gurr
Director: Suzanne Pereira
Cast: Les Asmussen, Rhys Keir, Cecilia Morrow, Sam Trotman, Samantha Ward, Michael Wood
Image by John Ma

Theatre review
Political discourse is often simplistic, with individuals taking on allegiances with left or right wings for a certain convenience necessitated by the traditional structures of governance. Adversarial parties make us take sides, and difficult issues are made easier by adhering to a seemingly sensible spectrum traversing the far left to the far right. Many of us take on political affiliations as identity markers, always ready to align or dissent based on that tribal connection, and deviations are unthinkable. In Michael Gurr’s Crazy Brave, anarchists aim for social unrest with the sole purpose of disruption. They do not wish to replace existing systems and conventions with new propositions, only to dismantle what they view to be pervasive and fundamentally problematic. Gurr’s script is complex and sophisticated. It addresses the personal and the social with brilliant sensitivity, and structures its plot inventively for a surprising and gripping progression, involving both our emotions and intellect.

Accordingly, direction by Suzanne Pereira appeals to her audience’s desire to be satisfied on those visceral and cerebral levels. Challenging ideas are presented provocatively, and passions are explored with great potency. It is a mesmerising theatrical experience, with adventurous use of space (beautifully aided by Stephen Moylan’s sound and Tim Hope’s lights) and impressively accurate portrayals of relationships and personalities. Lead characters are powerfully performed. Alice, the ardent agitator with big hopes and even greater determination, is played by Samantha Ward who delivers difficult fanatic speeches with amazing clarity and an almost intimidating conviction. Ward’s toughness in the role is awe-inspiring, and her ability to demonstrate vulnerability alongside that immense strength of character, gives the play its credibility and a dramatic quality of urgency. Sam Trotman’s interpretation of Nick is intense and thoroughly studied, and the actor’s marvellous ability to establish chemistry with co-actors makes for compelling scenes that demand our attention. Some of the show’s most moving moments come from Les Asmussen as Harold, who provides a soulful voice of reason with a flair for bringing elucidation and gravity to the subtler, but wise, sections of the text. Asmussen’s delivery of an anecdote in the concluding scene is utterly sublime storytelling.

Broken marriages can be dealt with in several ways including, as is in the play, abandonment and divorce. Defective economic and political systems are contrastingly resilient, where rot is allowed to persist because change does not benefit the powerful. Cosmetic alterations are made to appease the public, but internal deterioration remains. Revolutions require vision, and a populace that understands its own deprivation, both of which are easily concealed by misinformation and deception. Unhappy relationships can be resolved, either by collusive delusion, or a brutal annihilation, but the choices for society are less simple.

Review: Where’s My Money? (Seeker Productions)

seekerVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 23 – 27, 2015
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Laura Pike
Cast: Amelia Beau Kaldor, Eli King, Chris Miller, Jacki Mison, Monica Sayers

Theatre review
Marriage is one of the most traditional customs of any civilisation, and its long established relationship with money and property distribution remains a crucial part of social systems today. In cultures like ours, love and romance are usually the driving force of unions, but the actual and pragmatic experience remains intrinsically tied with financial matters. John Patrick Shanley’s Where’s My Money? is a boisterous comedy about female-male relationships, and the problematic intertwining of love, sex and money. The characters in the play engage in complex and passionate diatribes, always in the mode of a fight, whether or not they are dealing with their partners. They also have to contend with ghosts that make regular appearances to disrupt their attempts at logic, reminding us all of the constant presence of less tangible things like guilt, regret and love.

This production, directed by Laura Pike, is energetic and funny, with charming performances that deliver consistent laughs. A less naturalistic approach could give the text’s ideas greater elucidation, but the pace of Pike’s show is enjoyably brisk. Even though costumes leave a lot to be desired, character types and relationships are clearly defined with interesting dynamics always at play. The cast of five shows excellent conviction, and an enthusiasm for comedy that guarantees a satisfied audience. There is a subversive spirit in Shanley’s writing that encourages a more adventurous, or less straightforward style of presentation. The show is a well-rehearsed one, but greater nuance could be introduced for a more philosophical rendering of the text.

Making relationships work, can be a lot like making art work. We try to identify all its components and then apply our best efforts to ensure that an ideal result eventuates. There are less administrable forces at play that need attention, but flair and other ephemerals require a sophistication that comes from time and sensitivity. Where’s My Money? is appropriately loud and humorous, and like other people’s marriages, it offers up a pleasing veneer, but we wonder what lies beneath the cheerful surface.…

Review: Hedda After Hedda Gabler (Robot Sparrow Theatre Company)

robotsparrowVenue: Kings Cross Hotel Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 22 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Zach Beavon-Collin (after Henrik Ibsen)
Director: Zach Beavon-Collin
Cast: Alice Birbara, Charles Jones, Victor Kalka, Adam Marks, Christie New

Theatre review
In Zach Beavon-Collin’s Hedda After Hedda Gabler, actors and characters try to escape their fates. Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler is one of the Western world’s most celebrated plays, performed and read the world over every day, with its shocking ending repeated on every occasion. Its characters are miserable, and the playwright’s message is bleak, so it makes good sense to want to formulate a rescue plan that holds brighter promise. Beavon-Collin explores the tension between circumstance and consequence in his radical retelling, along with a fluctuating adherence to the original that negotiates the very nature of adaptation. His script is a charming one, but requires of its viewers a familiarity with Ibsen’s version or not much will make sense. It is an interesting dialogue, with only one side presented.

Staging of the work lacks refinement, but there is a quirky flair that holds the piece together. Performances are mostly adequate, although the greenness of its players is evident. Alice Birbara plays Hedda with excellent concentration, but the intensity of her interpretation communicates little. The actor seems to work hard at the psychology of her role, but not enough is being articulated in her overly introspective approach. Chemistry between actors is mild and hesitant, resulting in a show that offers little beyond artifice and concepts. There are strong passions and wild exploits in the text, but their resonances remain buried.

If we believe that all life is predestined, each with its own inevitable conclusion, then depression could be the only response. Hedda is deeply troubled, but in this rendition, we see her attempting to re-write her fate. The notion of a great heroine fighting for survival is a powerful one, and the uncertainty of her aftermath is equally seductive.

Review: All The Difference (Subtlenuance Theatre)

subtlenuanceVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 22 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Kathryn Schuback

Theatre review
We go about our daily business making small decisions at every juncture, and every now and again, we come to key moments that require a choice be made that might alter the course of life significantly. In the Western world, we are accustomed to thinking that our own destinies lie within our own hands, that we are the masters of our own circumstances. In Paul Gilchrist’s All The Difference, we see Felicity (or Flick) before key events are about to occur, and participate in the thought and emotional processes that take place at those critical times. We examine the quality of chance, the extent of control, and the fallout of decision. Provocative questions are raised about the way we conceive of our part in the progression of time, the futility of our ego, and the sometimes unknowable relationship between choice and result. Gilchrist’s script is reminiscent of “choose your own adventure” books, with Flick asking her audience to vote yes or no, when difficult situations arise. Not every consequence is a profound one, but when helping to answer her major life questions, we certainly share the nervous thrill that Flick experiences.

Kathryn Schuback’s performance of the monologue is emotionally charged and often heavy with melancholy. There is an admirable fortitude that shines through when presenting the darker sides of the story, but the show needs greater exuberance, especially in its early sections, to match the playfulness of its format, and to guide us into familiarity with Flick. The work is tightly paced and holds our attention well, but more philosophical portions of the text requires stronger emphasis, so that our thoughts can process their complexity more satisfyingly.

There are two attitudes that can be taken when it comes to the idea of “choice”. If we think that “choice” is a fallacy, and that we are but a tiny speck in the scheme of things, a scheme that proceeds at its own will, then we can free ourselves of the infinite shackles that make life unbearable. If we think that “choice” is the most innate of our qualities in being human, then we are empowered to do good at every opportunity. Chances are that the truth vacillates in the spaces between.

Review: Slut (New Theatre)

newtheatre2Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 22 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Natarsha Wrensted
Cast: Ashley Avci, Christopher Broadbent, Brigitta Brown, Jordan Keyes-Liley, Sophie Mccrae, Rowan McDonald, Felicity Mckay, Eliza Scott, Zoe Tomaras, Jane Watt

Theatre review
Sex is one of the most natural and fundamental of all human experiences, yet it is tainted by endless negative connotations and meanings, informed by cultural and religious thought that aim to control behaviour in all our societies. Women especially, struggle to embrace and celebrate their sexual selves without having to deal with stigmas of all kinds rearing their ugly heads. Patricia Cornelius’ Slut talks about a Lolita who fails to recognise her power. Instead of valuing her attractiveness appropriately, she uses it to earn indiscriminate affection. We witness her being taken advantage of, and the chastisement that follows. This realm of discussion should be a complex one full of ambiguity, but the play seems simplistic in its attitude, and the powerlessness of its Lolita is concerning and unfortunate. Certainly weak people of all genders exist everywhere, but the juxtaposition of strong sexuality with low intelligence as a central subject matter seems too convenient and obvious.

We do not hear very much of what Lolita has to say, but learn about her exploits from the mouths of her vicious peers. Natarsha Wrensted’s direction illustrates all the hearsay and makes real what could have been only rumours. We see Lolita make mistakes, but she is rarely given the opportunity to speak for herself. We are a society that is capable of using the term “slut” as insult for any woman, and although it is not the play’s intention to label Lolita’s behaviour as reprehensible, there is a troubling disquiet in witnessing a character described only in sexual terms. We want to see the young woman’s worth, but they are reduced, and although we catch glimpses of her personal feelings, they do not offer sufficient balance for the text’s emphasis on her sexuality. The message it wishes to impart seems to be about the danger that we can put ourselves in when desperate for love, but the production needs to take greater care not to imply that aggressive feminine sexuality is in itself problematic.

Politics aside, there is much to enjoy in the 35-minute show’s standard of performance. The cast is uniformly strong, and the predominantly chorus format of presentation is sensitively choreographed and the actors are well-rehearsed. There is a cohesion to the group that is fascinating to watch, and their work is even more effective when individuals are able to bring unexpected flashes of nuance and variation to their parts. Energy and conviction is never an issue in the production, but scene transitions require greater support from lighting and sound.

Criticising any person’s sexuality is without doubt, archaic and senseless. Using the word “slut” as a derogatory term only exposes an inability to communicate with intelligence, and a severe lack of sophistication. We have exhausted the culture of “slut-shaming”, but young people must continue to be taught to value their own bodies, and the bodies of others. We should always try to become better persons, and in that process, how we think about our sex lives is crucial.

Review: Britannia Waves The Rules (New Theatre)

newtheatre1Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 22 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Gareth Farr
Director: Deborah Mulhall
Cast: Vincent Andriano, Jane Angharad, Patrick Cullen, Alan Faulkner, Nick Rowe

Theatre review
This is a tale about the transformation of a poet into a soldier, but it is not a romantic journey that addresses our deluded need to see heroes emerging from wars. Gareth Farr’s Britannia Waves The Rules is quite the opposite. It talks about the ruling class’ persistent use of young men in poverty through generations, and the innocent lives sacrificed for the insatiable need of Western forces to invade. More than an anti-war piece, Farr’s writing is subversive and bold in its approach, and his protagonist Carl is a creation marvellously imagined and thorough in its embodiment of experience and truth. The distillation of the phenomenon of war into the private plight of a singular character is powerfully realised by the intimate nature of its speeches, dialogue and monologue, that seem to hail from a place of brutal and rare honesty.

Deborah Mulhall’s adventurous direction embraces the text’s poetic machismo to deliver a work that is wild and emotional, but also deeply sensitive in the way characters and relationships are established. In the role of Carl is Vincent Andriano, a turbulent presence that depicts anger, anxiety, fear, and sorrow with remarkable accuracy and energy. His highly dramatic interpretation is a beautiful accompaniment to the often introspective voice of the script, and we are transfixed from the very start to the bitter end. Also memorable is Nick Rowe, who plays Bilko with a dynamism that matches the lead’s. The chemistry between the two is intense and convincing, and the heartache that transpires is as authentic as it can get at the theatre. Performances are excellent in the production, all cleverly conceived and fluently executed.

As a collective, we understand things from an abstract perspective, and details are neglected, often deliberately hidden. Mainstream discourse does not reveal the personal losses that occur every day, but we must not stop talking about the ravages of war. Britannia Waves The Rules does not present any surprising facts. We already know that death is the currency of conflict and victory, but the way it tells the age old story of destruction is unusually poignant. It wants us to see that every young person sent to the battlefield is a son and daughter, and our brother and sister. As long as this keeps happening, the voices that oppose it must be heard.

Review: Quarter Life Crisis (The General Public Theatre Company)

generalpublicVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Sep 17 – 20, 2015
Playwright: Courtney Ammenhauser
Director: Lakia Pattinson
Cast: Courtney Ammenhauser

Theatre review
Steph is turning 25, and is having a bit of a meltdown. She has done the responsible and conventional thing of getting a regular job that pays a regular wage, but is now restless about the futility of a life that does not offer more than stability and predictability. Like many of us, the real problem is that Steph knows only what she does not want, and what she truly desires remains elusive. This leads to a series of frivolous, funny, and charming exploits that depict a hollow existence, guided by a pursuit of pleasure that ultimately leads to unabashed emptiness. The one-woman play runs for under an hour, comprising genuinely amusing scenes that deliver many laughs. It begins with a moment of deep reflection on the meaning of life, but loses its poignancy as the show progresses, along with Steph’s dignity, which gradually erodes away with each sip of alcohol.

Courtney Ammenhauser’s script is honest and brassy, as is her performance. Marvellously exuberant and unrestrained, Ammenhauser presents a show that captivates and entertains, putting on display the aimlessness of youth in Australia that comes from a place of privilege and complacency. Where there is no urgent compulsion and need for anything, it seems humans can only indulge in the obvious and convenient. Steph does not challenge herself, but Ammenhauser’s efforts on stage are certainly committed. Along with director Lakia Pattinson, the duo’s creation is energetic, fun and surprisingly nuanced. There is a sensitivity and flair in their approach to comedy that sharpens their simple concept for an enjoyable show. We wish for Steph to find some degree of enlightenment, or to realise the errs of her ways, but like in real life, it is much easier to get swept up by mundane and destructive trivialities.…

Review: Retrograde (The Sandking Collective)

12026466_10153178590912683_932214705_nVenue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Sep 16 – 27, 2015
Playwright: Peter-William Jamieson
Director: Michael Yore
Cast:  Peter-William Jamieson, Mark Lee
Image by Michael Yore

Theatre review
One of the things about gender is that we make the quality of vulnerability inaccessible to the sterner sex. Damage to mind, body and soul follow, all of which are hard to unravel. Peter-William Jamieson’s Retrograde looks at two men, through a series of psychotherapy sessions, to explore the hardened emotional landscapes that reside in half of our population. Both characters are realistically drawn out. They are familiar archetypes, a young criminal and a semi-retired counsellor, who we investigate at depth, as the play ventures to bring illumination to the mystery behind the often impenetrable surfaces maintained by the male of our species. The writing is straightforward, with clear intentions, but its style is simple and sometimes too obvious. The narratives are dramatic, but the plot’s predictability prevents intrigue from taking hold. There is a sensitivity to the way each scene unfolds, as more of the characters are being revealed, but none of it is surprising. We feel one step ahead of the game, and resist the tension that the production tries to build.

Michael Yore’s direction is faithful to the directness in Jamieson’s writing. There are few embellishments, except for the frequent use of video footage that is a key and clever component to the play. Unfortunately however, the poor quality of projected images prevents us from engaging sufficiently with the performance therein. Mark Lee does splendid work as Earl, the older and wiser of the two, but who struggles with addiction and an unresolved past. The actor is powerfully present and accurately detailed in his portrayal. His work is consistent and sharply focused, and is the unequivocal highlight of the production. Playwright Jamieson is cast as the wayward Sonny, a young man trying to escape the remains of a bruised childhood. His performance is committed and studied, but too restrained and not always believable. The voice and physicality that he creates does not match our imagination and experience of that personality type, and some of his depictions of emotion require greater authenticity, in order that we may identify more closely with Sonny’s plight.

The themes in Retrograde are valuable points of discussion. Problems associated with our obsession with masculinity are pervasive, and the importance of articulating and dealing with them cannot be understated. We need to redefine socially, what it is to be a man, so that we can identify truer virtues and shift prominence to them. Silence in the play is a cancer, a force that destroys individuals and relationships, and it is the opposite of that silence that can heal us all.

Review: Ljubičica – Wild Violet (Seymour Centre)

ljuibicicaVenue: Sound Lounge, Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Sep 17 – 19, 2015
Playwright: Melita Rowston
Director: Melita Rowston
Cast: Josipa Draisma, Mara Knezevic, The Squeeze Box

Theatre review
Josipa Draisma’s show is composed of stories and songs from her mother’s childhood. Born in a Croatian village, Ljubičica – Wild Violet details her days as a young girl missing her absent father, and her subsequent journey to Australia in search of a better life. The stories are sentimental, and the songs are romantic. The bitter-sweet show, written and directed by Melita Rowston, strikes a thoughtful balance between biography and entertainment, with surprising variations in atmosphere that help hold our attention. The piece could benefit from a trim to speed things up slightly, but it is ultimately a delightful insight into one of our many migrant experiences, with a special poignancy that seems to arise uniquely from true stories.

Draisma’s performance is a passionate one, and we are swept away by the many beautiful Croatian songs she presents with gusto. Several humorous impressions of characters in her mother’s life are especially effective; the actor’s talent seems to be stronger with comedy, but the show is presented mostly in a serious tone. Mara Knezevic provides fine support as the secondary voice of the production. The women’s harmonies together are sublime, and a rare treat for our Anglocentric city. The handsome Gypsy jazz trio The Squeeze Box adds a sophistication and polish to the stage with their sensual and confident accompaniment on accordion, guitar and violin. Draisma’s monologues help the music communicate with our foreign ears, but it is the music that gives soul to the show.

Our nation is composed of a million exotic tales. Attempts to obliterate our diversity from public discourse occurs everyday, but the fact remains that a vast majority of lives on this land have roots in places far away. Ljubičica – Wild Violet tells of one migrant’s experience, but we should not look upon it as unique or foreign. It should be embraced as the true face of normal, with all its individual colours and melodies.

Review: Our Father Who Art (Nearly) In Heaven (Seymour Centre)

ourfatherVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 15 – 19, 2015
Playwright: N. Gregory Finger
Director: Stuart Owen
Cast: Richard Clark, Catherine Davies, Chris Heaslip, Daniel Hunter, Douglas Kent, Michelle Millgate, Nid Oswald, Stuart Owen, Kate Parker-Frost

Theatre review
N. Gregory Finger’s Our Father Who Art (Nearly) In Heaven takes the form of a classic farce, with fast paced, frivolous and wise-cracking scenes of amusement emerging one after another. The show is old-fashioned in ways, but many of its jokes are genuinely funny, often with a pointed flamboyance that prevents it from being a dowdy imitation of its forebears. Its characters are clearly defined ones who reference familiar archetypes that we are more than comfortable making fun of. These less than dignified personalities are placed in the predictable situation where they find the patriarch with one foot in the grave, all scrambling to secure a slice of the estate. Hilarity does ensue, quite surprisingly, proving that wit and flair can trump innovation under the right circumstances.

Direction of the piece by Stuart Owen is suitably speedy and madcap. The script’s many short sequences are deftly handled by Owen who uses stage space intelligently, although lighting design could be more responsive to his attempts at shifting our attention. Efforts at imbuing energy into every interchange gives the show an exuberance that keeps us engaged, although the wide range of abilities in the cast of nine is a major weakness that is hard to ignore. Some of the players are clearly inexperienced, and even though there is never a shortage of enthusiasm, the inaccuracy of their portrayals can be punishing. Owen saves the day however, with an excellent performance as Ben, one of the dying man’s son. He is charming and rambunctious, with perfect comic timing that elevates the show with his every appearance. Owen’s ability to present varying styles of humour, and his versatility at depicting his character’s temperamental transformations, is delightfully memorable. The very animated Chris Heaslip plays Damian, the other son, also to good effect, with an infectious confidence and a steadfast love for performance that shines through. Heaslip can be repetitive with his manic approach to the role, but his vigour is crucial to the delirious experience that the play delivers.

Fashion comes and goes, but when it comes to entertainment, we can always go back to the tried and tested. Our Father Who Art (Nearly) In Heaven is a new play that reminds us of special moments of laughter in movie and live theatres in years past, and its stylistic revival is remarkably welcome.