Review: Inner West Side (Seymour Centre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 18 – 22, 2018
Book: Jake Bayssari
Music: Tom Cardy
Lyrics: Jake Bayssari, Tom Cardy, Lucille MacKellar
Director: Jake Bayssari
Cast: Amy Bennett, Georgia Britt, April-Rose Desalegn, Elouise Eftos, Lincoln Elliott, Britt Ferry, Alexandra Gonzalez, Freddy Johnston, Roy Joseph, Grant Loxton, Rhianna McCourt, Laura McDonald, Lily O’Harte, Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, Ruby Teys
Image by Christopher Dinh

Theatre review
Andrea is leaving the parochial suburbia of affluent northern Sydney, to find a more grounded, but glamorous, existence in the city’s inner west. She sets out to denounce the shallow values of her birthplace, determined to create for herself something new and meaningful, only to duplicate old ills at a new locale. Inner West Side is a new musical, centred around the community of Newtown, where the dissonance of things earnest and ironic can coincide, and where million dollar apartments are dressed up to look shabby and resolutely anti-establishment. Featuring observational humour at its most scintillating, the show is as vibrant as it is incisive, enormously entertaining from the very start.

Directed by Jake Bayssari, whose rigour and talent shines through in every scene, the production offers an ingenious representation of our young, with all their contradictory concerns forming the basis of a most amusing work. Tom Cardy’s music is refreshingly varied in style, performed with admirable enthusiasm by a five piece band, although sound engineering does leave a lot to be desired. Antony Robinson’s set design is a simple solution that sets the tone with accuracy and efficiency, and costumes by Adrienne Dell deliver playful interpretations of archetypes that help us identify so distinctly the milieu being examined.

A wonderfully cohesive cast of energetic performers take to the stage, for an unforgettable venture into the formidable task of creating an original musical. Leading lady Laura McDonald is a spirited presence, splendidly funny and tremendously likeable as Andrea, the Collaroy rich bitch in exile. Elouise Eftos leaves a remarkable impression as sultry Monica, vampy queen of the hive, powerful in her depiction of a privileged woman believing herself to be a born ruler. Chameleon entertainer Ruby Teys is delightful in a myriad guises, displaying extraordinary skill, in each of her hilarious and scene-stealing incarnations.

Those of us who get to choose where we live, must count ourselves exceptionally lucky. The world is often an ugly place, but when one comes across a tiny pocket that seems perfect in every way, it is the greatest of fortunes to be able to call it home. Whether an address is ideal, however, depends so much on how we are, on the inside. Newtown and its surrounds, are not for everyone, but for those who love it, the inner west is a beacon of beauty, peace and joy. Its characteristics are distinct, but the nourishment it provides, it must be noted, is by no means unique. The best town in Australia, is in fact, everywhere.

www.facebook.com/innerwestside | www.ultracult.com.au

Review: Chemistry (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 18 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Jacob Marx Rice
Director: Rebecca Blake
Cast: Amelia Campbell, Erin Louise Taylor
Image by Sam Marques

Theatre review
Two women meet at a psychiatrist’s waiting room; Jamie is seeking treatment for mania, and Stephanie is undergoing a lifetime battle with depression. They fall in love quickly, in Jacob Marx Rice’s Chemistry, each seeming to be the perfect complement for the other. It is an intimate examination of mental illness, with both characters revealing their deepest and darkest, so that we reach new understandings of these increasingly prevalent conditions. The play also offers a fascinating look into the meaning of death and suicide, from the perspective of those who exist precariously close to their own mortality.

It is an intense piece of writing, made captivating by a clever combination of dangerous ideas and amusing dialogue. Director Rebecca Blake’s sensitivity ensures that we endear to the characters quickly, and that we find ourselves embroiled in their ill-fated story from the very start. Changing Jamie from male, in prior productions, to female here, is a stroke of genius that allows us to interpret with more accuracy, issues surrounding mental health. We are unburdened of troublesome gendered implications that could corrupt the essence of what Chemistry wishes to say.

Actors Amelia Campbell and Erin Louise Taylor are very accomplished in their roles; we are convinced of all that they present, and find ourselves impressed by their tenacious dedication to the work (especially when having to fight against portions of sound design that seem determined to counteract and overwhelm what the actors attempt to create).

Things get better for Jamie in time, and she tries hard to support Stephanie, who continues to suffer the crippling effects of her illness. We may be able to get by with a little help from friends and romance, but no one can ever escape being their our own person. Stephanie’s destiny was never an optimistic one, yet our humanity is determined to respond with nothing less than persistent hope.

www.facebook.com/wheelscoproductions

Review: Uz: The Town (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 17 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Gabriel Calderón (translated by Verónica Barac)
Director: Verónica Barac
Cast: Christie Aucamp-Schutte, Lily Balatincz, Joshua Morel, Cooper Mortlock, Daniel Pollock, Mau Salinas, Lucy Starita, Renae Valastro, Tiffany Wong
Images by Elizabeth Chua

Theatre review
It appears God has done it again. Grace, a Stepford wife type, is charged with the task of killing her own child. Just like Abraham’s celestial conversations all those centuries ago, Grace is a woman of faith who listens to everything that God orders, especially when his voice booms down from the heavens directly into her kitchen. Gabriel Calderón’s Uz: The Town is a subversive work, tackling issues around foolish pietism and the social hypocrisies that derive from religious beliefs. Its premise may seem a tad too familiar, but its humour is scintillating, and defiantly outrageous as it proceeds to demolish all that is held dear.

The production is appropriately hammy in style, with exaggerated performances helping to make the caustic dialogue slightly more palatable. Director Verónica Barac manufactures a wild and enjoyably chaotic energy for the piece, but some of the play’s more dangerous statements might require a clearer sense of irony to prevent misinterpretation. As Grace, actor Lily Balatincz is at her best when the character turns irredeemably maniacal. Her portrayal of religious fervour may not always be sufficiently nuanced, but the actor is certainly well-rehearsed and spirited with what she brings to the stage. Mau Salinas is memorable as Grace’s husband Jack, an absurd and grotesque figure that provides a touch of extravagance to the experience.

We can all have our own nonsensical preoccupations, in fact those are what give colour to the magnificence of life, but when we intrude upon each other’s freedoms, as we so often do, is when life turns dark. People know what it is like to be on the receiving end of transgressions, but we continue to inflict harm on others in spite of our better judgement. We recognise that Grace should know better, but we also understand the weakness that allows us to succumb, to the convenience of surrendering agency. Standing up for one’s own principles is hard, and sadly, many are incapable of it.

www.facebook.com/uzthetown/

Review: The White Spirit Cult (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Yellow Umbrella (Potts Point NSW), Sep 13 – 22, 2018
Creator: Joanna Joy
Cast: Anca Frankenhaeuser, Emalyn Knight, Keila Terencio
Images by Emily Contador-Kelsall

Theatre review
Three women in the basement of a house are obsessing over their bodies. They try to resist centuries of objectification, humiliation and commodification, thinking up ways to overcome that sense of inadequacy so fundamentally conditioned into the way we conceive of ourselves. The White Spirit Cult emerges from ideas around shame and purity, an artistic endeavour that frames the feminine experience of virtue, in its many physicalised forms, as being inherently illusory and absurd. Like many modern women who have wised up to forces of oppression, the work attempts to deconstruct those myths that have always tainted our self worth.

The women want to be able to see the cult for what it is, but change is hard, and we witness them resisting their own emancipation, often luxuriating within their own masochistic worship of the false god. It is an ethereal and surreal presentation of ideas, but inexorably realistic. We relate to every word that is being said, regardless of the subject’s age or cultural background. Our adversity unites us, but the suffering sisterhood must be careful not to serve the elevation and advancement of the cult’s objectives. It may ultimately be about rebellion and self-determination, but the show is only able to offer inspiration, as we come to the realisation of our evident incapacity to establish something new.

We may be able to talk about a place outside of the cult, but it is clear that many of us are still on the inside of it. Performers Anca Frankenhaeuser, Emalyn Knight and Keila Terencio are a beautiful embodiment of our dissatisfaction. They are spirited and determined, but also lost in their angst. What they represent is true; we can be joyful, or proud , or indeed, wise, but that disquiet is a sensation hard to abandon.

www.facebook.com/WHITESPIRITCULT

Review: Next Lesson (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 13 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Chris Woodley
Director: Alex Bryant-Smith
Cast: Michael Brindley, Sonya Kerr, Jens Radda, Kat Tait

Theatre review
In 1988, when Margaret Thatcher was UK Prime Minister, Section 28 was introduced, stating that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Quite unbelievably, this piece of homophobic legislation was active until 2003, and for that period of 15 years, schools were in effect, encouraged to discriminate against LGBTQI students and staff, even though homosexual acts had been officially decriminalised since 1967.

Scenes in Chris Woodley’s Next Lesson take place in an English secondary school, featuring chronological vignettes beginning at the installation of Section 28, through to the passage of the Civil Partnership Act in Dec 2005, when same-sex unions were finally recognised. It tracks the evolution of LGBTQI experiences, children and adult, through tumultuous years, with predictably depressing accounts of institutionalised oppression. It is not a particularly imaginative work, but the authentic representation of emancipated queer lives, is certainly valuable.

The production is simple but impassioned, an earnest rendition that speaks from the heart. Performers Michael Brindley and Sonya Kerr bring a sense of gravity to their roles, encouraging us to respond with empathy. Jens Radda and Kat Tait are memorable with their humour, both spirited and playful when called upon to make us laugh.

It would be a mistake to think that the fight is over. The gay rights movement has delivered great advancements, but the work is not done for LGBTQI people in countless developing countries, and in ethnic minority communities within our own Western nations. Laws have changed, but attitudes are often still lagging behind. The recently appointed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in his second week of taking office, demonstrated a disdain for gender variance, by tweeting that “we do not need ‘gender whisperers’ in our schools” in reference to professional assistance being made available to students who are encountering personal challenges, in relation to their gender identities. As long as forces that work against justice are persistent, there can be no room for complacency. Fighters who win will only grow stronger, and hard won freedoms must be guarded at all cost.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: The Elements Of An Offence (New Theatre)


Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 10 – 16, 2018
Playwright: James Gefell
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Sarah Aubrey

Theatre review
Rachel is Christine’s boss and girlfriend. They work at the police department, trying to do the right thing for the public and for themselves, negotiating endless bureaucracy along with the precarious nature of being both colleagues and lovers. It is also a story of competing principles, in a space where we expect virtue and decency to reign supreme. James Gefell’s The Elements Of An Offence also talks about corruption, as well as the au courant matter of power imbalances that pervade all our lives. We watch the women divided by their opposing positions concerning a case that they undertake, gradually being torn apart by an office culture that emanates from their patriarchal authorities.

The desk-bound characters are allowed little that could facilitate a more effective exploration of physical space, but both women are richly imagined for what is ultimately a fascinating work, with an engaging plot and very dynamic dialogue. Alice Livingstone’s direction is nuanced and enjoyable, although a greater sense of gravity to certain sections would provide emphasis to the play’s more pertinent ideas. Actors Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame and Sarah Aubrey find excellent chemistry as a team, convincing as bedfellows and captivating as duelling policewomen. They present a well-rehearsed show, fuelled by the formidable pairing, of conspicuous talent with remarkable conviction.

When systems are discovered to be unjust, those at the bottom will formulate strategies of disobedience. When one realises that playing by the rules will only reinforce one’s own oppression, defiance becomes a useful device, if not for the effective subversion of structures, then at least for the sake of maintaining one’s integrity. Rachel and Christine learn that doing their jobs well, ironically contributes to their own detriment. The choices they make, can no longer be pure, but they can help to make things better.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Sep 4 – 8, 2018
Playwright: M. Saint Clair
Director: Liz Arday
Cast: Alana Birtles, Mirian Capper, Eleni Cassimatis, Oliver Harris, Melissa Hume, Ian Runekcles
Images by Liz Arday

Theatre review
When a relationship ends, it is only natural that one should take stock of past loves. It is unclear how many characters are being discussed in M. Saint Clair’s Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both, but all the emotions it explores, are honest and real. It features young people, for whom romantic love is mysterious and irresistible, almost necessary in their emergence into adulthood. The writing is poetic, sometimes transcendental, sometimes silly, but always beautifully rhythmic, and a pleasure to devour.

Stories of love and lust are presented by six spirited actors, in combinations that defy conventions of society and of the theatre. Roles are taken on by different performers, who swap their parts throughout the production, resisting our desire to lock people into types and categories, intentionally elusive to achieve a broader sense of universality in how it addresses the audience. Heteronormativity too is dismantled, not only in terms of the gay-straight binary, but also in its challenge of monogamy’s dominion, by allowing the ensemble to interact in combinations that exceed the ordinary romantic pair. Director Liz Arday demonstrates intellectual verve, whilst keeping us sensorily engaged with her fast, inventive show. The cast is excellent in collaborative scenes, delightful with their execution of some very fascinating choreography.

There are times in life, when lovers are our everything, and we cannot imagine existence without all the intense passion, and drama, that they bring. There is always much to enjoy of such relationships, but as the years pass, it is likely that these partners will gradually slip down one’s hierarchy of needs. Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both resonates with a kind of innocence, a sweet wistfulness of when other people were able to fill the void. How one emerges from that misconception, is never a simple process, and unsurprising if it turns out to be a lifelong endeavour.

www.facebook.com/Revolvingdays