Review: Maggot (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 27 – 29, 2018
Cast/Creators: Freya Finch, Angela Fouhy, Elle Wootton

Theatre review
Known collectively as Scungebags Theatre, the trio of Freya Finch, Angela Fouhy and Elle Wootton prove themselves an irresistible hoot in their subversive show Maggot. An introduction informs us that the pop group The Baby Girls have decided to abandon their commercial interests, for the infinitely more prestigious pursuit of high art. This of course, is all a ruse for a series of antics, inspired by clowning principles, to deliver some seriously funny scenes of iconoclastic chaos.

Our institutions, authorities and other sacred cows, are satirised by the three women determined to reject every misplaced sense of reverence that is demanded of them. Mocking the powerful and the traditional, the show falls quite conveniently into a category of feminist performance, but feminism itself is not safe from being lampooned; even the #MeToo movement is exposed to the group’s acerbity, in an unforgettable sequence involving modern interpretive dance and sexual harassment.

Finch, Fouhy and Wootton are distinct personalities, with each performer bearing an individual style, but their cohesiveness as a team is remarkable, for a presentation that impresses with the invulnerable chemistry that they exhibit. Even more rewarding of course, are the many laughs, hysterical and euphoric, that Maggot delivers. Sometimes discerning, sometimes completely nonsensical, their comedy is idiosyncratic, fearless and therefore, thoroughly enjoyable.

It is at our own peril, that we take our feminist selves seriously, when so much of what we should be doing, is to laugh at, and to ridicule, those who wish to dominate. Nothing deflates an erection quicker than derision. Finding ways to pour scorn on those who thrive on exclusionary structures, is a strategy that we must learn to embrace, even just for our own amusement and sanity.

www.facebook.com/maggotshow | www.old505theatre.com

Review: Scarecrow (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Don Nigro
Directors: Deborah Jones, Naomi Livingstone
Cast: Gemma Scoble, Romney Stanton, Blake Wells
Image by Lauren Orrell

Theatre review
Cally and her mother Rose, live an isolated life in the cornfields, somewhere in North America. Having turned 18, Cally is experiencing a libidinal push that is making her wander from the house, into the nefarious grasp of a mysterious stranger. A scarecrow stands on the farmland, protecting its harvest and the two lonely women. In Don Nigro’s play Scarecrow, we are unsure if its mystical powers are doing good or harm, as we watch the women’s miserable lives unfold. Semblances of a family curse in the story give it a surprising complexity, as we observe the cyclical effects of trauma overwhelm the household’s two generations.

Romney Stanton is spectacular in the role of the deranged and very dramatic matriarch, using the character’s obsessive vigilance to deliver some deliciously operatic moments, full of flamboyant intensity. Stanton is mesmerising, wonderfully convincing as the mad rambling Rose. The vivacious young Cally is played by Gemma Scoble, whose portrayal of naive rebellion is memorably passionate, especially effective when called upon to demonstrate the unimaginable anguish of a teenager having to tolerate an invisible existence. Blake Wells is suitably seductive as the testosteroned stranger who instigates discord between the women, subtle but solid in his support of the leading ladies.

Directed by Deborah Jones and Naomi Livingstone, the production is elegantly assembled, for a no frills staging of a fascinating play. As we watch the women disintegrate, we question their circumstances and their capacity for agency within those circumstances. In Nigro’s narrative, fearful women channel their strength into cruelty. A cautionary tale perhaps, reminding us of the contradictory truth, that our strength, far from causing harm to other women, actually keeps us from self-destruction. Strong women know to lift each other up, because we know the forces determined to keep us down, are perennial, pervasive and persistent.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: Pinocchio (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: The Sydney Fringe Warehouse (Alexandria NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2017
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Max Harris, Mathew Lee, Oliver Shermacher, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Laura Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Set in 1940 Italy, at the height of Mussolini’s rule as Prime Minister and leader of the National Fascist Party, this version of Pinocchio sees our poor woodcarver Geppetto in his work room alone with his marionettes, trying to keep to himself, as he shuts out the ugliness of the world outside. Wordless but vivaciously animated, the show utilises techniques from the disciplines of mime, dance, music and singing, to tell a story of the individual versus the state, of the personal and the political. Our current sensitivity regarding the rise of nationalist ideologies, gives this incarnation of Pinocchio a quiet but unyielding resonance.

Its serious themes notwithstanding, this modern reiteration, directed by Julia Robertson and choreographed by Georgia Britt, is a wonderfully enchanting take on the old tale. Geppetto’s fantasy land, innocent and pure, provides the platform for a performance that appeals to our childlike sensibilities. Set and lighting designer Nick Fry manufactures a nostalgic beauty for the unusual, and enormous, venue, containing the action and our attention, with a clever understanding of space and atmosphere.

The crucial element of tenderness is brought to the stage by Mathew Lee, who shines in the role of Geppetto. His depiction of naivety allows us to see with unequivocal clarity, evil forces that try to engulf. The scene-stealing Annie Stafford displays an irrepressible presence even when playing an insentient doll, especially captivating when given an opportunity to show off her divine soprano. Harmonies in this Pinocchio are ethereal, often exquisite, performed with marvellous acoustic effect by a cast of six, inside the surprising elegance of a repurposed concrete warehouse.

We thought everything had been finalised and decided, when the fascists lost the war. Not a century has passed, and we again hear those despicable murmurs beginning to resurface, trying for a second attempt at its tyranny. There are no elongating noses in Geppetto’s studio, because this time, the lies are on the outside. The artist’s efforts to hide and disengage are futile. He is required to fight back, if his dignity is to remain intact.

www.facebook.com/littleeggscollective | www.facebook.com/theclariboys

Review: Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods (The Sydney Fringe)

Venue: Kings Cross Hotel (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Sam Donvito
Director: Christopher Bond
Cast: Sam Donvito, Ellen Graham

Theatre review
The goddess of all things beautiful and fecund, Aphrodite arrives in Sydney, and even she is no match for the misogyny that rules this town. Guided by unbridled desire, Aphrodite finds herself vulnerable and exposed to the pervasive commodification of everything that relates to femininity and sex. From chocolate and selfies, to beauty pageants and cosmetic surgery, Aphrodite’s attempts at experiencing life as an earthling in Sydney, all involve attempts to degrade and humiliate her, and in Sam Donvito’s Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods, we watch the very thing we consider to be normal everyday life, determined to put the goddess through a relentless process of self-loathing.

It is an exuberant presentation, featuring two spirited performers, Donvito and Ellen Graham on a bare stage, with only their bodies occupying our gaze. Their communication style is admirably bold, for the urgent and unequivocal message that they wish to convey. As Aphrodite, Donvito is seductive and mischievous, and as Paige Burn beauty pageant cum reality show host, Graham is beguilingly malicious. Aphrodite And The Invisible Consumer Gods may not be a subtle work, but what it has to say, is substantial and pertinently consequential.

Men have always sought to control our bodies and our very existence. Industrialisation has channelled that ancient chauvinism into the creation of endless superfluous wants that have overwhelmed and contaminated our lives, by selling to us, an interminable sense of inadequacy. We respond by living in a constant state of commercial consumption, acquiescing to the every demand of capitalism as shaped by its sexist foundations. We spend money to feel better about ourselves, but that money circulates and returns as a further haunting that tells us, we are as yet incomplete. When the goddess concedes her power, a vacuum is formed that nefarious parties will seek to fill. Most of us however, can reclaim that magic at any time, and make ourselves whole again.

www.samdonvito.com.au

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/