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

Review: The Secret Singer (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 28 – Sep 9, 2018
Playwright: Joanna Weinberg
Songs: Joanna Weinberg
Director: Joanna Weinberg
Cast: Genevieve Lemon, Kate Mannix
Images by Stephen Reinhardt

Theatre review
Jenny wants to sing in seven different choirs, one for each day of the week. It is a particularly unusual ambition, considering she has been unable to vocalise a single note in public, for the last ten years. When she reaches out to singing teacher Emjay for help, a deep connection instantly develops between the two, in Joanna Weinberg’s The Secret Singer, for a meaningful story about the fragile yet resilient human spirit.

Weinberg’s style as writer and director, is naive but tender, and her show, while not glossy with polish, is an uplifting and soulful work, that resonates with our indomitable capacity for hope. In the role of Emjay, performer Genevieve Lemon brings great warmth to the production; her earnest approach has the ability to convert any sceptic. Kate Mannix plays Jenny, with a gentle but effective humour, capturing our imagination with her confident interpretation of a very likeable character. Also noteworthy is Matthew Reid’s musical accompaniment on keyboard, impressive with its technical accuracy and emotional sensitivity.

To sing out loud, is to assert one’s position in the world. There are many who will want to silence others, and in that figurative stealing of voices, people are rendered powerless. It takes courage to sing, just as it takes courage to live with authenticity and joyfulness. Our communities can be supportive, but they can also be stifling. When choirs do their job well, all voices are heard, and no one is allowed to be drowned out. Harmony is not easy to achieve, but it is what our social selves must always strive for.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com