Review: Evita (Opera Australia / Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), from Sep 13 – Nov 3, 2018
Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Hal Prince
Cast: Tina Arena, Michael Falzon, Kurt Kansley, Paulo Szot, Alexis van Maanen
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Eva Perón’s legend is one regarding power, at all cost. Charting the meteoric rise of the historical figure from humble beginnings, the musical Evita features a narrator, a character based on the guerrilla leader and famed revolutionary Che Guevara, who takes us through the story of the Argentinian First Lady, from a critical, but widely shared, standpoint. Our female protagonist is not deprived of a voice however. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s show is often a feud of perspectives, reflective of opposing attitudes pertaining to the controversial personality. It is also often a battle of the sexes that happens on stage, as we see a woman defending herself in the masculine world of politics, and we grapple with the uncomfortable coupling of misogyny and the less than honourable conduct of our heroine.

The production is a faithful recreation of the West End and Broadway original from the late 1970’s, directed by Hal Prince, with a notable addition of the Oscar-winning song “You Must Love Me”, from the 1996 Alan Parker film. Surprisingly fast-paced, the show leaves it to us to formulate more extensive interpretations of Perón’s life and times, but it certainly gives us plenty to chew on. “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” is one of the most well-known Broadway hits, and to have the lyrics “and as for fortune, and as for fame, I never invited them in,” performed in resplendent bejewelled dress (designed by Timothy O’Brien), reveals a complexity to the character that is perhaps impossible to encapsulate in any single theatrical work.

Tina Arena proves herself an unequivocal superstar in the title role, vocally flawless for a splendid rendition of some very famously challenging tunes. She brings an electrifying passion to the stage, creating a feisty character who remains endearing, even when her actions turn dubious. It is tremendously satisfying to see one of Australia’s biggest talents take on a challenge of this magnitude, and emerge victorious. Che is played by Kurt Kansley, a charming presence, but whose diction as the South American can at times, be frustrating to decipher. Paulo Szot is an excellent President Juan Perón, impressive in all aspects, and very alluring, making the entire stint look a mere walk in the park.

The Peróns were loved because they had acted perfectly their part in the public eye. We see them here, in private, absorbed in vanity, hardly ever sparing a thought for their hungry millions. It is a familiar image of politicians, of individuals more concerned with their own careers than the actual responsibilities they have sworn to undertake. Observing the masses of Eva Perón’s devotees, we are warned of being blind to the poor behaviour of those we elect into positions of authority and prestige. The space we allow for leaders to carry out work for the common good, reside behind heavy curtains that form limits to our democracy. They may assume the appearance of kings and lords, but never to be forgotten, is the servitude that they owe.

www.evitathemusical.com.au

Review: Accidental Death Of An Anarchist (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Sep 10 – Oct 27, 2018
Playwright: Dario Fo (adapted by Francis Greenslade & Sarah Giles)
Director: Sarah Giles
Cast: Caroline Brazier, Julie Forsyth, Bessie Holland, Annie Maynard, Amber McMahon, Susie Youssef
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
It is all over the news that an anarchist had fallen to his death from a Milan police station. The official word claims it a suicide, but there are suspicions of foul play. For Accidental Death Of An Anarchist, Dario Fo took inspiration from an actual incident of 1969, and inserted a Maniac into his 1970 imagination of events following the controversy, essentially accusing authorities of murder and corruption. It was a spectacularly clumsy cover up that required questioning, and Fo’s play has proven itself a timeless piece of writing that can always be relied on to help civilians weather any political storm. It reminds us that we are pawns in the game of the powerful, and that we have to endeavour to see beyond the wool that is constantly being pulled over our eyes.

This new adaptation by Francis Greenslade and Sarah Giles is a refresh, but a faithful one that retains the extravagantly farcical spirit of its original. Dialogue is given a stylistic update, but time, place and characters are left unmarred. Giles’ direction of the work is raucous, vigorously so, for a very broad comedy that might take some getting used to, but laughs are certainly to be had.

An all-female cast is charged with the joyful task of lampooning men in power, with Amber McMahon occupying the central role, exhibiting extraordinary verve and inventiveness as the irrepressible Maniac. Julie Forsyth is genuinely hilarious as Inspector Bertozzo, distilling masculinity to its ugliest components, for a cutting study in physicality and speech that conspires flawlessly with her remarkable theatrical timing. Also delivering uproarious hijinks is Bessie Holland, whose Inspector Pisani is a breathtaking invention of caricature at its finest, astute and acerbic in her observations of repugnant boys club behaviour.

The media landscape feeds us endless morsels of information that fight for our attention and outrage. An unexplained death today, is replaced by a racial slur tomorrow; even with the best intentions, we are unable to decipher the truth, much less find the wherewithal to contest the wrongs of the world. Those in power understand this, so they disseminate frivolous scandals that seem so important in the moment, and absorb all our time and bandwidth, until there is no way we can hold them to account.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: The Misanthrope (Bell Shakespeare / Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 28 – Sep 28, 2018
Playwright: Molière (a new version by Justin Fleming)
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Simon Burke, Danielle Cormack, Catherine Davies, Ben Gerrard, Rebecca Massey, Hamish Michael, Anthony Taufa
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Alceste believes that the only truths are the ones in her own head, refusing to accept any behaviour she perceives to be contrary, and charges them all with hypocrisy. As fate would have it, her lover Cymbeline is no believer in fidelity, and when Alceste has to confront Cymbeline’s covert flirtations with several others, matters of the head and heart come to agonising conflict, in this tale about how we value our principles. Justin Fleming’s new adaptation of Molière’s The Misanthrope brings the play into our contemporary times, by immersing it deep into our obsession with popular culture, and even more significantly, by altering the genders of its key roles.

Alceste is now a woman, played by Danielle Cormack, a powerful and captivating presence, appropriately representing the influential position of our lead character, although a persistently sombre approach to the central role, does significantly diminish the humour of the piece. Cymbeline, previously Célimène, is now a male pop star, convincingly portrayed by Ben Gerrard who luxuriates in the part’s farcical narcissism. Sexuality is turned entirely fluid in this rendition of The Misanthrope, with every personality capable of gay and straight love, and orientation is no longer a concern.

The production looks vivid, absolutely glitzy at times, with Dan Potra’s very flashy costumes leaving a particularly strong impression, but the show is often underwhelming, unable to excite with its comedy or philosophies. Director Lee Lewis succeeds at making things modern and coherent, but an air of banality does, unfortunately, pervade.

Passion for one’s beliefs, is often the propulsion that moves us to greater planes, but it is perhaps more exigent than ever, that we should learn as societies, to accommodate the opinions of others at these very fractious times. Unable to reconcile her disdain for all that is dishonest and insincere, Alceste is increasingly isolated, ultimately left only with a doctrine that has achieved nothing. It is a huge challenge, to hold on to what is right, yet able to negotiate all the contrarians that inevitably surround. To find the answer to our peace is difficult, but imperative.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au | www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Horror (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 29 – Sep 2, 2018
Artistic Director: Jakop Ahlbom
Cast: Andrea Buegger, Sofieke De Kater, Yannick Greweldinger, Silke Hundertmark, Gwen Langenberg, Reinier Schimmel, Luc Van Esch, Thomas Van Ouwerkerk
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
The action takes place in a haunted house. No words are spoken, but we know exactly what happens in each moment, mainly because we have seen everything before at the cinema. The horror film genre relies on special effects and creative editing, both technical features unavailable to the live format. In Jakop Ahlbom’s Horror, however, capacities of the stage are pushed to their limit, to achieve something that is best described as a tribute to the great classics of fear and revulsion. The show aims to frighten, and like the vast majority of scary pictures, it is only occasionally successful in that regard, although there is no denying the production’s very persistent entertainment value.

Cleverly designed on all fronts, from set and lights, to hair and makeup, and of course the obligatory cacophony of jolting sounds, Horror is an innovative tapestry of creative imagination. A skilful cast portrays a range of supernatural beings, performing unearthly acts that have us amused and fascinated. It is a well-oiled operation, every moment executed with impressive precision. Some of its gimmicks can feel underwhelming, but the show is ultimately a satisfying one, memorable more for its hits than for its misses.

We are afraid of ghosts, because we understand the mistreatment that people suffer when alive. These beings return from the dead, with nothing to lose, and their vengeance is both justifiable and boundless. To see them, is to think of ourselves at our angriest, except completely unrestrained. Our biggest fear perhaps, is when people believe that they can act without consequence. Ghosts, and so many of our intangible creations, teach us to be good whilst being keenly aware of our capacity to be bad, and telling ghost stories is as though to put a curse on the evil, when they are hiding in plain sight.

www.horrortheshow.com | www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: Ich Nibber Dibber (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 15 – 19, 2018
Playwrights: Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose
Director: Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose
Cast: Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor, Natalie Rose
Images by Jacquie Manning

Theatre review
Three goddesses are afloat in white robes, eternal but not quite ethereal. Zoë Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose’s Ich Nibber Dibber features quick-fire conversations between old friends, natural and very candid, as though a verbatim recreation of private moments, collated over two or so decades. Confidences between close friends that are never meant for public consumption, bawdy and reckless, occupy centre stage to claim a position of dominance for the oft-neglected notion of female subjectivity. It is an exercise in rejecting the gaze, and of women asserting a perspective that is wholly about self-determined existences.

Audacious in its imagination of a post-feminist era, its accompanying politics are confident but subdued. Instead of overt investigations into meanings of gender, the play emphasises its comedy, and through that brazen attitude of subversive recalcitrance, Ich Nibber Dibber encourages us to laugh on our own terms, and by inference, to laugh at patriarchy. The show is thoroughly amusing, with its creators proving to be highly persuasive presences, as they jubilantly perform their defiance.

The women are unequivocally real, but they are also otherworldly, with a circularity to their experience of time that offers a glimpse into a future universe beckoning us to catch up. Michael Hankin’s set and costumes, along with Fausto Brusamolino’s lights, orchestrate this magical encounter between profane and divine, presenting imagery that reminds us of the transcendence we are all capable of. Music and sound by James Brown facilitate our connection with the storytellers, and then disturb our peace to keep us thinking.

It is believed that male desire in all its forms, have determined how we conceive of ourselves, but what had seemed inescapable, can now be put through a process of reconditioning. To extricate our own desires from those of the other, is likely an inexhaustible task, and because a woman’s work of resistance is never done, it is that ongoing project of continual redefinition and ever new formations of identities that can lead us to greater autonomy.

www.postpresentspost.com | www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: The Long Forgotten Dream (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jul 23 – Aug 25, 2018
Playwright: H Lawrence Sumner
Director: Neil Armfield
Cast: Jada Alberts, Wayne Blair, Nicholas Brown, Brodi Cubillo, Melissa Jaffer, Ningali Lawford-Wolf, Wesley Patten, Justin Smith, Ian Wilkes
Images by Heidrun Löhr

Theatre review
King Tulla’s remains are being flown back to Australia, after having been detained in England for three generations. His grandson Jeremiah is required to preside over the welcome home ceremony, but the prospect of having to deal with buried trauma and lost family histories, sees him unravelling, as he comes to grips with all that his emotions have struggled to face. There are few stories as profound and important for us today, as H Lawrence Sumner’s The Long Forgotten Dream. It explores the crippling effect of colonialism, on our Indigenous peoples, as well as the paradoxical urgency of their need to recover, to foster a brighter future. Sumner is marvellously revelatory of the Aboriginal experience, splendid in his clarity of language and of thought, for a piece of writing extraordinary for the power it dispenses, and for the wisdom that it contains.

Director Neil Armfield brings palpable life to this tale of lost souls and transposed dimensions. We are moved by the production’s remarkable tenderness, evident in every delicate aspect that it presents on stage. Live music by William Barton is ethereal but incredibly precise, with a spiritual quality that has us responding in accordance with each of its enigmatic inclinations. Jacob Nash’s set design keeps us enthralled, speaking to us as though on a visceral or perhaps instinctive level, in varieties of shapes and proportions, carrying us from space to space. Mark Howett’s sensual lighting style is relied upon to add warmth to the family drama, and gravity to our national concerns. Technical elements of The Long Forgotten Dream are inventive in their conception, and sumptuously executed.

It is an exquisite cast that takes the stage, with leading man Wayne Blair delivering phenomenal intensity and poignancy, to anchor the show in an unyielding point of pertinence. He couples vulnerability with dignity, ensuring that we are moved by Jeremiah’s circumstances and more vitally, by all the wider injustices implied in the depiction of his suffering. It must also be noted that Blair’s whimsical approach to humour is deeply endearing, and a crucial factor in allowing us to identify with a personality that can seem a world away from most of our daily realities. Also very charming is Ningali Lawford-Wolf, who plays Jeremiah’s sister Lizzie, a sassy, bold presence dependable for introducing a vibrant luminosity with every entrance. Jada Alberts is suitably subtle and thoroughly convincing as Jeremiah’s daughter Simone, and Melissa Jaffer is captivating in a somewhat surprising way, when she conveys so effortlessly, the romantic secrets of a 102-year-old woman.

The refusal to listen, may be our biggest pitfall. We can make repetitive and incessant claims of good intentions, but our inability to actually prioritise the needs and demands of Indigenous communities, will only serve to sustain these unacceptable state of affairs. When we think about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and sacred objects being controlled by colonising forces and their institutions, it becomes obvious the degree to which Australia denies the sovereignty of its First Nations. The inequity and, in some cases, inhumanity, they have had to tolerate, can only begin to find atonement when we are able to place their welfare at the very forefront of the national agenda, on equal footing with, if not ahead of, our selfish and exclusionary obsessions.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: The Children (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Mar 29 – May 19, 2018
Playwright: Lucy Kirkwood
Director: Sarah Goodes
Cast: Sarah Peirse, Pamela Rabe, William Zappa
Image by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children imagines what it would be like, if an all-consuming ecological disaster were to strike today. Instead of the pandemonium surrounding earthquakes and tsunamis, we see an aftermath involving three scientists who are partly responsible for the catastrophe. It is a story about technology, concerned with the way inhabitants of the developed world are failing to find harmony with our greater environment. Hazel, Robin and Rose are retirees approaching seventy years of age, but their work in nuclear power is an enduring legacy that has wreaked havoc to all of humankind.

The play takes on some of the most important themes of our times, not only in its bold discussions of climate change, but also with its ultramodern perspectives on ageing and death. Explored with remarkable sophistication, Kirkwood’s ideas are edgy but truthful, often confrontational in their dissection of responsibility and attribution of blame, as they pertain to the current state of our planet. Diligently crafted to provoke thought and to elicit benevolent responses, The Children tackles pressing issues with intelligence and splendid inventiveness. It is a gripping work, surprisingly entertaining, but is ultimately most valuable for its political statements.

Set inside a humble cottage (designed with minimal fuss by Elizabeth Gadsby), the action begins deceptively mundane as its three characters skirt the issue, trying to be cordial company, before a sense of security arrives that will allow floodgates to open. Everything feels precarious, even before the audience is let in on the severity of their situation. Director Sarah Goodes teases with an exquisite balance of the austere, banal and lighthearted aspects of the story. Tensions ebb and flow, but we are mesmerised, captivated by the extraordinary stakes of the fictional tale, and how they feel so immediately, and terrifyingly, applicable to our real lives.

Actor Pamela Rabe plays Hazel, a woman straining under delusions, surviving on a despairing combination of determination and feeble crutches. It is a wonderfully humorous performance, dark and sensitive, cleverly conveying the fragility of existence under the mercy of indomitable forces. Rose, performed by Sarah Peirse, appears out of the blue, complete with bleeding nose, to shake us into reality. A charismatic and powerful mouthpiece for the play’s central ideology, Peirse is eminently compelling and deeply persuasive. Robin is the thorn among the roses, entrusted with the plot’s more sentimental sections. William Zappa brings authenticity and warmth, and occasional levity, to what is essentially a caustic evaluation of our nature.

Our experts work ceaselessly to extend our lives, to have us live longer and more voraciously than ever before. We keep finding greater ways to devour the world, to satisfy an insatiable and ever-escalating list of wants, in a narcissistic experience that forever thinks of human as supreme. We plunder remorseless, even when faced with irrefutable evidence of our self-destruction, as though carnage can only be accepted as inevitable, and we persist in a race that feels too far gone to accommodate any idea of reversion. In The Children, characters figure out the best way to live by weighing between options of death. We can only bear witness to their calamity and hope to do better.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au | www.mtc.com.au