Review: A Cheery Soul (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Nov 5 – Dec 15, 2018
Playwright: Patrick White
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Emma Harvie, Anita Hegh, Jay James-Moody, Brandon McClelland, Tara Morice, Sarah Peirse, Monica Sayers, Shari Sebbens, Nikki Shiels, Bruce Spence, Anthony Taufa
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Miss Docker is an inconvenient older lady. Living in the suburbs, her presence is a constant source of irritation to all and sundry, even though she goes out of her trying way to be a useful member of community. Possessing neither great discernible talent, nor satisfactory social skills, her good intentions prove inadequate, and having gone past an ascribed use-by date, exclusion is her daily reality.

Critical of the Australian middle classes, Patrick White’s A Cheery Soul takes aim at our parochial values, and that strange sense of fear resulting from our insecure colonial identity, one that corrupts the way we are with one another. Additionally, the play is a study of how women are devalued, through its depictions of a character who has failed to fulfil her destiny of wife and mother, in a society determined to disallow her from deviating from its narrow definitions of womanhood.

White’s signature incorporation of poetry and abstraction have a tendency to dilute the drama in his narratives, and although director Kip Williams does well to introduce a generous and robust scale of theatricality that is quite dazzling, the show oscillates regularly between entertaining and challenging, for an experience that feels, ultimately, not much more than moderately rewarding. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that live video is an inventive and memorable device here, with Williams and set designer Elizabeth Gadsby demonstrating an admirable meeting of the minds for a very effective use of the medium.

Actor Sarah Peirse brings a charming and familiar eccentricity to Docker that conveys a valuable realism for the piece, but it is arguable if the protagonist is on this occasion, sufficiently appealing for us to be firmly engaged with the plot. Reverend Wakeman is played by Brandon McClelland, whose flamboyant approach offers wonderful moments of intensity that add texture to a persistently sad story. Ensemble work is strong in the production, with sequences featuring the cast performing as a haunting chorus especially beautiful.

When scared little people make up the majority, it is the imaginative and the adventurous who are ostracised. Still in our psyche, an outpost of the old British Empire, we remain consumed by anxiety, always thinking ourselves deficient, desperate to be as good as everyone else in faraway fantasised Europe. We behave as though neglected and orphaned, consequently responding by always choosing to embrace the ordinary, in a constant state of keeping up with the Joneses, and irrational in our fear of all things different and unexpected. There is little value in living by replicating, even though it gives an impression of social cohesion, conformity holds us back from progress and deprives us of compassion. In A Cheery Soul we see that to love thy neighbour can be easy, if only we learned to step of our own way.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Julius Caesar (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Oct 23 – Nov 25, 2018
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: James Evans
Cast: Jemwel Danao, Maryanne Fonceca, Ghenoa Gela, Neveen Hanna, Emily Havea, James Lugton, Kenneth Ransom, Nick Simpson-Deeks, Russell Smith, Sara Zwangobani
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Some things never change, and Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar could just as well be a story about Canberra in 2018. A controversial leader gets knifed, and all hell breaks loose, in this tale of a mutiny that does not go quite as planned. Cassius and Brutus conspire to have their leader extinguished, in order that a better system of government can be installed, but after Caesar’s death, they find themselves quite inadvertently shot in the foot. This is the story of Malcolm Turnbull, of Tony Abbott, of Julia Gillard, and of Kevin Rudd; a tradition of the Australian government that seems a recent phenomenon, but is in fact centuries old. Even after the chief takes a brutal fall, discontent among the ranks refuses to dissipate, and the process of elimination keeps repeating.

An appropriately modern tone is injected by director James Evans, who assembles for the production, a satisfyingly cinematic look and feel. Music by Nate Edmondson is particularly noteworthy. Luscious, bold and flamboyantly epic, sound proves itself this staging’s most reliable element, whenever we begin searching for explanations to the goings on.

Actor Kenneth Ransom is an unusual Caesar, statuesque but with a subdued presence. Cassius and Brutus are played by Nick Simpson-Deeks and James Lugton respectively, both delivering entertaining and rich characterisations, as well as impressing us with their marvellous ability at harnessing chemistry. In the role of Mark Antony is Sara Zwangobani who all but steals the show in Act III, when her disarming luminosity is given opportunity to occupy centre stage. The actor is intense and authentic, with a visceral power in her performance as the Roman leader that truly dominates.

A healthy democracy requires that we go the polls every few years to cast a ballot on who we wish to have representing us. This does not happen every time the tide changes or every moment we feel disillusioned by those whom we had given office. It is certainly not dependent on how private media companies and other interests wish to exercise their influence. There will always be people who think they know better than the populace, and seek to subvert our electoral rights. We can only hope that those who reject the universal rights all citizens are equally entitled to, like Cassius and Brutus, will in real life, suffer every consequence of their corruption.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

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