Review: Blithe Spirit (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Mar 21 – May 14, 2022
Playwright: Noël Coward
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Courtney Act, Matt Day, Nancy Denis, Bessie Holland, Tracy Mann, Megan Wilding, Brigid Zengeni
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Ruth and Charles are a wealthy couple who have run out of earthly pleasures to occupy themselves with, and are now toying with paranormal phenomena, for shits and giggles. What was originally meant to be the Condomines’ moment of disingenuous flirtation with the netherworld however, turns into a living nightmare when Charles’ ex-wife Elvira returns from the dead to haunt the household. Noël Coward’s 1941 comedy Blithe Spirit is a bit of harmless nostalgic English fun, the usual appeal of which resides almost entirely with its writer’s extraordinary wit.

With the passage of time, it is unsurprising that Coward’s work, now almost 80 years old, might have waned in its ability to tickle. Fortunately, the transcendental magic of theatre is ageless, and under the directorship of Paige Rattray, we find a renewed appreciation of the old play, and even though her contemporary production may not share very much in common, in terms of methodology, with the original creation, there is no denying that rapturous laughter was always the central intention.

It is a tremendously successful rendition, that relies upon Rattray’s uncanny ability to parody not only what Coward found worthy of satire, but also to lampoon old English sensibilities, such as those of Coward’s own, that represent so much of what many Australians today wish to establish distance from. Blithe Spirit has always made fun of the bourgeoisie, but now it is additionally useful in aiding in the ridicule of our colonial history.

Indeed it is that familiar English pomp that forms the basis of Rattray’s sarcastic and camp humour. Production design by David Fleischer involves conspicuous display of white money and class, for a sardonic rendering of the Condomines’ home and attire that look every bit the epitome of rich people nonsense. Sound design by Clemence Williams memorably adds to the cheekiness of attitude, as does Damien Cooper’s lighting design, which is additionally called upon to enhance the show’s cartoonish moments of supernaturality.

Performer Courtney Act brings excellent presence to the phantasmal role of Elvira, although a lack of nuance and depth in interpretation, tends to result in a regretful vapidity for the prominent part. Charles is played by Matt Day, admirably sure-footed and detailed with his contributions. The housemaid Edith is made larger than life by Megan Wilding’s creativity, the nature of which is undeniably inventive and mischievous. The wonderfully robust Brigid Zengeni portrays the clairvoyant Madame Arcati, as simultaneously kooky yet dignified. Nancy Denis and Tracy Mann are whimsical as family friends the Bradmans, both bringing considerable charm to the staging.

All theatre productions are collaborative efforts, but rare instances do occur, where a single star on the stage shines so bright, everything else can only settle for being mere witness to that magnificence. Playing Ruth, is actor Bessie Holland, who delivers nothing short of a masterclass, in a performance that exceeds even the greatest of expectations. It is a fearless embodiment of a great love for live comedy, replete with faultless instincts and exhaustively considered manoeuvres. Not only does Holland offer us crystal clarity with regards character and story, she has an ability to connect with her audience as though through a direct link to our viscera, so that an impossible joy is emitted, with every aural and visual punchline she precisely, and spiritedly, executes. It is a marvel that such talent is real, and an even greater miracle that we can attest to its existence in this very lifetime, with our own eyes.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: A Chorus Line (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 13 – Mar 11, 2022
Music: Marvin Hamlish
Lyrics: Edward Kleban
Book: Nicholas Dante, James Kirkwood
Director: Amy Campbell
Cast: Max Bimbi, Molly Bugeja, Angelique Cassimatis, Ross Chisari, Nadia Coote, Tim Dashwood, Lachlan Dearing, Mackenzie Dunn, Maikolo Fekitoa, Adam Jon Fiorentino, Natalie Foti, Ashley Goh, Mariah Gonzalez, Brady Kitchingham, Madeleine Mackenzie, Rechelle Mansour, Natasha Marconi, Rubin Matters, Ryan Ophel, Tony Oxybel, Ethan Ritchie, Suzanne Steele, Harry Targett, Angelina Thomson
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Originally conceived in 1975 by Michael Bennett, the legendary musical A Chorus Line involves an ensemble cast of nineteen, several unforgettable songs, and dance sequences that have become an indelible part of our collective cultural memory. It is the simple story about Broadway director Zach at a casting call, auditioning a throng of dancers, for eight places in his new show. A Chorus Line is a tribute to the innumerable artists who have dedicated their lives to a passion, that never yields commensurate rewards. The show is an opportunity for talents to show their wares, with each member of cast provided individual moments of glory, as well as working in groups for some of the most exciting and complicated choreography in the musical format.

Director and choreographer Amy Campbell’s ambitious revival, is a breath-taking experience. Even though the lacklustre book remains tedious, it is always an unequivocal joy when the performers are in motion. Campbell’s love for the art of performance, and for those who do it, is palpable. Her show is faithful to the look and feel of 1970s New York, complete with slinky modern jazz flourishes that transport us back to a time of decadent glamour. Each second of dance is complex, detailed and powerful, a real sumptuous feast for the eyes.

Peter Rubie’s lights are at least as visually impressive. They enhance perfectly every scene that unfolds, sometimes quiet and subtle, sometimes flamboyantly bombastic, but always stylish and surprising. Whether accompanying bodies active or still, Rubie’s work is consistently imaginative, never settling for the obvious. The beauty he delivers is truly sublime. Christine Mutton’s costumes too, are noteworthy, in bringing both realism, and vibrant, balanced colour, to a staging that will be remembered for its unparalleled resplendence.

The pivotal role of Zach is played by Adam Jon Fiorentino, whose use of voice marvellously regulates atmosphere from start to finish. Angelique Cassimatis delivers the singularly most poignant anecdote, as Cassie, complete with jaw dropping intensity in her iconic number, “The Music and the Mirror”.  We fall for all of the cast, as they are foregrounded one at a time, but it is their work as a cohesive whole, that has us spellbound. Together, they are formidable.

Much has changed over these five decades, since the inception of A Chorus Line. For one, we are no longer tolerant of authority figures like Zach irresponsibly demanding their subordinates, to reveal secrets or to relive trauma, in the company of strangers. Women and men, in the arts especially, have started to reject the delineations between gender constructs, and in the process are learning to meld the false differences of us and them. The theatrical arts however, remain a pure vehicle for communities to congregate, to debate, and to share. Since time immemorial, we have formulated ways to listen to each other, to understand our neighbours, and to reach consensus, hard as it might be, because we always knew that on our own, we are doomed to fail. There are no queens and kings in A Chorus Line, only a united front that can weather anything, and keep the dreams alive.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (State Theatre Company South Australia)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 13 – 23, 2022
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Margaret Harvey
Cast: Jimi Bani, Rashidi Edward, Juanita Navas-Nguyen, Susan Prior
Images by Yaya Stempler

Theatre review
Martha and George are always fighting. The perpetuality of their battles seems to point to a certain masochism that resides at the centre of their marriage, and we discover that perhaps their endless struggle for power, forms the very foundation of their life together. As viewers on the sidelines, we gladly ride that momentum of conflict, knowing that things simply will never get better for the couple, in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Set in the world of academia, in the New England region of the USA, Albee’s discussions about power, pertain to a kind that is particularly white. Director Margaret Harvey’s decision to cast Black men in the roles of the duelling academics George and Nick, brings greater focus to the whiteness that is being interrogated. The futility of these two men trying to climb the social and professional ladders, within a system built upon the exclusion of people like them, are made mournfully clear by the darkness of their skin.

Although never lacking in energy, the production suffers from a shortage of precision, in the way Albee’s often rambling dialogue is presented. The writing’s abstract qualities has a tendency to become overly ambiguous on this stage, making the experience feel at times, somewhat hollow.

Ailsa Paterson’s set design is an elegant update that provides the story with a present day context, but a strangely domineering centrepiece that makes reference to the white practice of pilfering historical artefacts is, although well-meaning, an unnecessary distraction. Lights by Nigel Levings are effectively chilling, in the cold white box of Martha and George’s home. Sound design by Andrew Howard is sparse, but memorable for its use of drums to rouse tensions.

Actor Susan Prior is suitably nebulous as the heavily intoxicated Martha. Jimi Bani’s bouts of anger as George dials up the drama, but a characteristic cynicism seems to be missing. Nick is played by Rashidi Edward who brings great intensity, and his counterpart Honey is thankfully given some backbone by Juanita Navas-Nguyen.

Martha’s father never appears in the play, but he holds absolute power over the people that we meet. Just like the white patriarchy on this land, it is never the ones who benefit most that do the dirty work, but all the foot soldiers who fight amongst themselves, thinking they are advancing their personal ambitions, when in fact are only serving the purposes of those on top. We are given crumbs, that are designed to gaslight us into believing, that the rules of engagement are fair. That we persist with these rules, is as strange as Martha and George persisting with their marriage.

www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

Review: Bigger and Blacker (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), May 19 – 22, 2021
Music and Lyrics: Steven Oliver
Director: Isaac Drandic
Cast: Steven Oliver
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
For just over an hour, a gay Black man reigns supreme, in Steven Oliver’s cabaret outing Bigger and Blacker. Entirely live and intimate, Oliver performs self-written songs accumulated over the years, a greatest hits compilation that spans everything from love to politics, that take us from hilarity to devastation.

Much of the presentation is concerned with being on the outside. Marginalised for both his racial and sexual identities, there is no wonder that Oliver is famously funny. Like many whose very existence poses a threat to the hegemony, being comical is a defence, a mode of self-preservation that becomes second nature. In Bigger and Blacker, the artist is characteristically flamboyant, but the underlying gravity of his raison d’etre is always apparent. Through the sensitive eye of director Isaac Drandic, we discover a duality of the persona, whimsical yet dark, and we respond accordingly, sometimes with joy, sometimes with sadness, but most often with a melancholic combination of both.

Oliver’s songs are cleverly written, all of them beautifully melodic and lyrically meaningful, made more poignant by the performer’s sincere introductions for every number. Accompanist Michael Griffiths is his spirited companion, whose inspired musical direction guides us through a multitude of stylistic genres, for a seriously engaging one-person variety extravaganza. From torch song to hip hop, Bigger and Blacker keeps itself fresh and surprising, not a single dull moment permitted.

Brady Watkins’ work on sound design transports us to a sensual world, distinctly lush and enchanting, and coupled with Chloe Ogilvie’s tender lighting, the audience finds itself effortlessly lulled into a temporary theatrical romance. Oliver is dressed by Kevin O’Brien, resplendent in a deep pink tuxedo jacket, determined to steal our hearts.

Identity labels are tiresome, for people who do not have to wrestle with oppression. Those of us who are systematically and habitually excluded, however, learn to embrace that which others have used to define us. What others try to shame us with, we grow to love, and we grow to understand the positively formative power, of everything that is meant to be inferior or contemptible. Oliver talks a lot about being a minority; he is Black, and he is gay, and as we come to realise, is therefore extraordinary.

www.sydneyoperahouse.com

Review: Rules For Living (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Nov 2 – Dec 19, 2020
Playwright: Sam Holcroft
Director: Susanna Dowling
Cast: Ella Jacob, Keegan Joyce, Amber McMahon, Hazem Shammas, Bruce Spence, Sonia Todd, Nikita Waldron
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
It is Christmas lunch at Francis’ home in the affluent North Shore. He is a successful lawyer, and both his sons are desperately trying to follow in his footsteps, although their authentic passions lie clearly in other fields. A lot of Sam Holcroft’s Rules For Living talks about the conflict between who we are, and who we are expected to be. It is about the standards set by society, by family, friends and lovers, that have very little to do with what one needs for a satisfying existence, and everything to do with obedience, and for keeping up with the joneses. An examination of middle class mirage is plat du jour, as served up by this predictable comedy, giving us nothing edgy or indeed revelatory.

Actor Sonia Todd plays Edith, mother to the boys, especially effective when bringing emphasis to the irony of narcissistic anguish in people who have it all. Everything is too stressful in her perfect world, where not a hair is allowed to be out of place. Todd offers an accurate sense of bourgeois uptight-ness, that is valuable in our understanding of early twenty-first century Western civilisation, even though the noisy ensemble piece does ultimately prevent anything meaningful or profound to be properly conveyed.

Directed by Susanna Dowling, the show is consistently energetic, but bewilderingly unfunny. The performers work extraordinarily hard to entertain, but none seems to have located any significant humour in the piece, that they so laboriously bring to the stage. Their approaches range from realist to absurdist, all of which miss the mark, although it can often appear that there is little in the writing that is inherently amusing. Design aspects are elegant and polished, but conservatively rendered, for a production that looks, sounds and feels like the hundred Christmas comedies that have come before, always unthreatening, but banal at best.

As we try to survive a living hell comprised of Trumpism and COVID-19, telling stories about vicious family dynamics in 2020, proves to be an exercise that feels little more than a slightly quaint distraction from real life. What might have been important theatre in 2015, when Rules For Living had made its international premiere, now lacks pertinence in a vastly transformed world. There are much bigger fish to fry, and art needs to keep up.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Hamlet (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 29 – Apr 4, 2020
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Peter Evans
Cast: Jeremi Campese, Tony Cogin, Jack Crumlin, James Evans, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, James Lugton, Jane Mahady, Lisa McCune, Robert Menzies, Aanisa Vylet, Sophie Wilde
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Having very recently lost his father, the young prince is understandably grief-stricken. Hamlet obsesses over his mother’s quick remarriage to the new King Claudius, almost as a form of distraction, but when the ghost of the dead king arrives to reveal that it was his own brother Claudius who had killed him, Hamlet becomes overwhelmed with fury. More than a revenge story, Shakespeare’s Hamlet examines the meaning of death, from the vantage point of a man obsessed with bereavement.

It is a handsome production, with Benjamin Cisterne’s lights giving a glamorous finish to the staging, and designer Anna Tregloan’s 1960’s costumes adding a sense of whimsy. Tregloan’s cyclorama depicts a beautiful Danish snowscape, but an awkward house-shaped frame sits centre stage, doing little more than to confuse with its lack of purpose. Video projections by Laura Turner helps us empathise with Hamlet’s tragic circumstances, as does Max Lyandvert’s restrained music compositions.

Director Peter Evans’ conservative style may not deliver anything unexpected, but his rendition is likely to appeal to fans of Shakespeare who favour a more conventional approach. Actor Harriet Gordon-Anderson is insufficiently charismatic as the lead, but displays clear dedication to her craft. What she offers as the Danish prince is not always convincing, due in part to her slight stature, although there is no questioning her conviction and focus for the role. The two problematic women in Hamlet, Gertrude and Ophelia, are played by Lisa McCune and Sophie Wilde respectively, both performers able to convey a certain level of power and integrity, in spite of Shakespeare’s intentions to portray them as useless. Robert Menzies leaves a strong impression as Polonius, animated and entertaining as the court’s chief counsellor.

In the twenty-first century, it is easy to take issue with the representation of women in Shakespeare’s work. We are far less likely to accept as reasonable, the extremely unbalanced way in which gender is expressed in his oeuvre. The current trend of placing women actors in key male roles does, to some extent, soften the blow of insults to half of humankind, but the strategy is rarely if ever, able to comprehensively address the gender problem that figures so centrally in all of Shakespeare’s narratives.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

5 Questions with Jeremi Campese and Aanisa Vylet

Jeremi Campese

Aanisa Vylet: Hey Jeremi, what excites you the most about this production of Hamlet?
Jeremi Campese: Harriet’s performance first and foremost. But also, Peter’s vision of nostalgia incorporates projections of memories (shot on a period-appropriate Super 8mm camera!!). Placing the past in such clear view gives the present a REALLY moving poignancy at particular moments. I won’t say too much else about the projections, but they’re beautiful and work with Hamlet constantly trying to look back and remember/grieve for his father. The same for Ophelia too!

I understand that you have worked previously with Bell Shakespeare as part of their Players Education program, what was the process like and how has it contributed to your approach during rehearsals?
It was a total joy. Especially performing at regional schools: you’re often their only form of live Shakespeare (and sometimes of live performance) so they were super generous in their excitement and willingness to learn. Of course, there are down days and tough audiences — hormonal 14 years olds at 9am? Thank u next. The whole tour has just made me far more confident in myself as an actor and with the Shakespearean text. But most importantly, no audience can intimidate you after performing to some of those teenagers!

Can you tell us a little bit about your character Rosencrantz and his buddy Guildenstern?
Ros and Guil are school-friends of Hamlet’s. They probably haven’t seen him in a couple years since uni began, but the King and Queen call them after Hamlet’s behaviour becomes strange to find out what’s wrong. It’s a very fun dynamic because they’re constantly having to choose between their childhood friend and the authority of the Court.

Something that I very much respect about your practice is that you are self taught. Do you have any advice for younger actors who wish to pursue a similar path?
Acting is an applied discipline, so it’s only natural that best way to learn is just on the job. So, my advice would just be to keep yourself busy with work. If you don’t have a show lined up, go to auditions; if you don’t have auditions lined up, do workshops (ATYP run fantastic ones for e.g.); if you don’t have workshops lined up, read/learn monologues (contemporary, Shakespearean, classical). If you keep your actor-brain working whenever you can, you’ll always be improving. But also, don’t totally throw away drama school as an option: take those auditions and opportunities seriously.

Which character do you have a secret crush on in Hamlet?
WOW what a question. Maybe Gertrude. I truly think her and Claudius love each other dearly: and Lisa McCune (who’s playing her) and I agree, she was definitely a party animal when she was younger!

Aanisa Vylet

Jeremi Campese: What excites you most about this production of Hamlet?
Witnessing Harriet Gordon Anderson play Hamlet and seeing Peter Evans’ vision for the work unfold. What excites me the most about this endeavour is both Harriet and Peter’s commitment to drawing out Hamlet’s humanity. It is the first time I have witnessed Hamlet being played by a woman and I hope it is not the last.

The Mousetrap is a huge plot point in the play, and Shakespeare builds up to it a fair bit. Without giving too much away, what’s your vision for it in this show?
Hmmm…. Our collective vision is a melange of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Russian Absurdist Theatre, Ballet, Greek Tragedy & Comical Historical Pastoral Theatre.

Much of your work has been on contemporary and your own, new work (The Girl/The Woman was amazing). How have you found working on a classic text with such a long history of performance and study?
I will let you all in on a little secret – as a high school student I was terrified of Shakespeare. I am also an advocate of creating new work (as I truly believe we are the Shakespeare’s of our times). So… when I auditioned for this production I decidedly went in as my true self, with my truth and my interpretation of the text. I was deeply impressed with the collaborative approach of the Company. I felt at home as an artist and I quickly realised that we were creating a new play from an old story and I could still bring my artistry to it and I could learn quite a lot from the process.

I still believe we need to continue to create new stories that reflect the cultural sensibility of our times but I have also realised these stories have their place too. I believe the text, the world within these plays inspires audiences and speaks to the humanity in many people. The fears of “not knowing enough”, “not being articulate enough” or “stuffing it up” have calmed down due to these realizations, the help of generous cast members and an incredibly supportive company. And in terms of dealing with a text that has had such a long performance history… well… for me every text is up to interpretation.

Who’s your favourite character in the play?
Hamlet. Hands down. The first play I had ever seen was Bell Shakespeare’s Hamlet, directed by John Bell. I was in year 10. I related to Hamlet so much… I could not understand why. All I knew was that I couldn’t shake the feeling that something hidden within me was laid bare on stage.

QUICK! The Aanisa Vylet biopic is being made: who do you want playing you?
A chorus of women of colour speaking in voice.

Jeremi Campese and Aanisa Vylet can be seen in Hamlet, by Bell Shakespeare.
Dates: 29 Feb – 4 Apr, 2020
Venue: Sydney Opera House

Review: No Pay? No Way! (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 10 – Apr 4, 2020
Playwright: Dario Fo (adapted by Marieke Hardy)
Director: Sarah Giles
Cast: Glenn Hazeldine, Rahel Romahn, Helen Thomson, Aaron Tsindos, Catherine Văn-Davies
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Margherita was only lending Antonia a hand with her groceries, when it was discovered that none of the goods had been paid for, and because the authorities are now on the hunt for all the women who had robbed a supermarket, Margherita inadvertently finds herself pretending to be pregnant, with bags of food hiding under her coat. Dario Fo’s No Pay? No Way! is concerned with the working class in 70’s Italy, and their awakening to the fact that the bourgeoisie has been taking advantage of them for far too long, and that it is finally time to revolt.

The absurdist comedy is adapted by Marieke Hardy, who bridges gaps of time and space, for a magnificent new version that makes the story feel pertinent and surprisingly urgent. In her process of language conversion, Hardy shines a light on 21st century Australian neo-liberalism, to create a rousing work that has us questioning the state of our economy. Director Sarah Giles’ rendering of the play is relentlessly energetic, for scenes of hilarity that tickle us from start to end. Although the laughs are incessant, hearty and thoroughly enjoyable, not one moment goes by that lets us forget the politics being discussed. Giles is as cutting as she is funny, and her production is satisfying beyond the entertainment value that it obviously offers.

A glorious set design by Charles Davis facilitates the raucous activity of characters, whilst providing evocative visual cues that relate to the sociopolitical climate being interrogated. Davis’ costumes too, help to depict a world that is distant yet resonant, allowing us to peer into somewhere far away but achieving an intimate understanding about who these people are. Lights by Paul Jackson are extravagantly designed, to create an inexhaustible sense of dynamism for the staging; his work adds powerful amplification to both comic and dramatic qualities of the play, cleverly creating imagery that keeps us invested, no matter where the story chooses to wander.

Five extraordinary talents take the stage, with Helen Thomson’s performance as Antonia setting the tone, through a sophisticated blend of dazzling slapstick and fierce intelligence. Catherine Văn-Davies adds strong commentary to her interpretation of the slightly ditsy Margherita, bringing meaningful elevation to the role, as she executes some seriously boisterous manoeuvres that has us howling. Playing the husbands are Glenn Hazeldine and Rahel Romahn, who display impressive skill not only in their impeccable timing, but also laudable in terms of the narrative depth they convey for these battlers. Aaron Tsindos is unforgettable in all of his quirky roles, wonderfully precise and confident in the wild artistic choices he invests for each of his distinct and very delightful manifestations.

When all the delicious humour comes to a crashing halt at the show’s conclusion, we face the stark reality of what the farce is all about. Dario Fo’s Marxist influences sing beautifully, and painfully, as we confront the increasingly lamentable problems of our society. Demonstrations and rallies are gradually increasing in potency on Australian streets, but truly radical action still seems unimaginable. We are unable to concede to the desperation that has become permanent in our lives, always choosing to believe that the way things are can be improved, instead of daring to completely do away with the old, so that we can be in search of something new. We fool ourselves into thinking that necessary evils are worth the good that we do possess, never allowing idealism to take us somewhere better. We are given crumbs and are expected to be content with our lot. Unlike Antonia and Margherita, who arrive at the last straw of their exploitation, we carry on hating so much of what surrounds us, believing that this is as good as it gets.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Wake In Fright (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 11 – 15, 2020
Playwright: Declan Greene with Zahra Newman (adapted from the novel by Kenneth Cook)
Director: Declan Greene
Cast: Zahra Newman
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Included in the price of entry, are a pair of earplugs. There are some loud noises in the production that delicate members of the audience might want to shield themselves from, but symbolically, they are a sarcastic dig at our Australian propensity to shut out any discussion about race that goes too close to the bone. Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel Wake In Fright is re-framed by director Declan Greene and performer Zahra Newman, so that the classic gothic horror becomes an apparatus that exposes the anxiety of the white man on this colonised land. School teacher John is trapped in a country town, where he encounters a string of dubious characters determined to inflict degradation, using alcohol and other vices, so that he turns into one of them, over the course of a weekend.

More than a tall poppy story, this reiteration of Wake In Fright is about Western masculinity’s relentless need for destruction. The Indigenous have long disappeared from fictitious Bundanyabba, but the carnage continues, now with European settlers exerting their irrepressible barbarism onto themselves. Having once been a scary movie, this bleak tale is again given the genre treatment, with outstanding work by Verity Hampson on light and projections, alongside James Paul’s thrilling sound design and Melbourne duo friendships’ intuitive music, providing eerie and meaningful discombobulation to our experience of the show. Although not frightening in a sensorial manner that films are notoriously capable of, director Greene certainly conveys powerfully, the fearsome quality of this dark tale. Aussie larrikins gone wild are not to be toyed with.

The exceptional Newman is breathtaking in her one-woman show, unforgettable for delivering extraordinary complexity with what could have been a simple story. She has us on the edge of our seats for the show’s entirety, keeping our minds active with the many dimensions and depths that she alchemizes on stage. It is noteworthy that this version of Wake In Fright works particularly well with a woman of colour at its helm. Newman’s gender and skin are constant cues that prevent us from forgetting about the masculinity and whiteness that are central to the catastrophe unfolding.

The earbuds remain a personal choice. Many will choose to ignore the obvious, because much of the power of the status quo relies on its ability to keep us feeling debilitated. It also succeeds at misleading many into insisting that the problems with society are about deficient individuals, and not the overarching systems that govern us. It is no coincidence that the horrors that overwhelm John are imposed by people who fit a particular description. We need to learn to see patterns, and form understandings that will help us in more substantive ways, than to replace bad eggs in structures that will never accommodate good ones. The outback town in Wake In Fright is sick, but we fear the overhaul that is required, and choose instead to let it languish in perpetual revulsion.

www.malthousetheatre.com.au

Review: Songs For Nobodies (Sydney Opera House)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jan 23 – Feb 9, 2020
Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith
Director: Simon Phillips
Cast: Bernadette Robinson

Theatre review
There are ten women in Joanna Murray-Smith’s Songs For Nobodies, a collection of five stories about famous singers and the ordinary lives they had touched. It is a series of juxtapositions, of diva and goddess, of women on stage and women from other walks of life, all being put through their paces in one form or another. Murray-Smith’s poignant humour works a charm, able to imbue each character with dignity along with a sense of the divine, not only for the celebrities, but also for the women-next-door that it depicts so lovingly. All women can be regarded with reverence, if we know to value them appropriately.

Bernadette Robinson is the extraordinary talent who introduces us to all the characters in Songs For Nobodies. When impersonating Maria Callas, Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf, she is impressive not only for the likeness that she quite magically achieves, but also for the very virtuosity she displays in each of the unforgettable standards that she sings. Her portrayals of the every woman too, are commanding, whether American, English or Irish, Robinson is convincing, engaging and gloriously charming, able to elevate forgotten souls, as a reminder that all women are sometimes truly sublime.

Directed by Simon Phillips, the show is elegantly rendered, very subtle in approach, but nonetheless affecting. Orchestrations by Ian McDonald are dramatic and highly evocative, able to seize our imagination in a flash, to transport us through time and space for momentary immersions, that make us feel as though in the presence of legends. Scott Rogers’ lights too are notable, for their romantic warmth, able to take us away from the humdrum and the mundane, that we too often think of as the only reality.

Very few women ever get to see things from the top, but there is no rat race that we should feel compelled to participate in. More than the rich and famous, are the many examples of fulfilling and self-determined existences that are plain to see. Many of us will not know what it is like to influence millions, and to never have succeeded in accordance with stipulations of dominant paradigms, but in this current moment of a new understanding around centuries of relentless destruction, we should more than ever before, appreciate those we think of small people, who have had no power in our collective journey to impending extinction.

www.duetgroup.com