Review: Love Song Dedications (Without Richard Mercer) (Ten Tonne Sparrow / PACT)

Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), Jul 19 – 28, 2018
Playwrights: Tom Hogan, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds
Directors: Tom Hogan, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds
Cast: Tom Hogan, Bonnie Leigh-Dodds
Images by Freya Ludowici

Theatre review
Love Song Dedications was a longstanding radio program featuring classic romantic pop music, alongside real life accounts of love won and love lost. Tom Hogan and Bonnie Leigh-Dodds’ show is a tribute of sorts, using a combination of triple-threat disciplines to create a work of comedy, that is ostensibly about finding the greatest love song of all time. A prominent characteristic of the radio show was its unabashed earnestness, completely devoid of irony and therefore deeply cringe-worthy, and here, Hogan and Leigh-Dodds play with that raw human openness, almost as an antidote for modern art’s obsession with being too clever, to bring focus away from the head and into the heart.

It is an exercise in honesty, of placing the authentic within the inevitable conceits of a theatre piece that must have a beginning, middle and end. Storytelling will always contain verisimilitude, but degrees of fiction seem fundamental to how things work on stage. Hogan and Leigh-Dodds are best friends, and like those on the airwaves speaking via telephones about matters of the heart, they are here to talk about their relationship. We discover how having an audience would affect this process of connection between the two. Turning a friendship into an artistic partnership could be a precarious exercise, but if art is where they communicate best, then perhaps understanding their relationship through a form like this, is their best bet.

Hogan and Leigh-Dodds are intelligent and effervescent, both youthful specimens, full of beans and big ideas. A good command of their bodies, and of space, ensures that we are held attentive for the 70-minute duration. They create a plot trajectory that is surprisingly varied, manufacturing with considerable ingenuity, a multifaceted approach for what seems a very simple point of departure. There are brief moments of energetic dissolution, but we never lose interest in the overarching project of finding that best song.

Creativity, even at its most commercial, evades objective judgement. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for Hogan and Leigh-Dodds the best song from the 104 in their shortlist, is the one that holds the greatest amount of meaning, and of nostalgic value, to their private selves. Their love story informs their selection, but judging from the warmth radiating from the audience, the popular consensus is that their show is very well-liked indeed.

www.tentonnesparrow.com.au

Review: My Carer (Walk Now Productions)

Venue: Hellenic Art Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jul 19 – 22, 2018
Playwright: Sam Cosentino
Director: Sam Cosentino
Cast: Maria de Marco, Helen Kim, Jacob McLean
Image by Katt Gao

Theatre review
Rebecca endures a lonely and hopeless existence. Having dedicated everything to a career in law, she finds herself at retirement age with nothing but a house and a cleaning lady as companion. Her husband has passed, and their son is estranged, living in a distant city, resentful of his mother’s neglectful behaviour.

Sam Cosentino’s My Carer talks about family discordance, and explores the challenges we face when trying to mend those bridges. The piece is thoughtfully written, mature and insightful with observations that will doubtless strike a chord. As director, Cosentino’s approach is oversimplified, for a production that can feel too basic and pedestrian, but the strength of his text keeps our attention firmly engaged with its characters and themes.

Also captivating is Maria de Marco in the role of Rebecca, offering a powerful depiction of a woman with more than a few regrets, and a prideful obstinacy to accompany them. The nuanced intensity de Marco brings to the stage is sheer theatrical delight. Helen Kim and Jacob McLean are not quite as compelling, but the young performers exhibit a conviction that is nonetheless infectious.

Some apron strings can only be cut with a great deal of ruthlessness. In order that her son may become his own man, Rebecca has to experience a rejection that is as humiliating as it is cruel. What happens in the aftermath proves just as difficult, when a new harmony is sought by both parties, each having to negotiate uncharted terms of their reconciliation. When love is not enough, the choice to take on the hard work that will mend the fissures, is rarely an easy one to make.

www.walknowproductions.com

Review: You Got Older (Mad March Hare Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 13 – Aug 4, 2018
Playwright: Clare Barron
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Alex Beauman, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Ainslie McGlynn, Sarah Meacham, Gareth Rickards, Steve Rodgers, Cody Ross
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Mae has come home, to care for her father as he undergoes cancer treatment. Clare Barron’s You Got Older is a look at that moment, of suddenly becoming keenly aware of one’s parents’ mortality. In every process of healing, of trying to make someone better, is the salient reminder that life is fragile. Mae is strong for her father, but in the privacy of her own thoughts, anxiety and grief manifest in fantasies of sexual masochism. Role playing is after all, how we are able to get through most of our days.

The subject matter may be heavy, but like the resilience of our human spirit, the show is determined to keep buoyant and optimistic. Director Claudia Barrie brings excellent humour to the production. Although not exactly lighthearted, we are surprised by the delight and joy that the play brings, through its very enjoyable and richly authentic explorations of love and family dynamics. There is no angsty drama here, only a father and his beloved children grappling with the pain of inevitable separation.

A very solid cast takes us through this universal tale. Harriet Gordon-Anderson is entirely convincing as Mae, with all her contradictions and vulnerabilities, but the actor is particularly successful at conveying a strength that is neither heroic nor exceptional, but that is nonetheless profound in its representation of the good that we are capable of. The paternal character is played by a confidently understated Steve Rodgers, who introduces just enough pathos to have us engaged, leaving us grateful that no emotional blackmailing takes place in this presentation. Contributing to the somewhat unexpected elegance of You Got Older are its supporting actors, each one charming and funny, and as a group, perfectly timed and wonderfully captivating.

When someone close is suffering ill health, those on the sidelines might be left feeling helpless, but we also understand that fundamental to the patient’s well-being, is the spiritual care and support we are required to provide. In times of hardship, fear can easily overwhelm, but courage often appears, allowing love to do its job.

www.madmarchtheatreco.com

Review: Stupid Fucking Bird (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 12 – 28, 2018
Playwright: Aaron Posner
Director: Warwick Doddrell
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Gil Balfas, Brendan Miles, Mansoor Noor, Megan Smart, Annie Stafford, Kaitlyn Thor
Images by Bob Seary

Theatre review
It is a wonderful world that the characters in Stupid Fucking Bird inhabit. Consumed by love and art, their lives might seem frivolous to some, but to those of us tired of the daily grind, their romantic mashup of 21st century Australia and 19th century Russia, suggests an imaginary existence where only the exciting things matter.

Aaron Posner’s rendition of Chekhov’s The Seagull retains the original’s narratives and personalities, but radically transforms the way in which the stories are told. Chekhov enshrined in his play, a wish to establish new theatrical forms, so it is appropriate that artistic liberties are taken. We are also entirely grateful for Posner turning the antiquated piece into something much more entertaining, and relevant to our times.

Director Warwick Doddrell presents a stunning production; gripping from the start, relentlessly amusing, compelling and vivacious, for a very unlikely experience of the venerated classic. Doddrell’s dramaturgical excellence is accompanied by an experimental spirit that permeates all faculties of the show, and we see all its cast and creatives deliver some truly outstanding work on this stage.

Set design by Jeremy Allen offers simple solutions for a highly effective transformation of space. Original songs by Jim Fishwick are replete with wit and charming vibrancy. Ben Pierpoint and Mary Rapp’s sound design is thrilling in its urgency, with an exuberant contemporariness that provides an air of irresistible edginess. Lighting designer Veronique Bennett is similarly striking in approach, creating alluring and refreshing imagery, demonstrating valuable proclivities that are sensitive yet vivid.

Seven actors, individually delightful, prove themselves a formidable ensemble in Stupid Fucking Bird. Mansoor Noor’s memorable athleticism and emotional vigour as Conrad, form a reliable centre for the show’s quality of interminable liveliness. Megan Smart is a splendid Nina, with a bewitching authenticity that accompanies every delicious melodramatic turn. The iconic Emma Arkadina is played by a fierce Kaitlyn Thor, seductive and powerful as the grandiose matriarch.

Lloyd Allison-Young and Annie Stafford are gifted with arresting presences, both captivating performers with a knack for making everything look effortless. Gil Balfas and Brendan Miles offer exquisite balance to the extravagant goings-on, both able to bring confident subtlety, at junctures where nuance is required but unexpected. Stupid Fucking Bird represents a rare theatrical occasion, where brilliance emanates from all its participant components.

Characters in the story suffer unrequited love and artistic jealousy. Their personal sense of inadequacy feels familiar, but also strange, if not completely bizarre, should we choose to evaluate their behaviour closely. The disquiet that overwhelms the privileged can be seen to be counter-intuitive, although it is clear that money does not solve all problems, least of all, our narcissism. When Conrad is told to “try loving something more than yourself,” the key to his salvation is succinctly and perfectly awarded, but predictably, left direly unheeded.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: A Single Act (Chippen Street Theatre)

Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 12 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Jane Bodie
Director: Travis McMahon
Cast: Dominic Di Paolo, Georgia Nicholas, Evan Piefke, Rachel Slee
Images by Ethan Hatton-Warham

Theatre review
This is a story of two relationships disintegrating against the backdrop of a catastrophe, possibly an act of terrorism that proves to have continual reverberations after its moment of impact. Jane Bodie’s A Single Act places two very conventional couples side by side in the play, unified only by that vague catastrophic event they are all trying to keep out of their minds. One of the women suffers physical abuse from her partner, and we are made to connect the attack on human life that occurs in the domestic sphere, with those in public. It does not make obvious links, so the meanings we try to formulate can feel tenuous, but the parallels regarding damage to person and society are certainly intriguing.

Comprised entirely of two-hander scenes, the show relies heavily on chemistry between our onstage lovers, but the intimacies being presented are rarely convincing. Much of the work on acting seems to be filmic in style, with emphasis placed on voice and facial expressions, while actors’ bodies are left to look as though stranded in space. The subtle writing requires of the cast an extraordinary level of nuance, but the few memorable moments involve very exaggerated manoeuvres. Consequently, the production struggles to communicate more than the surface, although it does keep our minds inquisitive.

Acts of terrorism committed in Australia have been few and far between, but family violence happens around the clock. We often find ourselves engaged in passionate discussions about religious fanatics and asylum seekers, unable to acknowledge much more pressing issues that are quite literally right at our doorsteps. Our beliefs and opinions are so easily manipulated, by economic and political interests that have much to gain from our fear of alien forces, that terrors within our midst can be so effectively rendered invisible. One’s own backyard should always be tended to with great conscientious care, but it is much easier to worry about imagined enemies from foreign lands.

www.chippenstreet.com | www.paleblue.com.au

Review: Hello, Beautiful! (Performing Lines)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 9 – 14, 2018
Playwright: Hannie Rayson
Director: Matthew Lutton
Cast: Hannie Rayson
Images by Andrew Bott

Theatre review
We live in a world determined to render the older woman invisible. Having exhausted her roles as sex object and mother, she is thought to have turned irrelevant, neither madonna nor whore, made to feel as though she has outstayed her welcome. With Hello, Beautiful! Hannie Rayson claims space as that grande dame, in a theatrical landscape that routinely excludes women of a certain age. Rayson represents only herself in this autobiographical work, but her presence is fundamentally political.

Rayson performs stories from her memoirs, beginning with her childhood in 60s suburbia, through to university, activism, parenthood and an ever-increasingly successful writing career. She offers glimpses of a charmed life, not particularly dramatic or eventful, but we find ourselves captivated by her delightful avidity, and share in the joys of her personal reflections. Staged with little fuss, Matthew Lutton’s direction places emphasis on Rayson’s talents and natural allure, for a simple production that achieves all that it sets out to do.

It is without exception, that societies benefit from knowledge and experience of their elders, yet in so much of Australia, we relegate our seniors to distant corners, anxious about the truths they will tell, and fearful of the mortality that they personify. Hannie Rayson’s contributions are significant and ongoing, and it is our privilege to be able to hear her speak. Bright, young things are dazzling to the senses, but it is at our own peril, that we ignore the only true repositories of wisdom.

www.performinglines.org.au | www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Permission To Spin (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 3 – 28, 2018
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Mary Rachel Brown, Dino Dimitriadis
Cast: Yure Covich, Anna Houston, Arky Michael
Images by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Cristobel is suffering an existential crisis, having learnt about her music being used for gravely nefarious purposes. After 14 years in the highly commercialised industry of children’s entertainment, her integrity is now unable to escape scrutiny, but corporate interests deny all her attempts to quit. Art and commerce are once again at loggerheads, in Mary Rachel Brown’s Permission To Spin, a dramedy that interrogates not only artistic purity, but also our general complicity and participation in the often ugly world of big money.

It begins with a big bang, two businessmen are snorting cocaine, in the midst of a lot of ruckus, wondering how to solve a problem like Cristobel. The laughs are loud and abundant, courtesy of Brown’s witty, often very incisive, dialogue. It is evident however, that the play is intent on seriously exploring our social, economic and political lives, and a gradual but marked change in tone occurs about midway through the hour-long presentation. Direction by Brown and Dino Dimitriadis provide good clarity to ideas, even when the writing turns dense. The contrast in mood, as the play crosses over from funny to heavy, involves an inevitable drop in energy levels, but we are kept attentive by some very resonant postulations.

Three excellent performers accompany us on this trip, helping us navigate the combative activity of Permisson To Spin, and in the process, locate a sense of our communal ethics. Anna Houston provides soul to the piece, simultaneously vulnerable and strong, with incredible nuance that speak volumes in her interpretation of Cristobel. Yure Covich is splendid as an obscene and irredeemably vile corporate asshole, powerful in his embodiment of our social ills and perfect as the show’s bad guy. Arky Michael is wonderfully comical, landing every punchline with remarkable precision and aplomb, displaying himself to be the kind of actor any production could rely on, for charm and interminable effervescence.

All our occupations contribute to greater consequences, even if we think them insignificant. Cristobel is meant to be creating music that is educational at best, innocuous at worst, but she is unable to stop her work from being repurposed in a manner that contradicts all that she believes in. There is a machine that absorbs and integrates us into its operations, to serve its purposes. We do not always have control over its desires, as is proven again and again, by the flaws and inadequacies of the way we execute our democracy. “It was music we were making here until they told us, all they wanted was a sound that could kill someone from a distance… I just pray that someone there can hit the switch.” Kate Bush, Experiment IV, 1986

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.com