Review: The Big Funk (Suspicious Woman Productions)

suspiciouswomanVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 11 – 21, 2015
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Michael Drysdale, Jasper Garner-Gore, Alixandra Kupcik, Jess Loudon, Bali Padda

Theatre review
Philosophy and theatre are bosom buddies. Theatre means little without an attitude that is intent on questioning the nature of things, and philosophy becomes significantly more meaningful when brought to flesh beyond the realm of ink and paper. John Patrick Shanley’s The Big Funk looks at life with wonderment and passion. The writer’s words are powerful and his ideas are exciting, with an abstraction at its core that disallows narrative and simple logic from diluting its sophisticated concepts. The play positions itself outside of real life, examining it at a distance, always extricating itself when it becomes too involved in drama and emotions. There is a great deal of intellectualism to enjoy, but what a viewer can garner here, as is for every piece of complex work of art, depends largely on their own worldview and mental capacities.

Michael Dean’s direction adds a playful dimension to the piece, with an eagerness for creating a lively theatre that locates all the physical and interactive potentialities in Shanley’s writing, turning a cerebral text into an effervescent stage experience. Dean does well at introducing some elucidation to the often convoluted existential reflections of characters in The Big Funk, but much of their rumination remains out of reach. Original thought is rarely easy, and we should probably not expect to be able to absorb everything from a single encounter of a dense script, especially when presented at a jaunty pace. Nevertheless, moments of resonance occur throughout the production, and although inconsistent, they are often effective and poignant.

Performances are thoughtful and well-crafted, with excellent chemistry between all members of cast. Alixandra Kupcik is memorable for her vulnerability, and Jasper Garner-Gore for his exuberant and authentic presence, but both are to be lauded for their extremely confident approach to their prolonged sequences of nudity at Sydney’s most intimate venue. Annabel Blackman does solid work as designer, with a set that does very much with very little, and elegant costuming that helps with characterisations and storytelling. Lights and sound, however, do not contribute sufficiently to manufacturing ambience that would live up to the extravagant surrealism and absurdity of contexts being explored.

We live in a world filled with uncertainty and angst, but life is how we choose to interpret and understand it, and in The Big Funk, we are encouraged to reflect upon the way we think about our environment and how we interact with it. It is important that life has a sense of meaning, and Shanley is right in saying that each person should determine their own relationship with their own existence, without the burden of inheritance and baggage. There is a way to make rules and to establish codes from one’s own consciousness, to provide guidance for our days on this earth but it is the ambiguous and tricky hazard of the human conscience that we need to be mindful of.

www.suspiciouswomanproductions.com

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014

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2014 has been a busy year. Choosing memorable moments from the 194 shows I had reviewed in these 12 months is a mind-bending exercise, but a wonderful opportunity that shows just how amazing and vibrant, theatre people are in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who continue to support Suzy Goes See. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year! Now on to the Best Of 2014 list (all in random order)…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creatively experimental works in 2014.

 Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2014.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2014. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2014.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2014.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2014 in supporting roles.

♥ Ensemble Excellence
Casts in 2014 rich with chemistry and talent.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
Best comedic performances of 2014.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Best actors in dramatic roles in 2014.

♥ Wise With Words
Best new scripts of 2014.

 Directorial Dominance
Best direction in 2014.

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
A special mention for the diversity of cultures that have featured in its programming this year.

  • ATYP

End

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Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014

Click here to see Best Of 2013

5 Questions with Jacki Mison

jackimisonWhat is your favourite swear word?
My favourite swearword is ‘motherfucker’ because hey, why limit yourself to just one? I love the fact you can elongate either, or both words for extra emphasis.

What are you wearing?
PJ’s, which involves a singlet & a pair of boxers.

What is love?
When you rejoice in someone else’s being… and that includes my dog!

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The best thing I’ve seen in the last few months, which I absolutely loved, was Sugarland at ATYP.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Well if you feel like watching something that is sharp, witty, will make you laugh out loud and is NOT 3 hours long, then yes, it is good, very, very good! So come along and enjoy….

Jacki Mison is appearing in The God Of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza (translated by Christopher Hampton).
Show dates: 26 Nov – 7 Dec, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery

Review: Five Women Wearing The Same Dress (Act IV Theatre Co)

activtheatreVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Oct 28 – Nov 2, 2014
Playwright: Alan Ball
Director: Deborah Jones
Cast: Nadim Accari, Kaitlin DeLacy, Chloe McKenzie, Eleanor Ryan, Melinda Ryan, Wendy Winkler
Image by Tim Levy

Theatre review
Weddings are traditional affairs that expose the roles that we play for others in daily life, and our obligations as friends and family members. Participation in weddings often involves some level of reluctance, and most would probably prefer to be some place else doing something less painful. Alan Ball’s fabulous script is about the interactions between five bridesmaids after a wedding ceremony. The women have distinct personalities, with nothing in common, except for the hideous purple dress forced onto their bodies, and an unconcealed dislike for the bride. The play’s context positions the women in relation to the concept of marriage, and we observe how the supposed universal ideal of matrimony is no longer relevant to modern lives. Ball’s fascinating characters reveal their individual idiosyncrasies and it becomes clear that fulfilment and happiness might have little or nothing at all to do with marriage.

Ball’s writing is entertaining, whimsical and punchy. The charming language of the American South is showcased beautifully, and the women’s lives are vividly imagined, with a familiarity that allows us to find points of association. Their worlds seem real, because Ball exposes their imperfections in a way that demonstrates a humanity that we can relate to. Direction of the work is provided by Deborah Jones who brings a clarity to narratives and motivations. She keeps energy levels high, but there is a stasis to the atmosphere that prevents the show from providing a more dynamic experience. The comedy is written well, but it is not a uniformly strong cast, so the results of delivery are mixed and chemistry is not always fine. It must be noted that although some performances are less effective, every actor is clearly full of conviction and focus, and the stage is always an engaging one.

Eleanor Ryan is outstanding in the role of Mindy, a jovial lesbian who exemplifies the liberated individual in a world overrun by peer pressure and broken promises. Ryan’s comic timing is a highlight of the production and her creation is the most endearing of the group. Her style is much more flamboyant than her colleagues, but she retains a grounding authenticity that keeps her character believable and interesting. The complex role of Georgeanne is played by Wendy Winkler, who captivates with a clever blend of tragedy and irony. Her depiction of strength and optimism in the role’s banal existence is delightfully inspiring.

This is a play about women from a man’s perspective, and even though it is debatable if the writer knows the gender well, he certainly does understand the human condition. The anxieties it expresses and the desires it explores are absolutely real for many of us. Five Women Wearing The Same Dress often feels like light entertainment, but what it leaves behind is altogether more deep and meaningful. We think about the choices that present themselves, and the ones that seem elusive. The decisions that we make shape the life that we live, but so do the circumstances that seem to be beyond control. When a wedding invitation arrives, one can only choose to accept or decline, but to respond with honesty and truth is infinitely more perplexing.

www.activtheatreco.com

Review: Brother Daniel (TAP Gallery)

brotherdanielVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 24 – Oct 5, 2014
Playwright: James Balian
Director: Travis Green
Cast: Vincent Andriano, David Attrill, Mel Dodge, Jeannie Gee, Adam Hatzimanolis, Errol Henderson, Richard Hilliar, Naomi Livingstone
Image by Mark Banks

Theatre review
James Balian’s Brother Daniel discusses the concepts of heroism and revolution. His work is dense and intellectual, but the ideas that he introduces into the play are vibrantly refreshing. We are made to examine our relationship with heroes, and that incessant need to turn narratives into tales of inspiration and motivation with headlining objects of worship. We elevate people into positions of sainthood and martyrdom, by obliterating the very qualities that bind us as the human race. We have a need to make real our abstract ideals so that aspirations can be formed and individuals or groups can find ways to progress. The betterment of society requires epitomes, but those examples of perfection can only exist in our imagination. Daniel is a legend in prison, and a revolution is taking place outside. The crowds are moved by the memory of Daniel’s legacy, but we are in his cell, witnessing an iconoclasm and the deconstruction of a national hero.

Although Travis Green manages to direct the play with an appropriate severity, there is a stasis to his style that prevents sufficient dramatic effect from taking shape on the stage. Balian’s wordy script proves a challenge, and the heavy reliance on dialogue with very minimal visual inventiveness is challenging for its audience. We need to understand the writing not only through our ears, but when in the theatrical space, our other faculties have to be equally addressed. It is noteworthy that sound design is a well considered element, efficiently adding a foreboding dimension to the atmosphere.

The cast is a strong one, bringing confident presence and polish to the production. Daniel is played by the effortlessly enigmatic Adam Hatzimanolis whose committed performance grounds the show. His interpretation of the personality’s ambiguity is beautifully presented, and he adds to his scenes, a powerful intensity that leaves an excellent impression. The play features several roles that feel too surface, mainly due to their brief stage time, but Daniel is dimensioned and unpredictable, with a depth that is crucial for a central character.

We are not told where the action takes place, but our minds go to the current demonstrations in Hong Kong, where civilians are taking to the streets in protest of their totalitarian government. Revolution is bold, and Brother Daniel is at heart, a bold piece of writing, but what transpires on stage needs an approach closer to anarchy.

www.tapgallery.org.au

Review: Gruesome Playground Injuries (The Kings Collective)

thekingscollectiveVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 23 – 28, 2014
Writer: Rajiv Joseph
Director: Anthony Gooley
Cast: Aaron Glenane, Megan McGlinchey
Image by Kate Williams Photography

Theatre review
The beauty of love is most potent when its departure is close at hand. Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries is about a relationship defined by absence. Its characters spend short periods together, sharing brief moments of intensity through each significant age, and then disappear from each other’s lives for years after. Kayleen and Doug’s romance is an eternal flower that does not bear fruit. They do not become partners, spouses or lovers but their bond grows stronger with each passing year. Their story is a tragic one, and Joseph’s script is filled with poignancy, shifting from the very light to the deeply sorrowful, constantly alternating between laughter and tears to tell a moving tale that no person can react with indifference. The events may not have happened to any of us, but we understand all the feelings involved, and this is a production that allows us to luxuriate in all the joy and pain that the couple has experienced.

The outrageously accident-prone Doug is played by Aaron Glenane, whose magnificence in the role cannot be overstated. His authenticity is immediate and thorough, and whether performing slapstick or catastrophe, he always remains believable and compelling. The brightness of the actor’s energy gives the stage a liveliness that captivates us, and his warm presence creates a likability in his character that holds our empathy from scene one to the end. Glenane is perfect in the part, and his work here is impeccable. Also engaging is Megan McGlinchey who takes on the role of Kayleen with a fierce sense of commitment and remarkable focus. McGlinchey is less effective in sequences that require her to portray her character’s later years, but the honesty in her acting provides an integrity to her work that sustains our empathy even when her narrative is missing the purity of Doug’s. The actors form a formidable pair, with an extraordinary chemistry between them that makes the production gleam with magic.

Anthony Gooley’s direction places emphasis on extracting brave and extravagant creative choices from his cast. The piece has a sense of grandness in the volume at which it portrays human emotion that comes from the sheer corporeality that is presented before our eyes. What Gooley has delivered is more than an accurate implementation of Joseph’s writing, it is an amplification, one that is dramatic, powerful and uncompromisingly visceral. The story spans thirty years, and the sentiments represented are correspondingly deep. Passion is conspicuous on this stage, and the director’s efforts at making its presence felt are commendable. The inventive use of space shows creative flair, and along with an accomplished design team comprising Toby Knyvett (lights) and Tyler Hawkins (set and costumes), visual design is noticeably elegant. The variation in atmosphere between scenes is efficiently and sensitively executed, with imaginative input from sound designers David Stalley, David Couri and Philip Orr.

This is an exceptional production that showcases brilliant acting, tells an exciting story, and issues a reminder of what heartbreak feels like. Love cannot be explained in words, but it can be enacted in the theatre, as Gruesome Playground Injuries does, to enormous satisfaction.

www.thekingscollective.com.au

Review: This Is Our Youth (The Kings Collective)

thekingscollectiveVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 16 – 21, 2014
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Director: Dan Eady
Cast: Joshua Brennan, Scott Lee, Georgia Scott
Image by Kate Williams Photography

Theatre review
Not all stories are universal. There will be characters we are interested in, and others that we do not give two hoots about. Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth is a lamentation of sorts about spoilt rich kids. It is concerned with the neglected offspring of wealthy baby boomers, providing a perspective of new money in 1980’s Manhattan and the repercussions on its subsequent generation. Lonergan’s script is full of mischief and energy, but embodies the pointlessness of the characters it portrays. Their lives are lost, frivolous and sordid. Everything is dazed and confused, but the writing provides a rich and colourful inventory of drama and jokes for an electrifying work of theatre, and this is what The Kings Collective delivers.

The cast is extraordinary. Three young actors, sublime as a group but individually sensational, give a performance that is quite literally flawless. They all make bold choices that delight and surprise us, but are always thoughtful and sensitive to the creation of depth in their characters. We are enthralled by the dynamism in their work but never lose sight of contexts and circumstances. Joshua Brennan is Dennis, the misguided alpha male, whose bravado, anger and aggression are the only things getting him through life that do not come in small self-sealing plastic bags. Brennan’s range begins at bombastic, and then escalates further. His work is outrageously flamboyant but completely engaging, and one is able to sense a lot of substance behind his delicious madness. The material gives him many opportunities for comedy and he executes them brilliantly, but poignant moments at the end are slightly less effective even though his portrayal continues to be convincing.

Georgia Scott transforms the supporting role of Jessica into a memorable one. She fools us with a Barbie-esque appearance and surreptitiously shifts the play into intellectual gear. Scott brings a palpable complexity with strength, humour and tenderness, creating an authentic sentimentality that gives the production its humanistic aspect. Her romantic scenes with Warren are beautiful and real, allowing the play to speak compassionately, albeit fleetingly. The feminine voice is only secondary in the play, but Scott’s work is disproportionately impressive.

Warren is a clever young man who suffers from a lack of confidence and direction. He allows his father and friends to dominate him, and seeks refuge in drugs to silence his intelligence. Scott Lee’s moving depiction of that impotency gives the play its weight, and his comedic flair sets the tone of the production. Lee’s phenomenal chemistry with both colleagues shows an openness in approach that gives theatre its sizzle, and every second is kept lively by his marvelous commitment and presence.

Direction of the piece by Dan Eady ensures excellent entertainment and precise storytelling, without an instance of misplaced focus or loss of energy. This is the tightest of ships that any captain can hope to deploy. Audiences will laugh, be touched, and be provoked into thought, but the play’s social message is not a particularly potent one. It is hard to summon up any empathy for the very rich, even if they are innocent young adults. This Is Our Youth is thrilling and amusing, and while it does have some depth, they can be tenuous. Fortunately, theatre is about the craft as much as it is about meanings, and on this occasion, the artists are alchemists that have turned lead into gold.

www.thekingscollective.com.au