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.

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.

Review: Procne & Tereus (Montague Basement)

montaguebasementVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 16 – 20, 2014
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Playwright: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Christian Byers, Lucinda Howes, Victoria Zerbst

Theatre review
Philomela visits her sister Procne’s home. Procne and her boyfriend Tereus are only a little older but their lives seem a world away from Philomela’s university student existence. The couple is expecting a child, but Tereus is more interested in the wine. He enjoys the intoxication and likes the way its price tag makes him look. The play begins in a space of middle-class ordinariness, but like in many middle-class spaces, there is an insidious deluge of quiet anxiety. Not enough happens to write home about, but its inanity gradually wears you down into sickness. In Procne & Tereus, we associate that anxiety with early adulthood, and a sense of being at crossroads, always wondering what that crucial next step holds. The young cast play older characters, and we see our frightening reflection in their portrayal of innocence lost.

Saro Lusty-Cavallari’s script is simple but poignant. His love for the art of inference makes that which is not being said, speak louder. His direction is even more accomplished, with a brave and adventurous spirit that emerges alongside thoughtfulness and subtlety. Not all manoeuvres are elegant, but there is always clarity in intent and a theatrical flair that feels natural yet purposeful. Lusty-Cavallari’s work is conceived with complexity, but his execution is articulate and concise. His talent is real, and its development is incredibly exciting.

Tereus is played by Christian Byers who deceives us with a surface of frivolity. His darkness within is almost completely hidden but Byers drops hints of malice that unnerve with a dangerous delight. It is a relaxed performance, sometimes silly in tone, but there is an impressive measuredness that accompanies his exaggerated nonchalance. Lucinda Howes as Procne, brings realism to the production with a restrained and minimalist approach that is strangely engaging, but her energy levels can read a little muted at times. Victoria Zerbst’s commitment to the role of Philomela is spine-tingling, and her presence shines through when performing the more surreal sections of the play.

Lighting by Eunice Huang and sound by Lusty-Cavallari and Byers, are key features of the production. Atmosphere is shaped and varied beautifully, contributing substantially to the narrative’s coherence. This Greek tragedy leaves us at a satisfying, albeit apocalyptic end. It relates marriage and family to questions about gender and sex. The story is grim because it is about our taboos. It shows us some of our greatest fears, and warns us about our unexamined but commonly-held beliefs. It leaves us nowhere to hide because its truths prevail.

5 Questions with Christian Byers

christianbyersWhat is your favourite swear word?
Fuck, fucked, fucker and all it’s fuckin’ cognates. Favourite fuckin’ word. Fuck. Fuckin’ nothin’ like a fuckin’ good fuck. If I had to choose between ‘fuck’ and oxygen, I’d choose oxygen, I’m not an idiot but I’d be in no rush. Stretch it out long and sing ‘fuck’ super strong without pause for breath in the interim. Beautiful word.

What are you wearing?

What is love?
Tenderness and time dilation.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Double bill of Black Comedy and The Real Inspector Hound at SUDS, went on first night which was pretty good and again on final night, where vases were spontaneously smashed with hammers because directors deserve to cry. I kept a shard of the vase to remind myself to aaaaalways improvise, 5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
It fucking better be. Actually, no you know what, it’s going to be brilliant but I get the feeling it’s going to get its fair share of hate. But those who love it will start devoting their lives to adapting Greek tragedies. Or makin’ fuckin’ pies with fuckin’ people in. That’s our aim at least.

Christian Byers is playing the role of Tereus in Procne & Tereus part of Sydney Fringe 2014.
Show dates: 16 – 20 Sep, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery

Review: Out Of Gas On Lovers Leap (The Kings Collective)

thekingscollectiveVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 9 – 14, 2014
Writer: Mark St. Germain
Director: Grace Victoria
Cast: David Harrison, Cecelia Peters
Image by Kate Williams Photography

Theatre review
USA in the 1980s was a time of great prosperity, when greed was good and the pursuit of riches seemed the only valid way of life. The pragmatism of money encouraged the dismantling of family units, and children grew up in the care of hired help, while parents explored possibilities in thriving economies. Mark St. Germain’s Out Of Gas On Lovers Leap is a lamentation that looks at two high school sweethearts, Myst and Grouper. Both characters are created with excellent depth and their backgrounds thoroughly elucidated. The script is dark and dangerous, with the aimless and misguided teenage couple discussing confronting subjects like abortion and suicide, and indulging in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll before our eyes.

The play is about the gravity in these young lives, but Grace Victoria’s direction allows too much frivolity. The production is entertaining, and extremely high energy, but the dark nuances of the text is often lost. We hear the disturbing details of the dialogue but they do not resonate with a sense of urgency and tension. The cast is vibrant and enthusiastic, but they are not given enough instruction and the deeper social connotations of the story are sacrificed for a lot of clamour and amusement.

Cecelia Peters plays Myst, the talented daughter of a pop music celebrity. Peters’ fervour for comedy keeps the show buoyant, and she pushes effectively to create a sense of excitement. Her emotions are intensely portrayed, but not always appropriately so. The role of her boyfriend Grouper is performed by David Harrison, who is equally effervescent. There is a focus to his work that gives it a sense of polish, and he forms a complementary team with Peters, even if sexual chemistry between the two is a little lacking.

Entertainment is an important factor in assessing a theatrical work’s efficacy, and in the case of Out Of Gas On Lovers Leap, its cast does well at keeping us engaged. Not everything on stage needs to have poignancy and profundity but Mark St. Germain’s script requires a treatment that is more sensitive. The message is a serious one, and it needs to be presented with greater severity. The production concludes well, with Peters and Harrison showing wonderful commitment in the final scene, although a change in tone does occur suddenly. It is now thirty years after that fateful night at Lovers Leap, and Generation X is in its middle age, bringing up its own children. The circle of life may be perpetual, but questions relating to the heredity of emotional and psychological damage become increasingly relevant.

5 Questions with Lucinda Howes

lucindahowesWhat is your favourite swear word?
Unfortunately I say ‘shivers’ a lot, probably too often (I work with children, you have to find substitutes).

What are you wearing?
A jumper, jeans and gumboots.

What is love?
Buying someone flowers when you can’t afford shampoo.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The Winters Tale, Bell Shakespeare. It had its moments, good and bad. Three stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Yes, though probably not for the cast.


Lucinda Howes is playing the role of Procne in Procne & Tereus part of Sydney Fringe 2014.
Show dates: 16 – 20 Sep, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery

Review: Out Of Fear (Night Sky Theatre Co)

nightskytheatreVenue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 3 – 14, 2014
Writer: Dominic Witkop
Director: Garreth Cruikshank
Cast: Chris Miller, Kayla Stanton, Matt Thomson
Image by Geoff Sirmai

Theatre review
There are very dark themes in Dominic Witkop’s Out Of Fear, with murder and destruction in the family unit serving as inspiration. The writer explores masculine anxiety in a heavily surreal world that calls to mind David Lynch’s Lost Highway and its own Jekyll & Hyde references. Witkop’s narrative structure also borrows elements from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, such as its unusual take on the love triangle dynamic between two men and a femme fatale. The script is a brave attempt at something left of centre and while it does not avoid feeling derivative at times, it is certainly not run-of-the-mill. Witkop’s mise en scène is innovative, but the text requires further editing. A flair for words is only one of the aspects a playwright needs, and Out Of Fear lacks a greater theatricality in terms of the physicality and temporal dimensions of a live performance.

Direction of the work by Garreth Cruikshank aims to create a sense of conventional storytelling, with an emphasis on realism in character portrayal and development. This contradicts Witkop’s writing style, and misses the opportunity for a more visceral approach to performance. The people look like they exist in our world, but they speak as though from dreamland, with coherence proving a challenge. Surrealist theatre has evolved its own traditions and embellishments, but they are negated on this occasion, except for lighting design that attempts to add a more dramatic dimension to proceedings. Also dramatic is Chris Miller’s performance as Travis, whose energy levels are to be admired. The intensity of the role is a highlight of the production, and Miller’s enthusiasm for his character’s mania is fascinating, if a little repetitive. All three characters feel disappointingly distant, but Miller manages to keep us engaged in many of his scenes.

It is noteworthy that the play’s serious social implications do not overwhelm, and it is to the production’s credit that the work retains an experimental edge that prevents it from turning into something generic or melodramatic. On the other hand, a lost message could result in an exercise that feels somewhat inconsequential. Poignancy may elude it, but the work contains gravity, ambition and an earnestness that gives it a quiet lustre.…