Review: The Days And Nights Of BeeBee Fenstermaker (Phable Productions)

phableVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Nov 29 – Dec 3, 2016
Playwright: William Snyder
Director: Candice Story
Cast: Jack Berry, Eileen Camilleri, Ryan Madden, Lauren Orrell, Bronte Sparrow, Helen Stuart, Charles Upton, Chantelle Von Appen
Image by Lauren Orrell

Theatre review
When we first meet Beebee, she is a young woman full of optimism and ambition, poised to conquer the world. We soon find out that although she has the ability to envision a bright future, our protagonist is ill-equipped to make her dreams come true. William Snyder’s play is about the lessons that we need for a good life. It makes us consider if all the knowledge that we inherit, from family and from school, can ever protect us from falling. Beebee takes a great big tumble, in spite of all her smarts and confidence, and we are surprised that her story is not of the fairy tale ilk, but understand simultaneously, that she can always pick herself up again. No matter how battered and bruised life leaves us, for those of us who are still here, we know that hope always remains.

Candice Story’s direction of the piece is effective in its more melodramatic sections. The stage is ignited by big, vivid emotions when characters get into fierce altercations, but the production is less resonant in scenes that require humour or melancholy. Nevertheless, it is an engaging story relayed with sufficient clarity to comfortably sustain our attention for its two-and-a-half hour duration.

Actor Chantelle Von Appen keeps us invested in Beebee’s misadventures. Her passion drives the play, and even though a more technical and precise approach would give her portrayal a greater sense of psychological accuracy and hence allow us to identify better with her adversity, we never lose interest in how the character evolves. A trio of sisters, played by Eileen Camilleri, Lauren Orrell and Helen Stuart, sends sparks flying with their depiction of complex family dynamics. All the love and hate we experience at home is never easy to articulate, but these sisters, and their understated but potent chemistry, allow us to reflect on how we act and how we feel, when dealing with the nearest and dearest.

In a world determined to tell us what we cannot do, it is the brave and resilient who will get the most out of life. Nothing special comes from an easy ride, and the ones who refuse to accept defeat, will always emerge greater. Beebee may not have begun her journey with every privilege to make everything run smoothly, but the hard knocks that she endures, will provide what is necessary for her to survive and thrive. It may not be that she will end up where she had wanted at the play’s beginning, but with some luck, she will discover peace of mind and happiness, as we should all hope for, for ourselves, before too late.

Review: Alex & Eve – The Complete Story (Bulldog Theatre Company)

bulldogVenue: Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 25 – 28, 2016
Playwright: Alex Lykos
Director: Alex Lykos
Cast: Chris Argirousis, Anne Marie Cavaco, Sylvia Dritsakis, Michael Kazonis, Janette La Kiss, Alex Lykos, Paul Miskimmon, Jadah Quinn, Kate Ryerson, Sal Sharah

Theatre review
There are many among us who are conservative and traditional, but in multicultural places like Australia, their tendency to be inflexible with visions of how we live together can be problematic. Salwa is Lebanese Muslim, and George is Greek Orthodox, both insular and intolerant of other cultures, refusing to accept the validity of other ways of life, until their offspring force them into a confrontation of wills through the classic contrivance of a mixed marriage. Alex Lykos’ Alex & Eve: The Complete Story combines three episodic plays to tell the couple’s story from their first meeting to the birth of their first child. Its duration is inevitably long, but the script is a tight concoction of high jinks and social commentary that although entirely predictable, is endlessly amusing with its host of vibrant, irresistible archetypes.

The production is a visually basic one that would benefit greatly from more ambitious efforts in set and costume design, but Lykos’ own direction of the work is effectively comedic and fast-paced. There is no attempt at a naturalistic mode of presentation, which can make for an excessively farcical show, but its slapstick is unquestionably charming and proves very appealing to its target audience. Janette La Kiss as Salwa and Michael Kazonis as George are both strikingly present, with flamboyant approaches to performance that captivate and entertain. Both are able to find nuance with their roles, thereby delivering more than stereotypical interpretations of minority elders.

Not being dominant cultures in Australia, the Greek and Lebanese characters have a greater freedom to portray the nature of prejudice in our communities. Some of what they say is objectionable, but their statements are tempered with good humour, and those who speak indiscreetly are exposed for their ignorance. Not one person can be excluded from the world’s politics, but how individuals participate in it, is infinitely variable. Alex & Eve does not talk about terrorism or immigration, but its feuding families are involved in a war that serves to remind us of how we must value peace, no matter how big or small a perspective we may have of the world.

Review: No Exit (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

throwingshadeVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jun 23 – 25, 2016
Playwright: Jean-Paul Sartre
Director: Andrew Langcake
Cast: Harley Connor, Courtney Powell, Darcie Irwin-Simpson

Theatre review
Sartre’s 1944 play No Exit is about three people coming to grips with their new existence post-mortality. The famous line “hell is other people” is heard late in the piece, and like the myriad ways in which it can be interpreted, the play is abstract, to be given meaning as one wishes. The concept of hell is a powerful one, considering its uncompromising permanence. Life may not be much more pleasant than hell for some, but hell’s eternal inescapability is truly terrifying.

The staging, directed by Andrew Langcake, is a simple rendering that attempts to bring realism to the absurdist piece, with an emphasis on finding character coherence over philosophical expression. Sound and lighting are strangely neglected, resulting in a supernatural realm that is unfortunately devoid of atmosphere. Performances are committed, and each personality is distinctly shaped by a cast of spirited actors, but chemistry is often lacking. Relationships are key in No Exit, and unable to portray them with enough clarity and dynamism, the production struggles to communicate beyond the superficial.

Individuals experience life from perspectives we know to be personal, but it is debatable if anything is ever unique in how we each see the world. We can only understand things from our singular positions, but in every transaction that we inevitably conduct with other beings, we become transformed, objectified and absorbed into another consciousness. The self is unable to remain separate, and meaning can only come from that act of concurrence, voluntary or involuntary. If other people will give you hell, they are also your only source of pleasure. How much the self can do to manipulate the other will always be limited, but happiness is always best managed within one’s own hermitage.

Review: There’s No One New Around You: A Tinder Musical (Sydney Comedy Festival)

tindermusicalVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Apr 27 – 29, 2016
Book: Keira Daley, Mark Simpson
Music and Lyrics: Keira Daley, Steven Kreamer, and Mark Simpson
Director: Beth Daly
Cast: Keira Daley, Mark Simpson
Image by Gina Jenkins

Theatre review
Online dating is a modern phenomenon, and Tinder is the current leader of a very saturated app market. With reports suggesting 50 million users, its increasing presence in our storytelling is not at all surprising. There’s No One New Around You by Keira Daley and Mark Simpson is probably the first musical to be staged that is entirely about Tinder, compiling anecdotes, impressions, inventions and humour, relevant to the uniquely contemporary experience. Its songs and jokes may not always be fresh or edgy, but there are many moments of cutting social commentary that keeps us excitable and engaged. In the show’s efforts to find verisimilitude, the audience is offered realistic reflections of our attitudes towards romance, sex and loneliness that can be powerful, perhaps embarrassingly so, in its accuracy. The characters we see are very silly, but they are unquestionably real, and whether or not one is familiar with the phone app in question, their thoughts and behaviour bear a closeness to modern life that cannot be denied.

The production is assembled with minimal fuss, and our attention is placed squarely on the two performers playing out stand-alone scenes that make light of all the absurdities associated with dating in the digital era. Daley and Simpson are perfectly exuberant, and very well-rehearsed, hitting every mark they have set in a playfully conceived but ultimately simple vehicle of entertainment. Adding an extra dimension of comedy is a film element crucial to the show’s effectiveness, cleverly edited by Simpson and seamlessly integrated with the live action. There’s No One New Around You is about clichés, and although there is nothing new in what it says, its observations are thoroughly amusing.

Humans cannot go without food, but our voracious appetite for love and affection reveals what it is that truly provides sustenance. Science tells us that eating and drinking keep us alive, but we know that life cannot be without intimacy and connection. We worry about technology keeping people apart, and lament the disintegration of community at the hands of accelerating capitalism, but the need to reach out and find affirmation refuses to be dampened by increasingly utilitarian ways of thinking about life. Even as electronics and money continue their never-ending encroachment into our persons, we will not abandon love and lust, but they will morph into new forms appropriate for the times. There is clearly no elegance in courtship Tinder style, but whether it can deliver any old fashioned romance, is anybody’s guess.


Review: Metamorphosis (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

throwingshadeVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 2, 2016
Playwright: Steven Berkoff (based on Franz Kafka’s novella)
Director: Andrew Langcake
Cast: Harley Connor, Darcie Irwin-Simpson, William Jordan, Susan M Kennedy, David McLaughlin

Theatre review
Gregor wakes up one day and finds himself transformed into something gigantic and hideous. He has turned from a responsible and upstanding citizen into a monster, and can no longer carry out his obligations to family and society. His physicality and behaviour have changed, but his feelings remain human, and he suffers the ostracism that results from his sudden abandonment of normal life. Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s popular classic is sarcastic yet charming, with a biting humour that tickles without interfering with the dark themes being explored. The narrative is clearly fantastical, but its concerns are kept strictly human.

Direction by Andrew Langcake is highly stylised, appropriately so, with shades of Surrealism and German Expressionism. He creates a heightened aura within the story’s sad circumstances, one that is both dreamlike and nightmarish. While the stage is designed with some flair, it lacks a certain intimacy that the work seems to require. Powerful moments would be more effective if they are able to confront us with greater immediacy, but we are kept safe by a disconnecting rift between audience and action.

It is a strong cast that gives us this Metamorphosis. The players have a unified energy and tone that portray a convincing netherworld, with an entertaining flamboyance that gives the work’s inherent eccentricity a strange allure. Susan M Kennedy is captivating as Mrs Samsa, dramatic, emotional and bold with her artistic choices. Gregor is played by Harley Connor, who impresses with strength and versatility both physically and vocally. Although tucked up in a corner far upstage, the actor’s vibrancy is unmistakeable, and the curious character he creates, is very fascinating indeed. An unlovable monster that is of no use to anyone, and a drain to society, is the stuff of our deepest fantasies. There are times when we see only the futility of all our duties, and wish to play the rebel, walking away with a big flick of the middle finger, but we keep ourselves in check. We know that the consequences can only be dire.

Review: Disco Pigs (Throwing Shade Theatre Company)

throwingshadeVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jan 7 – 9, 2016
Playwright: Enda Walsh
Director: Andrew Langcake
Cast: Jeff Hampson, Courtney Powell

Theatre review
Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs is a very specific story. It deals with a very particular time in a teenager’s life, and the set of circumstances surrounding its characters is culturally unique. The play does not aim to be universally appealing, but in its passionate exploration of something anomalous, an essence emerges that can reveal aspects of life that we can all recognise. Walsh’s language and narratives are interested in the marginalised youth of Western societies. We are presented with a state of being that needs to be understood, but is often ignored. It deals with the consequences of modernity, and how our young negotiates the dangerous meaninglessness of life at a time when everything can be reduced and diminished. With the commodification of everything in pervasive economic rationalisation, we experience chaotic shifts in ethics and values, and what we impart to our youth is consistently but disappointingly dubious.

Pig and Runt make their own rules. They have accepted that money is out of reach, and coupled with a disrespect of social mores, their lives are guided by the pleasure principle, with intoxication and violence forming the core of their existence. In their failure to see greater meaning in life, time is spent on the base and visceral, and we wonder how the appetite for progress, advancement or even aspiration have come to be in most of our lives. Direction of the work by Andrew Langcake is simple, but energetic. While not hugely imaginative, the staging is mindful of creating a sense of aliveness for the author’s words, in order that we can reach a more intimate perspective of the characters’ somewhat unusual world through their construction of action, sound and atmosphere. Actors Jeff Hampson and Courtney Powell are well-rehearsed and thoughtful in their approach, but execution can be more precise and confident. These are wild stories being told, and even though they make good attempts at depicting the grittiness of their Irish city, finding authenticity for that harrowing environment proves to be quite a challenge.

Artists must be encouraged to create mountains out of molehills, so that the unusual can be seen. As long as truths can be found, all artistic expression is valid. We don’t have to care about the people in Disco Pigs but they do have something to offer anyone who wishes to listen. When the moral of the story is unclear, the captive audience will find for themselves what they most need to hear.

Review: The Game Is Afoot (The Factory Theatre)

gamesafootVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 9 – 13, 2015
Cast: Bridie Connell, Kate Coates, William Erimya, Ange Lavoipierre, Patrick Magee, Luke Ryan, Jon Williams

Theatre review
Upon entering the venue, audience members are invited to fill in a form to suggest scenarios for the improvisational comedy that is about to unfold. The first performer Jon Williams appears and introduces himself as Dr. Watson, assistant to the world’s most famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. He jokes charismatically about a few of our recommendations before settling on “The Adventure of the Mummy’s Curse”.

The show begins, and it soon becomes clear that a substantial amount of what is presented is based on material prepared prior, complete with light cues that denote scene transitions. The specificity of the night’s theme is only moderately relevant to the show’s plot, but our interest lies with its performers, who are mischievous and vibrant, each with a distinct and appealing sense of humour. Kate Coates’ extremely quirky approach leaves a lasting impression. Through various characters, she displays various sides to her unconventional style, all slightly odd, but all delightful. William Erimya is similarly likeable as Constantine Damascus, with the strongest sense of improvisational presence in the group, but his appearances are too brief and few. Patrick Magee (who plays Holmes) and Luke Ryan are dynamic performers who tend to be too controlling of the action on stage, but both turn exuberant whenever the vulnerability of chance is allowed to affect their performances.

The piece is short and sweet, with moments of precariousness keeping things alive and thrilling. Although its “scripted” portions are less impressive, they are nonetheless effective, and provide a context for improvisational play to take place. Sherlock’s adventures have entertained generations, and even though we know him for his genius, it is always the doubt and danger that he encounters that gets us hooked.