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.

5 Questions with William Erimya and Patrick Magee

William Erimya

William Erimya

Patrick Magee: Have you ever solved a crime in real life?
Will Erimya: I haven’t solved any major crimes, though I am so close to solving who the Zodiac Killer is. I like solving mysteries around the house, like the case of the misplaced keys, why are all these lights on and who ate all the food.

You have the finest beard and moustache the world has ever seen. Who is your facial hair hero?
I’m very hairy and it just grows with out any warning. I admire Super Mario and Craig David’s facial hairs.

Do you prefer doing scripted or improvised shows?
I like both, but I tend to prefer improvised shows. There’s no greater thrill than doing a wholly improvised show. You get such a great adrenaline rush.

What is your comedy secret?
There’s no secret. But, just in case every month I perform a sacred blood ritual at the altar of Kalgar the Everliving. Just in case.

Lastly, shag-marry-kill with Sherlock, Watson and Moriarty?
Shag: Sherlock – you can’t tie him down to a long term relationship, plus you’d always be second fiddle to solving crimes. Marry: Watson – he’s a doctor, so he’s a bit more stable and probably very well off. Kill: Moriarty – he’s a bad guy. So I’d kill him, without a doubt, no questions asked, shoot first still won’t ask questions.

Patrick Magee

Patrick Magee

Will Erimya: In real life who do you identify with more, Sherlock or Watson?
Patrick Magee: Probably Sherlock, because like him I am an arrogant genius with a crippling cocaine habit.

What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes book/mystery?
Out of the Conan Doyle stories I have a soft spot for A Scandal In Bohemia and The Problem Of Thor Bridge, although you can’t go past The Adventure Of The Lion’s Mane, where the murderer is (spoiler alert) a jellyfish that Holmes bashes to death with a rock. I also really like Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, which is all about Holmes kicking his cocaine habit with the help of Sigmund Freud.

What made you want to do comedy?
I got tricked into it by an old gypsy woman and I’ve been looking for an out ever since. I’m doing The Game Is Afoot so I can pretend to be a cool action hero instead of a dumb comedian.

How would you get away with a crime?
I’d probably just confess to it in a kind of sarcastic voice so people wouldn’t take me seriously.

Have you ever committed a crime?
Not really. I’m the Zodiac Killer, but that was ages ago so I don’t know if it still counts.

William Erimya and Patrick Magee will be appearing in The Game is Afoot: An Improvised Sherlock Holmes Mystery, part of Sydney Fringe 2015.
Dates: 9 – 13 September, 2015
Venue: The Factory Theatre

Review: Ruby Moon (Samsonite Productions)

samsoniteproductionsVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 12 – 23, 2015
Playwright: Matt Cameron
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Pash Julian, Samantha Lee
Image by Jacob Strong

Theatre review
Matt Cameron’s Ruby Moon is a dark exploration into the human condition at extraordinarily difficult times. The Moon family experiences a profound loss, and we witness the manifestations that follow, in psychological and behavioural terms. Cameron’s writing is morbidly fascinating and very entertaining, with an unusual approach to the way we express bereavement. The script finds a beautiful balance between humour and anguish that allows for a thoroughly amusing theatrical experience in spite of its undeniable gravity. The strange dialogue and quirky characters are brilliantly constructed for a unique experience that can still engage our emotions.

Direction of the work by Johann Walraven brings an intrigue to the stage that befits the mysterious nature of Cameron’s play, and the unpredictability of the plot is successfully preserved in this incarnation. There are good attempts at offbeat comedy, but the haunting qualities of the text are not sufficiently explored. Design aspects are elegantly executed but they need to be pushed further for a stronger gothic feel to take hold that will help to provide greater drama. Also lacking in drama are its performances, which present insufficiently, the fundamental elements of sorrow and desperation that should feature prominently in the trauma that the Moons go through. However, both players Pash Julian and Samantha Lee show good focus, and demonstrate ability at versatility in the wide range of characters they inhabit.

The dark side of humanity is full of potential for any artist to create work that would communicate with satisfying depth, but we all have a special familiarity with personal pain that disallows any hint of falseness or inaccuracy when theatre decides to confront those inner demons. Ruby Moon is at its best when we catch glimpses of the unbelievable horrors that life is capable of delivering, but its lighter sections are also charming enough to retain our attention at other times, even if we do hanker for the nightmares to continue more powerfully for everyone concerned.