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.

Review: Spring Awakening (Kore Productions)

koreproductionsVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jun 15 – 17, 2015
Book & Lyrics: Steven Sater (based on the original play by Frank Wedekind)
Music: Duncan Shiek
Directors: Alexander Andrews, Sam Haft
Cast: Thomas G Burt, Jamie Collette, Abbie Gallagher, Hannah Garbo, Nathaniel Hole, Julianne Horne, Charlotte Kerr, Logan McArthur, Jonathan Nash-Daly, Damien Noyce, Jordan Stam, Mitch Thornton, Kaleigh Wilkie-Smith

Theatre review
Spring Awakening is concerned with how teenagers learn about sex, and how they deal with burgeoning adulthood. The musical is critical of how adults fail to provide adequate or appropriate guidance, and this low-budget production by young enthusiasts, provides an uncanny parallel between that central theme and the state of theatre in Sydney for emerging talents. We have a rich history of show business in this town, that boasts some of the world’s greatest practitioners, but they are missing from this staging. There seems an unfortunate chasm between generations, and on this occasion, a full scale production, although well-meaning, has been created from a wealth of promising but inexperienced individuals, who have naively chosen to tackle a beast much more formidable than they were ever able to foresee.

Sound issues are not chief of its problems, but its frankly shocking deficiencies from beginning to end have rendered the plot incomprehensible, and represents a complete disregard for any semblance of balance to harmonies being attempted by performers. Consolidating all the string sections in the arrangement onto a single violin is probably a matter of financial inevitability, but the results are often painfully lacking.

Efforts at creative spacial use by directors and choreographer help with energy and scene transitions, but execution requires a great deal of finessing. The story’s most crucial event takes place at a position on stage that only the very first rows can glimpse, further demonstrating the need for more experienced management on the project. The cast is a green one, with some discernible ability, but there is no cohesion in their conception of what is being presented. Key characters are sung by unremarkable voices, and the level of acting overall is regretful. One exception is Charlotte Kerr who shines in her solo as Ilse, with a beautiful and controlled voice that brings a moment of sobering polish to the show.

All of the very best have failed spectacularly in the public eye. Creative souls must not sit back and wait for the perfect opportunity before allowing themselves to put their passion into action. Many have perished without leaving a mark for fear of failure. The artistic process is very rarely without episodes of disappointment, but one cannot expect a masterpiece to materialise without first braving the wilderness.

Review: It’s War (Bulldog Theatre Company)

bulldogVenue: Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Oct 9 – 19, 2014
Playwright: Alex Lykos
Director: Alex Lykos
Cast: Jenny Apostolou, Chris Argirousis, Marissa Marie Kaye, Janette Lakiss, Ben Maclaine, Maria Tran

Theatre review
Note: This review reveals a key plot twist.

Discussions about race never seem to cease in Australia. Our history of migration over the last 226 years has seen a multiculturalism that has required constant arbitration and re-imagination. In our theatre landscape however, these discussions are few and far between, with an Anglo-Saxon culture persisting with its dominance in production and output. Alex Lykos’ It’s War attempts to shed light on racial relations at a grass roots level, with a story about neighbourly altercations involving characters from diverse ethnicities. We live in a time where the representation of that diversity is usually suppressed in mainstream media, as the depiction of difference can often be interpreted as malicious. Faces of “minorities” are presented occasionally, but they are discouraged from displaying modes of behaviour that may be too idiosyncratic. The notion of colour-blindness is well-meaning, but it tends to institute a kind of assimilation, reducing differences to a generic beigeness that serves as an image of a unified nationhood.

Lykos’ show however, exaggerates our differences by amplifying racial stereotypes, which is uncomfortable viewing for our political correct sensibilities, but also thoroughly amusing. It is challenging to laugh too heartily at a script that characterises Vietnamese women as dog-eating mail order brides, Indians as smelly curry munchers, “Aussies” as spineless, and Greek men as adulterous closeted poofters. We strive hard in our daily lives to distance ourselves from such misrepresentations, but Lykos’ efforts at finding universality through gross overstatements for every character is an interesting proposition, and because no one is spared his distortion, the show’s comedy becomes almost feasible.

Maria Tran approaches her role Ngoc Bich with an extremely coarse, but hilarious, interpretation of the recent migrant. Tran is the only actor who puts on a speech accent that is drastically unlike her natural voice, presumably because the character has only spent five years in Australia. It is debatable whether making Ngoc Bich a mail order bride actually helps with the plot but nevertheless, Tran provides many of the biggest laughs of the production with her impressive comic abilities, and enthusiasm for the stage. Also memorable is Jenny Apostolou as Soula, who creates the only realistic personality in the play. Apostolou brings an authenticity that is otherwise missing in the show’s lampoonery tone, and her reassuring presence gives a professional polish to her work. Performances in general are funny, if a little uneven, but cast chemistry is strong, displaying a good level of camaraderie and trust.

The work is neither sophisticated nor subtle, but its structure is taut and every scene is engaging. There is a vibrant energy in the writing and also in its performances, which help moderate some of the more alienating and controversial touches of the script. “Can we all get along” is Rodney King’s immortal quote from the 1992 Los Angeles riots that has found resonance the world over, and that simple message is just what It’s War wishes to say.

5 Questions with Yannis Simonides

yannissimonidesWhat is your favourite swear word?

What are you wearing?
The mask of Socrates

What is love?
An all-encompassing tenderness for humanity. Love is listening and communicating, and love is tough. Loving others enough to tell them what they don’t want to hear.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The human drama in the streets of Kiev and Athens and Madrid and Rio and Istanbul and Cairo, and I give it all the stars in the sky.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Our show, Socrates Now is 2,500 years old and 150,000 people have seen it in 16 countries, and they come back for seconds and thirds and fourths, so it may be alright.

Yannis Simonides channels the ancient philosopher (and “the horsefly that bit the arse of Athens”) in Socrates Now.
Show dates: 14 – 15 Mar, 2014
Show venue: Seymour Centre

Show dates: 16 Mar, 2014
Show venue: The Factory Theatre

Gina Yashere: Jokes & Stuff (Sydney Comedy Festival 2013)

Gina Yashere Laughing To America DVD PromoVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), May 3 – 5, 2013

Show review
The thing about stand up comedy shows is that they’re either terrific or they’re terrible. There is no middle-ground, the audience never leaves thinking, “that was fine”. These are tough gigs, where the performers are not allowed mediocrity, for the only way to achieve a “passing grade” is to bring the house down.

Gina Yashere’s performance at this year’s Sydney Comedy Festival was convincingly masterful. Though her material is sometimes silly and usually apolitical, her delivery is consistently timed to bombastic perfection. Every consonant is mapped out for attack at every precise moment, and every pause is placed just so. Everything is informed by instinct and talent.

At this year’s festival, Yashere was not only given the biggest space at the Factory, but also the attendance of a truly adoring following. She was the commander of a ship full of passengers keen to venture on an hour-long journey, all poised and ready for wherever she may want to go. The lethal combination of a confident comedian at the top of her game and a totally up-for-it crowd, gave birth to an uproarious and thrillingly hilarious night. See you next year, Gina!