Review: Hir (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 12 – Sep 10, 2017
Playwright: Taylor Mac
Director: Anthea Williams
Cast: Kurt Pimblett, Greg Stone, Helen Thomson, Michael Whalley
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Paige is suddenly emancipated. By a stroke of luck, her abusive husband Arnold has turned invalid, revealing a fortuitous way out of misery. She revels in her new freedom with a maniacal glee, and together with her now transgender son Max, their household is transformed to radically embrace every concept of anti-patriarchy that they come across. Taylor Mac’s Hir is a revenge story, centring on a protagonist who tries to find independence and a better life by subverting prevailing notions of gender, the very thing she identifies to have been responsible for her adversities.

The play is uproarious, with Paige in various states of hysteria, desperately seeking redefinition for her existence. The action begins when her elder son Isaac, having been dishonourably discharged from war, returns to the deliberate chaos at home (set design by Michael Hankin is remarkably mirthful). Unable to come to terms with the shock of the new, Isaac attempts to restore the old order, and things quickly escalate. We watch Paige being confronted by her position as mother and wife, as she persists with the project of queering everything, and are enthralled by the brutal tenacity at which she sticks to her guns, in a face off with a past she is determined to be rid of. It is a wild premise that the playwright establishes, and the ride that he takes us on, is as emotionally powerful as it is entertaining, all the while maintaining a level of intellect that many will find irresistible.

It is a spectacular production, painstaking in the way its progressive, and sometimes obscure, ideas are interpreted with brilliant lucidity, to be presented alongside some thoroughly enjoyable comedy. Director Anthea Williams brings to the piece, a boldness of spirit, that allows its controversial qualities to speak poignantly and persuasively. Hir is political theatre, unapologetic in its desire to make an impact on the way we think.

Playing Paige is the absolutely scintillating Helen Thomson. The actor is gloriously funny, with perfect timing and faultless instincts that have us hopelessly captivated. A portrayal of a woman reclaiming space, strength and sovereignty, Thomson is commanding and, when required, vulnerable. She is called upon to make some very extreme statements about womanhood, and although not to everyone’s tastes, the way she delivers each audacious proclamation, is beyond gratifying.

If Paige finds the answers she wants, she will discover that it is not necessarily happiness, but a heavy burden that she will encounter, when living a life of integrity and enlightenment. When we reject conventions and systems that are unfairly stacked against us, we are guaranteed only honesty and liberation. To not expect hardship is foolish. In the struggle against deceit and inequity, fulfilment when derived, is often more painful than joyous. It is how the bastards keep us dishonest, by issuing modicums of petty bribery that offer an illusory sense of security and comfort, so that we maintain the eternally exploitative status quo. In cases when a straw does break the camel’s back however, a woman scorned will unleash a fury of mythical proportions, to seek redress and to aggravate for a revolution.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Dignity Of Risk (ATYP / Shopfront Arts)

Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Aug 9 – 26, 2017
Dramaturg: Jennifer Medway
Director: Natalie Rose
Cast: Mathew Coslovi, Holly Craig, Teneile English, Caspar Hardaker, Riana Shakirra Head-Toussaint, Steve Konstantopoulos, Wendi Lanham, Brianna Lowe, Sharleen Ndlovu, Jake Pafumi, Dinda Timperon
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
11 performers take to the stage, each with intimate revelations, for a discussion about the personal versus the social, from a perspective of individual lack and disadvantage. Not all of the cast is disabled, but Dignity Of Risk requires that human inadequacies are laid bare, for an examination of how each person navigates the world, with their own sets of imperfections. Through a display of weakness, it is the image of strength, previously imperceptible, that persists. The human spirit is everywhere, but it can only be brought to view by the expression of vulnerability.

The production takes a gentle tone, but it speaks with great power and a sublime beauty. The nonchalant delivery of lines, coupled with the unassailable authenticity the personalities invariably portray, initiates a slow burn that eventually, and surprisingly, overwhelms. Natalie Rose’s direction and Jennifer Medway’s dramaturgy, are consciously resistant of a sensationalist approach. They build poignancy through sensitivity and nuance, without a reliance on conventional narrative structures, and their trust in a universal benevolence pays off. A highlight is Holly Craig’s solo dance sequence, incredibly elegant and sensual, made even more moving later in the piece, when she explains the meanings that dancing holds for her, as a person with vision impairment.

In a show that talks a lot about our bodies, Margot Politis’ choreography plays a significant role, and what she does with movement, gesture and positioning, is nothing short of inspiring. Set to the wonderfully rousing electronic music of James Brown, the many non-verbal sequences of Dignity Of Risk are masterfully manufactured for our visceral response, involuntary yet hugely enjoyable. The production is visually sumptuous, with Melanie Liertz’s set and Fausto Brusamolino’s lights offering a range of ethereal dimensions that juxtapose delightfully against the very earthy, corporeal concerns of its players.

All of us have shortcomings but not everyone has the privilege of being able to hide them. For some, identity is intrinsically linked with their deficiencies, while others are allowed to be known only for their successes. No matter the faults we have, as defined by society or by the self, we all wish to be regarded with respect, and we all deserve to be seen for our capacity to contribute, as people who share in the earth.

www.atyp.com.au | www.shopfront.org.au

Review: After The Dance (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Aug 9 – Sep 9, 2017
Playwright: Terence Rattigan
Director: Giles Gartrell-Mills
Cast: Tom Aldous, Callum Alexander, Lloyd Allison-Young, George Banders, John Michael Burdon, Sandra Campbell, Rowan Davie, Peter Flett, Matt Ford, Valentin Lang, Lauren Lloyd Williams, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Alyssan Russell, Claudia Ware
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
It is England in the 1930s. David is fabulously wealthy, and dreadfully miserable, living a life with no aim and purpose. Terence Rattigan’s play is about a writer who has everything, including two women vying for his affections, but who remains obstinately unfulfilled. Time has not been kind to After The Dance, which feels sorely irrelevant, with its archaic, although honest, worldview. We no longer despise work, and we no longer tolerate the representation of women as accessories for the libido and vanity of men. We have thankfully moved beyond Rattigan’s depiction of a failed existence, as exemplified by his protagonist’s persistent disquiet.

Director Giles Gartrell-Mills shows us the emptiness of David’s days, through the inconsequential and foolish ways personalities in his household spend their time. There is a worthwhile discussion to be had about the overindulgence of alcohol that is perhaps the only thing in the show that retains some resonance, but we are never able to really empathise with those who appear onstage. When we see Helen and Joan fighting over David, we question his appeal, having seen only evidence of his shortcomings, and the narrative’s persuasiveness begins to suffer.

Actor George Banders faces the grim task of making David a likeable figure, and even though his attempts are doubtlessly confident, the battle seems to be ill-fated from the start. More impressive is Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame as Joan, the vivacious wife who, although rudimentarily written, is memorable for the performer’s conviction at delivering surprising complexity, and a refreshing sense of panache. Also noteworthy are Brodie Simpson’s costumes for the show’s female characters, each outfit beautifully fitted and thoughtfully assembled.

David connects with nothing, and finds himself in a painful abyss of solitude. Loneliness is universal, but as we discover in After The Dance, how we talk about it changes with time and space. We can invent endless concealments so that the plague of loneliness can be diminished, but finding true release from it, requires that the self must go through the most genuine of reflections, and the most brutal interrogation. David suffers from writer’s block, unable to find expression for what he knows to reside within, yet he looks only outward, hoping for respite to come from others. A large mirror sits in the drawing room where all the action takes place, but in spite of his vanity, David takes not one look into his own eyes.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: The Telescope (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 4 – 12, 2017
Playwright: Brooke Robinson
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Alison Chambers, Cecilia Morrow, Nicholas Papademetriou

Theatre review
Fighting technological progress is a futile exercise, but we can be certain that not all efforts at advancement are worthwhile. In this short play by Brooke Robinson, a family of four is being forced out of their home, because a giant telescope for the purposes of detecting alien life in space, is scheduled to be installed. Lenny has been fighting hard to prevent the loss of her home, but when the government’s generous compensation arrives, we discover that she is the only one who wishes to remain. Her parents and brother have decided to take the money and run, leaving Lenny to grapple with the fact that she has been abandoned, replaced by cold hard cash.

Replete with cynical wit, the humorous dialogue of The Telescope leads us into a delightful, and misanthropic, probe of the modern family. Kinship is no match for money and technology, but there is little melancholy in this staging, directed by Carissa Licciardello, who pushes her actors to extraordinary lengths of camp and slapstick. It is a marvellous cast, in a tightly rehearsed, exhilarating performance.

Alison Chambers and Nicholas Papademetriou are very charming as parents who cannot wait to fly the coop, both impressive with the accuracy at which their comic instincts are implemented, in this piece of absurdist theatre. There is a lot of exaggeration, but the points it makes ring true. Cecilia Morrow is the sentimental Lenny, and we recognise her helpless devotion to a hopeless cause. Her agoraphobic brother Daniel is portrayed with a goofy exuberance by Tel Benjamin, who brings to mind a generation unable to engage with life outside of the electrical.

It is much too late to lament the proliferation and impact of technology. Our trajectory is fixed, and we must sink or swim. The characters in The Telescope choose between love and realities of the times, but truth is that we have both. On the other hand, we must acknowledge the ridiculous spending of billions in space, while continents of people are left to languish in poverty. No matter how far we evolve, the morals of humanity’s story rarely change. In the discussion of tech and morality, we must always return to the simple idea, that selfishness, in whatever guise, is wrong.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Sport For Jove Theatre)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 3 – 19, 2017
Playwright: Dale Wasserman (adapted from novel by Ken Kesey)
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Matilda Brodie, Laurence Coy, Patrick Cullen, Anthony Gooley, Travis Jeffery, Felicity Jurd, Stephen Madsen, Wayne McDaniel, Joshua McElroy, Tony Poli, Nick Rowe, Di Smith, Wendy Strehlow, Bishanyia Vincent, Johann Walraven
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
The action takes place inside a male psych ward, except of course, the allegory is in reference to the mad world that all of us inhabit. In Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, McMurphy (made famous by Jack Nicholson in the film version) represents the wild man that we have to tame. He turns up full of life, impressing upon us that he is not in fact insane, but a product of nature in its splendid rawness, and is clearly out of place in this environment of medicated placidity. It is probably no surprise that in this 1962 work, it is a woman who is charged with the business of suppressing that sublime nature.

Nurse Ratched has successfully emasculated everyone we see, and McMurphy must find a way to escape her wicked depravity. Man’s authenticity is upheld as desirable and esteemed, even if all the women who cross McMurphy’s path are debased and humiliated. The rebel’s story is always a powerful one, and it is no different here, whether or not we warm to its central character. It is after all, a battle for dignity and innocence, and we will only be allowed to side with the righteous hero.

Anthony Gooley’s charisma serves him well in the role of McMurphy. Dynamic and intuitive, and effortlessly captivating, it is a pleasure to watch the actor fill the stage with his brand of robust theatricality. Simultaneously portraying qualities that are menacing and vulnerable, the character that he presents is complex, considered and hence, convincing. Ratched is a surprisingly human manifestation, under Di Smith’s interpretation. Hints of warmth and kindness make her a believable personality, but an impotent villain. In the absence of a formidable opponent, McMurphy looks to be a rebel without a cause, and dramatic tension is significantly compromised.

Director Kim Hardwick’s approach is a contemplative one, and although never lacking in verisimilitude, sections that deal with aggression and chaos, can seem too gently manufactured. Individual patients in the show are fascinating, often beautifully performed, but they feel strangely distant. Without a threatening presence, the group misses an opportunity to have us more viscerally engaged. The production however, boasts accomplished design work, especially noteworthy are Martin Kinnane’s lights; compelling when subtly rendered, and utterly remarkable when his creativity turns bold or extravagant.

We play by the rules, thinking them necessary for self-preservation, even when we judge them unsound. When one’s own sanity comes into question, it is invariably societal expectations that provide the measure at which behaviour must be gauged and contained, whether or not conditions of that acceptance are based in logic. McMurphy’s radical disobedience involves him acting from unmitigated impulse, alone, and the consequences he has to face are dire. It is true, that much of what we endure, is unfair. It is also true, that rules are made to be broken, and when the lunatics take over the asylum, redress can be achieved, if unity, and solidarity, can be found.

www.sportforjove.com.au

Review: Acts Of Faith (Popinjay / Emu Productions)

Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 18 – Aug 5, 2017
Playwright: Melvyn Morrow
Director: Elaine Hudson
Cast: Taylor Owynns, Joseph JU Taylor

Theatre review
A property developer and a nun may seem an unlikely pairing, but because they meet in Sydney, it makes sense that both are in the real estate market, trying to take advantage of one another. Melvyn Morrow’s Acts Of Faith is a response to this city’s obsession with property prices, and our unabashed pursuit of preposterous inflation and personal gain.

The play features a string of deceptions by untrustworthy types, determined to make the most of a system that feeds the rich and greedy. It reflects our increasing emphasis on money, as a society that has moved away from defining characteristics of mateship and the fair-go, to what is today a guiltless infatuation with materialism. Even a mother superior has to participate in this gluttony for her narrative to materialise on the twenty-first century stage.

Dialogue in the show takes on a very formal tone that can seem old-fashioned, but undeniably suited to the archaic institutions being represented. Director Elaine Hudson ensures that actors approach their parts with impeccable logic, and that they deliver their lines with an enjoyable sense of rhythm and buoyancy. Although we are kept engaged in every scene, the comedy could benefit from a greater sense of flamboyance in delivery. Taylor Owynns and Joseph JU Taylor bring their warm presences to the story, both impressive with the precision and conviction that they put on display.

In a world that insists on everything being monetised, the modern economy is brutal with how it dictates the way we live, and how our personal choices must conform to its principles of profit maximisation. Religious organisations too are participants in this race for money and power, yet they hide behind disguises that appear celestial and traditional, to gain an upper hand in a system that allows them to benefit exclusively, from donations, tax breaks and the like. Numbers do not lie, but they can only work their magic when applied with diligence and fairness.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

Review: Technicolor Life (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jul 26 – Aug 12, 2017
Playwright: Jami Brandli
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Amy Victoria Brooks, Nyssa Hamilton, Michael Harrs, James Martin, Tasha O’Brien, Cherilyn Price, Emily Sulzberger, Cherrie Whalen-David
Image by Katy Green Loughey

Theatre review
Maxine is a gregarious 14-year-old with a lot to deal with. Her sister has returned from the war in Iraq, having lost her left hand along with much of her will to live, while their grandmother decides to move in to enjoy her last days, before having to succumb to cancer. Jami Brandli’s Technicolor Life is an entertaining exploration into the notion of joie de vivre, where tragic circumstances are filtered through a youthful optimism and resilience, as represented by the very innocent, but very wise, Maxine. People lose limbs and lives everyday, yet somehow we must move on, and resist being submerged by the inevitable accumulation of damage over time.

Director Julie Baz ensures that characters are colourful, with consistently vibrant interactions. Pathos is perhaps too mild under Baz’s interpretation, but we nonetheless find ourselves deeply involved. Nyssa Hamilton does fabulous work in the role of Maxine, particularly memorable for her voice, which seems to be endlessly malleable and powerful. The actor is a delightfully inviting presence, and she keeps us firmly engaged with the conundrums that surround her. Amy Victoria Brooks and Emily Sulzberger play Maxine’s fairy godmothers, who introduce a thrilling effervescence with each entrance, through their mimicry of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, after our protagonist discovers the 1953 classic.

Necessity compels us to take action, but inspiration is the most blissful way to achieve motivation. Having lost herself inside the glittering falsity of old Hollywood, Maxine delves into dreamland searching for answers to problems in her real world. We are often caught up in the gruelling demands of daily existence, and our minds are made to be increasingly restrained by the need to act with practicality, prudence and pragmatism, leaving us to reject that which is the most beautiful and sublime. Asking for divine intervention is usually the last resort, but what could result from the consultation of higher planes, must never be underestimated.

www.thedepottheatre.com