Review: Fences (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Mar 25 – May 6, 2023
Playwright: August Wilson
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Bert LaBonté, Markus Hamilton, Damon Manns, Molly Moriarty, Zahra Newman, Dorian Nkono, Darius Williams
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

In 1950s Pittsburgh USA, Troy and Rose try their level best at making a life for themselves and their children. Harsh conditions as evidenced most concretely in discriminatory Jim Crow laws of the time however, means that the couple’s dreams were always going to be dashed, no matter their effort. August Wilson’s Fences deals with the effects of racial subjugation, from the microcosmic perspective of a single family unit, and its inevitable disintegration. As with all great tragedies, we find ourselves rooting for characters, but also simultaneously anticipating their demise. In Fences, we understand that it is not the playwright’s manipulations that prevent the Maxsons from thriving, but the very realities of racism and its accompanying systemic reverberations, that have kept generations of African-Americans from fulfilling their greatest potential.

Powerfully directed by Shari Sebbens, the production speaks pointedly on both the intimate and the broader social contexts, of the Maxson family’s story. The drama works poignantly whether one is concerned with the personal aspects of Fences, or the implications on community, of a far-reaching story like this. Sebbens’ work feels beautifully organic, yet its intricacies are honed with great detail, resulting in a meticulously rendered presentation that always sings naturally and connects profoundly.

Set design by Jeremy Allen transports us somewhere thoroughly believable. Even though the Maxsons’ front yard from 70 years ago only exists in our imagination, what our eyes encounter is something that seems replete with verisimilitude, as are Allen’s costumes, similarly accurate in their depictions of Black life in mid-century Pennsylvania. Verity Hampson’s lights are conservatively, but thoughtfully, calibrated to engender an intense sentimentality, for a play that requires of us, emotional as well as intellectual investment. Sensual and soulful music by Brendon Boney draws from American Blues traditions, so that our sensibilities remain firmly in that historic time and place, one comprising the complex embroilment of bittersweet nostalgia and despicable oppression.

Actor Bert LaBonté delivers sensationally as Troy, with unremitting authenticity and disarming passion. He is heartbreaking yet reprehensible, sympathetic yet frustrating, in his noble portrayals of emasculation and righteous indignation. Zahra Newman brings great vigour to her interpretation of Rose, allowing the feminine half of the Fences story to make an almost comparable impact. Highly engaging is Darius Williams as son Cory, impressively nuanced and exquisitely tender, in a devastating narrative of circular histories. Markus Hamilton too, has us captivated as the mirthful Bono, with perfect timing and an extraordinary presence. Other cast members are Damon Manns, Molly Moriarty and Dorian Nkono, each one more charming than the other, in a show full of persuasive and likeable personalities.

Troy is fixated on his shattered hopes of becoming a professional baseball player of great renown. It is true that no person’s life can be guaranteed happiness ever after, based on the reversal of a singular precedent circumstance. It is also true however, that if racism is not the annihilating force pervasive in so many of our lives, Troy would have achieved not only his heart’s desire, but also a significantly improved existence overall, for himself and for his loved ones. Like Troy, many of us are conditioned to think more about personal failures, than to figure out ways to dismantle those harmful systems, within which all have to operate. Despondency is understandable, but those energies can be turned outwards, negative as they may be, to forge new paths that could bend the arc of history.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Hubris & Humiliation (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jan 20 – Mar 4, 2023
Playwright: Lewis Trenton
Director: Dean Bryant
Cast: Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Mathew Cooper, Roman Delo, Celia Ireland, Melissa Kahraman, Andrew McFarlane, Ryan Panizza
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

Elliott is leaving Brisbane to work in Sydney, and also to find a rich husband, because his mother Bernice has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to a catfishing incident. Much like the Jane Austen oeuvre, from which it takes inspiration, Lewis Trenton’s Hubris & Humiliation is on some levels an examination of class, and on others a frivolous romantic romp. Its plot may unravel to a flimsy conclusion, but the journey is nonetheless satisfying, with witty dialogue and fabulously observed characters, making for a truly wonderful time at the theatre.

Direction by Dean Bryant is unabashedly campy, but laced with an acerbic edge to prevent any sense of hollow affectation. His show is relentlessly effervescent, amusing at every turn, often dazzling with genuine hilarity. Set design by Isabel Hudson is suitably ostentatious, with a commendable versatility that accommodates the play’s many location changes. Hudson’s costumes are brightly hued, to keep our eyes sated and occupied. Lights by Alexander Berlage provide amplification to the brassy quality of the piece, but are also effective at delivering emotional tenderness when required. There is an elegant restraint to Matthew Frank’s sound and music, able to facilitate action and elicit responses, but careful to remain unobtrusive.

Extraordinary work by the cast of Hubris & Humiliation makes it an utterly memorable experience. Elliott is played by Roman Delo, whose exceptional instincts bring impressive elevation to a role that could easily be perceived as banal. Delo’s confident charisma is the unequivocal lynchpin, of this staging’s success. Ryan Panizza plays dual roles Warren and William with conviction, offering strong counterpoint to Elliott’s incorruptibility.

Women performers steal the show, along with our hearts, in a range of supporting parts that give depth and substance, to the irrepressible comedy. Henrietta Enyonam Amevor, Celia Ireland and Melissa Kahraman are inventive and joyful, each demonstrating their own admirable talents, in the exalted art of mirthful storytelling. Matthew Cooper and Andrew MacFarlane create fascinating personalities that address our need for progressive versions of masculinity, in this tale of new unions and modern sexualities.

It is funny how we care so much about the sex lives of others. This need to probe and police what people do in private, is however no laughing matter, with many having suffered persecution through the ages, for not following the rules. Hubris & Humiliation takes place not in Austen’s Regency era, but in the here and now, and to see everyone free to make new rules in its emancipatory narrative, is gratifying. Nothing should hold us back from life’s infinite pleasures, as long as we stick to the simple principle, that no one gets hurt, and that enthusiastic consent remains integral to every kind of sexy.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: The Tempest (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Nov 15 – Dec 17, 2022
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Peter Carroll, Jason Chong, Chantelle Jamieson, Mandy McElhinney, Shiv Palekar, Richard Roxburgh, Claude Scott-Mitchell, Guy Simon, Aaron Tsindos, Megan Wilding, Susie Youssef
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

Prospero’s story of exile, in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, can easily serve as parable, for the history of white immigration to these lands we now call Australia. There is a stark and perverse contrast however, between Propsero’s determination to seek revenge, and white Australia’s general deference to those who had discarded them. What we do find analogous, is the cruel treatment of antecedent inhabitants. Caliban was born on the island, long before Prospero’s recent arrival, yet is being enslaved by the latter, who seems only able to think of himself as superior and entitled.

In Kip Williams’ abridged and delicately modernised version, we feel the air inside the auditorium seizing up, whenever Caliban takes centre stage to present his view of the world, and indeed to plead for justice. Performed by Birripi/Worimi actor Guy Simon, Caliban becomes the only character we can truly care about. Simon raises the stakes so high, with a portrayal unforgettable for its blistering intensity and scathing honesty, that we leave The Tempest with an entirely reinvented understanding of this otherwise archaic text.

Richard Roxburgh plays Prospero with an elegant strength, understated but replete with impressive gravity. The dainty but powerful spirit, Ariel is beautifully depicted by Peter Carroll, who brings grace and humour, along with unflappable conviction, to deliver a crucial element of ethereality to the show.

Set design by Jacob Nash is deceptively simple, with a generously sized boulder anchored in the middle of a revolve. The gradual revelations of special effects over the course of the production, demonstrates a deep knowledge of the relationship between audience and imagery. Likewise, with Nick Schlieper’s magical lights, we are expertly coaxed into believing that storms are raging and fairies are taking flight, when in fact it is all just smoke and mirrors. Elizabeth Gadsby’s costumes offer a rustic interpretation that appeals to those with a taste, for something more realistic and unassuming. Sound and music by Stefan Gregory construct a fantasy realm, into which we can luxuriate in Shakespeare’s brand of supernatural drama.

It is liberating to see Prospero in a new light, not only as victim, but also aggressor, after knowing The Tempest for a lifetime. The truth that hides in plain sight, implies a nefarious collusion that must be present, in order that lies may take hold. Regarding the rightful custodians of these lands, and those far and wide, entire canons are awaiting re-examination, should our claims of wishing to be democratic and just, are of any veracity.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: RBG: Of Many, One (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Oct 29 – Dec 23, 2022
Playwright: Suzie Miller
Director: Priscilla Jackman
Cast: Heather Mitchell
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review

Associate justice of the Supreme Court of the Unites States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not the first woman appointed to that position, but is certainly the most famous feminist icon to have emerged from that Court. In Suzie Miller’s RBG: Of Many, One we get acquainted with Ginsburg’s significant legacy as a trailblazer, and witness the ways in which she had left an indelible mark, on the most patriarchal of boys’ clubs. Ginsburg’s personal life was an immaculate one, devoid of scandal or controversy, but playwright Miller is nonetheless able to excavate at the most important of her professional achievements, to compose a work that informs and inspires.

A worthy tribute to an intelligent and courageous woman, RBG: Of Many, One is directed by Priscilla Jackman, who manufactures an unmistakeably reverential aura for the staging. Having passed away just two years ago, Ginsburg’s story, although not a mournful one, does reverberate with a sense of melancholy. Furthermore, recent events pertaining to the Dobbs decision that overturns Roe v Wade, thereby upending 50 years of abortion rights, feels a direct consequence of Ginsburg’s death. The work is still a celebration of a great life, but the darkness of current realities, makes the experience a truly sombre one.

Production design by David Fleischer implements an understated elegance that corresponds with the heroin’s image in our collective memory, but several instances requiring stagehands to manually deliver props, can appear somewhat awkward. Alexander Berlage’s lights provide much-needed visual dynamism for the one-woman show, sensitively rendered to help us navigate the many shifts in time and place, whilst delivering beautiful imagery through the duration. Music by Paul Charlier is memorable for its vigour, although not always at appropriate levels.

Actor Heather Mitchell brings an exceptional charisma that is somehow commensurate, with our unreasonable expectations of meeting the legend in the flesh. Technical brilliance is demonstrated especially through Mitchell’s distinct portrayals of Ginsburg at different ages, as she performs the role from childhood to her twilight years. At 90 minutes, RBG: Of Many, One is unquestionably demanding, and although not quite flawless, it is a performance that proves to be highly satisfying.

It is wonderful to be able to honour Ginsburg for her many great achievements, and with that commemoration be reminded that so much remains to be accomplished. Dissent is necessary not only in our courts. Injustice rears its ugly head, much more readily outside of rarefied spaces. The example set by The Notorious R.B.G. should not only be one of career progression, but one that epitomises a spirit of defiance and daring. Her narrative is one of selflessness, characterised by a zeal to work on behalf of those who have less power, so that communities become more fair and equitable. We will not all rise to high positions, but to make it known when things go wrong, is a responsibility many of us can bear.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: The Lifespan Of A Fact (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Sep 20 – Oct 22, 2022
Playwrights: Gordon Farrell, Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell (based on the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal)
Director: Paige Rattray
Cast: Gareth Davies, Sigrid Thornton, Charles Wu
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
John D’Agata writes essays, in which he seeks truth and beauty. When Jim Fingal enters the frame as a fact-checker, we discover that subjective truths do not always align with cold, hard facts. Based on the collaborative book The Lifespan of a Fact by D’Agata and Fingal, this theatrical version by Gordon Farrell, Jeremy Kareken and David Murrell, explores a concept of the artistic licence, as understood by D’Agata. In the examination of how he accesses the truth, the play encourages us to consider the very nature of truth, and what it means, when in contradiction with objective reality.

It is an intellectually stimulating work, but also entertaining, in its rendering of D’Agata and Fingal as idiosyncratic personalities, and in the excellent humour with which their incessant conflict is presented. Direction by Paige Rattray ensures that the comedy of The Lifespan of a Fact is thoroughly exteriorised, for a show that amuses at all times.

Actor Charles Wu plays the detail-oriented Fingal, with captivating verve, and astonishing precision. His rhythm and timing are beautifully measured, so that we are kept riveted, to both the funny and the serious simultaneously, of his character’s austere perspective. Gareth Davies performs the role of D’Agata with an irony so subtle and persuasive, that makes convincing, even his most extravagant declarations. Davies and Wu bring great energy to the stage, and along with their effortless charisma, this story of rivalry, between personalities and ideas, is made truly delectable.

Similarly ebullient, is Sigrid Thornton as magazine editor Emily Penrose, most effective when adding fuel to fire, in the war between ideologies. Clarinettist Maria Alfonsine lends her vaporous presence, to the discussion of real versus true, introducing live and recorded music in ways that make a strong argument for the importance of beauty, and of aesthetic pursuits in general.

Set design by Marg Horwell is remarkably appealing, in her modernist approach to the evocation of place. It straddles fantastical and authentic, yet leaving no doubt about where we are, even though we are in fact oceans away from New York and Las Vegas. Lights by Paul Jackson are designed with a pleasing simplicity, rarely drawing attention to itself, but always reliable at enhancing the storytelling.

These are precarious times. Over the last few years, we have seen people holding firm to destructive beliefs, in the face of evidence that proves the contrary. False medicines have been sold all through the pandemic, along with fraudulent information about vaccinations. Patriotic feelings were manipulated, to make the British turn against their neighbours, at the detriment of their own economy, and a similar style of nationalism was used in America, for a moment of insurrection that will continue to reverberate for years to come.

It appears truth always exists most resonantly as a subjective experience; what we can feel is often valued more highly than what we can actually see or hear. Even at his most earnest, D’Agata’s ego is apparent. If it is characteristic of humanity to be self-important, then it should come as no surprise, when the universe chooses to have us eliminated.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: A Raisin In The Sun (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Aug 27 – Oct 15, 2022
Playwright: Lorraine Hansberry
Director: Wesley Enoch
Cast: Nancy Denis, Bert LaBonté, Angela Mahlatjie, Zahra Newman, Gayle Samuels, Leinad Walker, Jacob Warner, Adolphus Waylee, Ibrahima Yade
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review

It was 1959 when Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun debuted on Broadway, telling the story of a Chicago family living in poverty. Lena Younger is waiting for an insurance cheque to arrive, upon the death of her husband. Her son Walter is determined to invest that money in a liquor business, to which Lena has religious objections. The drama is constructed around the $10,000 and how this Black family had needed to lose the head of their household, before they could have a real chance at life.

Appearing between the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, Hansberry’s ground-breaking play was the first by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. With A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry also became the first African-American writer to win the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, so it is no exaggeration, to state that the cultural significance of the work is truly immense.

63 years on, there is little in the play that has diminished in relevance. In fact, with the exacerbation of wealth gaps everywhere, Hansberry’s observations on economic disparities, are as pertinent as they had always been. Her concerns about racial injustice, at our time of renewed vigour for social activism, retain their resonance. Hansberry’s depictions of women within patriarchal systems, were already modern and sophisticated during her times, so feminists too will have the rare pleasure of seeing intelligent and authentic women in a mid-century play, created many years before the second wave.

Director Wesley Enoch honours beautifully Hansberry’s vision, in a production that feels perfectly appropriate, in its choices to be faithful to an original text, that demonstrates itself to require little to no updating. Enoch ensures that all of the politics in A Raisin in the Sun is accentuated, whilst its humour and drama are harnessed robustly, to deliver a show that proves consistently riveting, involving characters that are as spirited as they are enchanting.

Brimming with charisma is Gayle Samuels, who plays Lena, an older woman who knows the limitations of her only son, but who also understands what he needs, to be able to hold his head high, as a Black man in the United States of America. Samuels’ is a vivacious performance, that conveys both the intensity of emotions for a person in Lena’s position, and the stoicism needed to deal with the challenging circumstances she is given. 

In the role of Walter is Bert LaBonté who brings both dignity and fallibility, to a tale of systemic oppression. Equally vulnerable and compelling, as Walter’s wife Ruth, is Zahra Newman whose determination to fortify a role that can easily be misinterpreted as subservient, is admirably judicious. Walter’s 20-year-old sister Beneatha is performed with astute ebullience, and excellent comic timing, by Angela Mahlatjie, another magnetic presence on a stage filled with marvellous actors. Supporting parts feature Nancy Denis, Leinad Walker, Jacob Warner, Adolphus Waylee and Ibrahim Yade; a cast memorable for their dedication and dazzling talent.

Designed by Mel Page, the presentation is suitably traditional in style, having us travel back decades, only to come to the realisation that so little has changed. Verity Hampson’s lights are similarly circumspect, totally devoid of gimmickry, for a taste of a classic theatre form that can still do so much for hearts and minds. Sound by Brendon Boney is subtly rendered, except during scene changes, in which we are given the opportunity to delight in music reminiscent of twentieth-century North America, the kind of which is underpinned by their African diaspora.

It is not often that we immediately think of slavery as a part of Australian colonial history, but the dispossession and displacement of Black peoples on this land, are at least as traumatic, and are certainly as consequential, as those suffered in other places. We do however, have a deficiency in our language, when discussing the nature of prejudice and violations on this land, having experienced colonisation in ways that are different from the United States, where the legacy of slavery has steered so much of discourse in their activism spaces.

It would appear that the way in which white people have pillaged this land, have over the centuries, manifested in modes of obfuscation, and that the (misguided) idea that we were not built on slavery, means that more explicit avenues of castigation, are not available to those seeking redress today. The atrocities are however utterly real, and learning from the fighters who have come before, even those overseas like Lorraine Hansberry, will always be an invaluable part of our strategies in decolonising this so-called Australia.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Aug 6 – Sep 10, 2022
Playwright: Robert Louis Stevenson (adapted by Kip Williams)
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Matthew Backer, Ewen Leslie
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
There is something very queer about Utterson’s obsession, over having to uncover the truth about Mr Hyde. In Kip Williams’ version of the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, it is not the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde that occupies the majority of our attention. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is, on this occasion, more concerned with Utterson’s fervent investigations, showing his indefatigable determination at getting closer and closer to the mystery of Hyde. The audience watches from a vantage point of feeling as though, we already know all there is to the Jekyll and Hyde story, but new revelations in WIlliams’ adaptation emerge, that surprise us much as they do Utterson.

On stage with the actors, are large video screens, up to 6 of them at any one time. Our attention resides with the projected image for virtually all of the duration, yet the live quality of the presentation is unmistakeable. Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is cinematic but also certainly theatrical. We have a visceral connection with the energy that emanates from all corners of the stage, but our eyes are kept fixated on oversized monitors that seem to be constantly floating, into all manner of configurations. David Bergman’s video design is gloriously imagined, mostly in vintage film monochrome, and although not flawlessly executed, its ambition is nothing short of breathtaking. A sequence involving staircases is particularly wondrous, able to manipulate space in the most whimsical ways, for a new theatrical experience that feels completely linked with technological ingenuity.

Kip Williams’ adaptation and direction of the piece is relentlessly vigorous in tone. At the centre of the old story, is an exploration of pharmaceuticals, and for the entire show, we too feel as though on artificial stimulants, almost manic in how we have to respond to the work. It is a rich and intense journey that Williams takes us on, as he pushes gregariously at the boundaries of the art form, but it is ultimately the reframing of meaning, that stays with the viewer. Stevenson’s writing is remembered to be about pietistic notions of good and evil, but Williams reminds us that the longevity of the tale and its famous characters, are due largely to our very basic and eternal desire, to understand the nature of truth.

The space, designed by Marg Horwell, positions us as though peering from the backlot of a film studio, with flats wheeling in and out, but facing away from the auditorium. Horwell’s costumes aim for period authenticity, and are fitted immaculately to maximise the appeal of the show’s beguiling stars. Lights by Nick Schlieper are lush and sensual, able to provide delightful imagery, whether our eyes are consumed by video, or when our sight wanders to the real activity taking place on stage. A magnificent sound design by Michael Toisuta envelopes us in tension and extravagance, of the old Hollywood kind, with a grandeur that brings a sense of elevation, to every thought that crosses the mind.

Actors Matthew Backer and Ewen Leslie are highly impressive, not only with the backbreaking technical demands of the production, but also for the sheer amount of dialogue they need to rattle off at lightning speed. Their barrage of words often amount to little more than dramatic urgency, but to see them in action is to witness a kind of superhuman power in motion. Backer plays Utterson, controlled yet desirous, with an astonishing precision to all the details that he delivers. Leslie plays Jekyll, Hyde and a host of other personalities, with wild abandon at a fabulous intensity.

Dr Jekyll understood that there is something important that needs to be unearthed from within, even though social forces keep it vehemently repressed. The original story presents its arguments in a binary way; it is good or evil, and it is all or nothing. Queering the narrative, as Williams does in this update, allows us to see the shades between black and white, and therefore approach its ideas with a greater compassion, for Jekyll and Hyde, and perhaps more importantly, for ourselves.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: Top Coat (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jun 25 – Aug 6, 2022
Playwright: Michelle Law
Director: Courtney Stewart
Cast: John Batchelor, Amber McMahon, Matty Mills, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Arisa Yura
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review

Many great stories have been told, using the fantasy of switching bodies as conceit, to help us think about what it must be like to walk in others’ shoes. In Michelle Law’s Top Coat, a nail artist and a television executive jump into each other’s bodies, so that we may explore the differences of living on this land, in terms of race, status, and opportunity. It is about the disparities that exist, between being white and not being white, in colonised Australia.

Cleverly imagined, Top Coat challenges longstanding beliefs about meritocracy, by displacing two women from completely divergent backgrounds in the other’s occupation. While it comes as no surprise that Kate fails at providing the simplest of manicures, we are shaken to a realisation that Winnie has little problems playing with the big boys of tv land, simply by looking the part and talking big. The problem of course, is that the only way for Winnie to look the part, that is to become a white person, requires that her narrative be intervened with utter fantasy. Winnie can do the job, she simply will never be allowed to.

Top Coat is entirely outrageous, so it only makes sense to have the story presented as comedy. Laughs however, are few and far between. Law’s writing is wonderfully provocative, but many of her jokes prove less than effective. Director Courtney Stewart struggles to locate a suitable tone and style of farce, resulting in a production that delivers vibrant energy, but that only infrequently lands its punchlines. The moral of the story, and its political point though, are powerfully conveyed, for a show that is ultimately more entertaining with its ideas than for its humour.

Designer James Lew provides jubilantly colourful sets that are visually exciting, but that consume inordinately long amounts of time between scenes to establish. Michael Toisuta’s music intercedes to occupy those moments of transition, keeping the atmosphere spirited, and preparing our sensibilities for what is to follow. Lights by a proficient Kate Baldwin ensure our attention is maintained on relevant portions of the expansive stage, and memorable for playful instances making full use of the play’s comical supernatural aspects.

Actor Kimie Tsukakoshi brings great exuberance to the role of Winnie, with unwavering levels of commitment that keep us firmly on side. Amber McMahon is appropriately animated as Kate, able to make believable even the most bizarre of situations.

There is perhaps no real way for any person to know what it must be like to experience the world as someone else, especially when all our lives can be so vastly different. What we are capable of doing however, is to understand the nature of injustice and disadvantage, and to believe that efforts at seeking redress, should always be an ongoing concern in our democratic lives. Where people refuse to acknowledge uneven playing fields, as well as other manifestations of prejudice, those at the losing end need to find the wherewithal to fight for what is right.

For too long, Asian-Australians and other people of colour, have conformed to notions of the model minority, only to find ourselves as permanently subjugated and silenced second-class citizens. New discussions are now ongoing, as instigated by work like Top Coat, from a younger generation that has begun to see the requirements of politeness for the weapon that it is, in preventing us from ever having things our way. Rage brings people to breaking points, and that is where rules are dismantled.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jun 21 – Jul 16, 2022
Playwright: Anne Brontë (adapted by Emme Hoy)
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Danielle Catanzariti, Remy Hii, Tara Morice, Tuuli Narkle, Ben O’Toole, Steve Rodgers, Eliza Scott, Anthony Taufa, Nikita Waldron
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
It was England in the 19th century, so when Helen Huntington suddenly returns to live in Wildfell Hall without her husband, much consternation arises. Published under the pseudonym Acton Bell in 1848, Anne Brontë’s novel The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, was an exploration of family abuse considered daring in Victorian times. This stage adaptation by Emme Hoy certainly seeks to place focus, through a contemporary lens, on the gendered disparity in the ways our societies assign power. Hoy says all the right things, in order that her play bears undeniable gravitas, but the plot although creatively structured, struggles to communicate the story with clarity, leaving its audience confused for significant durations.

Jessica Arthur’s direction of the work succeeds at imbuing modern flavours into an old story, so that we may connect more intimately with the concerns of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, but the play’s anti-chronology is made further complicated by many of the cast having to play multiple yet somewhat similar characters. The abrupt shifts in time also prevents viewers from sufficiently engaging emotions, whether tragic or joyful. Before we can feel in meaningful ways for any part of the narrative, it pivots elsewhere, making our senses adapt to yet another different place.

Thankfully, the cast is uniformly strong, with lead actor Tuuli Narkle demonstrating impressive authenticity for the wide range of mental states that her complex character experiences. Helen is strong and weak, happy and sad, just like any real woman, and Narkle’s portrayal of all those conflicting qualities, proves to be completely convincing. Helen’s love interests are played by Remy Hii and Ben O’Toole, both highly charismatic and compelling, with Hii excelling at creating a comically adorable personality, and O’Toole shining as the contemptible antagonist. Eliza Scott is memorable in her dual roles of Mary and Millicent, able to introduce idiosyncrasy in ways that encourage audience identification. It is debatable whether Scott’s live singing is incorporated seamlessly enough, but their abilities, as actor and singer, are beyond question.

Music by composer Clemence Williams is thoroughly beautiful, and atmospheric in all the appropriate ways, able to place our sensibilities somewhere between the historical and the present, so that we may perceive Helen’s period drama from a decidedly current position. Trent Suidgeest’s lights are at their best when sultry, offering deliciously moody visions that speak on the story’s dangerous aspects. An ambitious set design by the very accomplished Elizabeth Gadsby ensures that our need for spectacle is suitably addressed, and Renée Mulder’s costumes meld theatricality with accuracy, so that Victorian values are never far from our minds.

Whether or not one regards that epoch as part of one’s own history, to live on this land, is to have to contend with the remnants of that English past. Helen’s problems, of having to survive in a man’s world and not on one’s own terms, can however be seen as commonplace and universal. Most of us come from backgrounds, where our mothers (and their mothers) have had to suffer indignity and injustice. Most of us have seen our mothers (and their mothers) struggle to live up to their fullest potentials. It is true that every new generation will inherit those abhorrent conditions, but it is also true that we are capable of learning from the past, even if our evolution can seem forever at snail’s pace.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

Review: City Of Gold (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), May 7 – Jun 11, 2022
Playwright: Meyne Wyatt
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Mathew Cooper, St John Cowcher, Simone Detourbet, Ian Michael, Myles Pollard, Trevor Ryan, Meyne Wyatt
Images by Joseph Mayers

Theatre review
Breythe is trying to establish a career for himself as an actor, but when called home to Kalgoorlie, he is reminded that there are far more important things that require his attention. In Meyne Wyatt’s City of Gold, it is that tension between one’s need for personal fulfilment, and their responsibilities to community, that drives the story.

In Breythe’s case, being an Aboriginal man, makes that juxtaposition even more pronounced. For most of us, self-preservation involves compromises, when participating in dominant systems that control resource distribution in the economy. To play with the big boys, we have to obey their rules, and if the big boys are determined to annihilate one’s community, one is destined to never be able to operate with true integrity.

To pay for his father’s funeral, Breythe has to perform in a problematic television advertisement. To help one’s community, one often has to sleep with the enemy. First Nations peoples, more than any other on this land, understand that subsistence may be permitted, but for the marginalised to thrive, not as exceptional individuals but as whole communities, is nigh on impossible. In fact, like Breythe we find ourselves in positions of pseudo betrayal, when trying to represent and advance causes. The white patriarchy will tempt us with its crumbs, and some of us will pick them up, always hoping that a difference would be made.

Wyatt’s very deep reflections on Indigenous identity are brought to scintillating life by Shari Sebbens’ passionate yet humorous direction. It is political theatre that speaks with a level of authenticity rarely seen; one which prioritises in its viewership, the same minority culture it wishes to represent. Those of us who are not its main concern, benefit from observing through that ajar door, a perspective so kindly made available, so that those of us on the outside who proclaim to be supportive, can feel closer to the nuances of their predicament. Sebbens keeps the discussion in the family, understanding that to care too much about the white gaze, does little to help unearth the truth.

Set design by Tyler Hill makes a literal statement about the outside-inside demarcation of family life, with its left-right split of the performance space. More interesting is its incorporation of hidden scrims to facilitate the depiction of supernatural dimensions, allowing us to draw important connections with the dead and the living, in City of Gold. Verity Hampson’s lights are understated, in complete service of the storytelling, while Rachael Dease’s music gives affirmation to the wide range of emotions being depicted.

As actor, Wyatt’s performance as Breythe is a searing one, filled with a righteous indignation that is satisfying both in terms of its capacity for driving home a message, and for its sheer theatricality. His chemistry with Mathew Cooper, who plays brother Mateo, is invulnerable and effortless; their tumultuous brotherly love is portrayed with great power. Simone Detourbet’s earnest interpretation of their sister Carina is tenderly moving, and Ian Michael breaks our heart as cousin Cliffhanger, beautifully elevating a smaller part to something unforgettable, with his palpably generous approach to characterisation.

The abruptness to the ending of City of Gold seems intentional in depriving us of any catharsis. It provokes us into taking a stand, leaving no room for ambiguity, in how an Australian viewer would position oneself, at the show’s conclusion. It is right, that the situation is framed as a binary one; you are either anti-racist, or you are racist at least by default. You can make contributions to improving the situation, or you can stand on the sidelines and let injustices perpetuate. Feeling bad is not enough, but there is only so much theatre can do for you.

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