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Sydney review: Re: Memory an immersive experience

 

By Emily Richardson

 

Re: Memory

Directed by Sepy Baghaei

Devised with Scott Parker and Jade Allen

Suitcase Civilians

The Old 505 Theatre

342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills

Season: 16 – 21 June 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm

Bookings: www.trybooking.com/HOJD

 

 

Whether or not you are a nostalgic person, we all subconsciously rely on memory as a defining factor of our identity. The recollection of the past can be a deeply personal process, resulting in vulnerability and emotional connection when these experiences are shared.

Re: Memory, directed by Sepy Baghaei, is an immersive theatrical experience, with audience interaction critical to the development and journey of the piece.

Initially developed and presented at Crack Theatre Festival in Newcastle in 2012, the show has evolved from focusing on the performer’s exploration of memories through the presentation of verbatim text in a standard theatre format with the audience as an onlooker, to putting the audience in control of the exploration. This reworked version of Re: Memory first premiered at Camden People’s Theatre London in March this year, and Baghaei has returned to share this experience with Sydney.

The shift in her work, conjunctively devised with Scott Parker and Jade Allen, has culminated in a show that changes every night, due to the focus on audience memories, which inevitably vary.

The show greatly allows for introspective reflection, yet also provides opportunity for exchange and learning from other audience members and the theatre devisers. While experience of the show may be deeply personal, as the devisers and the audience share the role of performer, audiences gain a heightened sense of the interconnected nature of the theatrical experience.

I can’t reveal too much as the show’s premise relies heavily on the unknown proceedings of the experience, however I can say that you shouldn’t expect to sit comfortably as an onlooker in the audience for this show! It is highly interactive and audience-driven. At points I found this unsettling, as it is such a deviation from theatrical norms, however it ultimately resulted in a vastly unique and memorable performance.

For an element so integral to one’s identity, as life moves quickly we often become fixed in a position of forward-thinking, hastening to move onwards and neglecting to consider the power our memories have in our present lives. Continual observing, noticing and questioning ‘why?’ leaves one reflecting for days after Re: Memory is first experienced. Baghaei’s show is innovative and may just be the alternative theatre experience you’ve been waiting for.

 

Sydney review – hilarious The Genius Project

 

By Emily Richardson

 

The Genius Project

Created and performed by Carissa Licciardello and Jessica Pantano

Left of Centre Theatre Company

107 Projects

107 Redfern Street, Redfern

Season: 18-20 June 8 pm

Bookings: www.leftofcentreau.com/#!genius/c1ysl

 

Gender inequality is ubiquitous in our world – and notably shrouds the arts. Theatre and film industries spew out ‘sexy and generic’ female characters, leaving the more sophisticated lead roles for male actors to take on.

Left of Centre’s The Genius Project, created and performed by Carissa Licciardello and Jessica Pantano, deconstructs the gender bias and they are hilarious doing it.

Jessica (an emerging writer) is outraged by the overt inequality displayed in the Oscars nominations, the hype largely surrounding male ‘genius’ characters. She undertakes the task of refashioning the fail-safe male-genius formula with a female protagonist.

Enlisting Carissa’s support (an emerging actor), they power into this hefty undertaking together, passionately reinforcing each other in the face of institutionalised and internalised sexism.

A brilliant piece of social activism, The Genius Project is very, very funny. (Hey, women can be funny and smart after all!) Licciardello and Pantano are exuberant in the performance, and their self-professed belief in the capacity for the arts to affect and change the way people live is highly evident in the piece.

They worked to create an amusing caricature – and yet on reflection, this so-called satirical view is unnervingly similar to reality. They have held a magnifying glass up to the ridiculous reality many have come to accept, making the everyday contradictions blaringly obvious.

Licciardello and Pantano bounced off each other on stage, on the same wavelength throughout the performance and supporting each other in their artistic decisions all the way. It was delightful to witness this chemistry and served to produce an engaging performance.

Pantano exhibited finesse on the stage, with a strong presence and great confidence. Licciardello read the audience adeptly to gauge the comedy in the situation and committed to bold theatrical decisions deserving commendation. The synergy of the performers with each other, their audience, as well as the contemporary social climate, culminated in an effective social activist piece of theatre that is not only palatable, but left the audience craving more.

Use of theatrical elements of set, sound, and lighting design provided a suitable space for the performers to explore the themes, while maintaining a quick pace. The set design consisted of a chalkboard framing the back of the stage space, a desk with piles of books and notes (such as a genius may care to use) and an armchair.

The performers were in no way heavily reliable on the set to work their magic, however it facilitated their movements in order to set the scene clearly. Sound and lighting design was used primarily in transitioning between scenes, which occurred swiftly to sustain the rapid pace set. Faded lights with a shift into red lighting clearly represented the passing of time, and occasionally the shifting of setting. At two moments in the piece, the actors were interviewed by industry professionals, whereby spotlighting was employed to emphasise the intimidating, warped and isolating nature of industry perspectives. Finally, the piece concluded with a song that humorously summarised the themes of the work.

I returned from The Genius Project with renewed hope and unshakeable faith in the future of our society’s artists. Witty, compelling, and bold, Licciardello and Pantano took on the mammoth issue of gender inequality in film and theatre industries. They did so with a heightened awareness of the power art and performance can have on the way people think and behave. This type of theatre must be supported in order for it to thrive. And when it’s this enjoyable to watch, I can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t.

 

New Theatre’s The Diary of Anne Frank

By Emily Richardson

The Diary of Anne Frank

By Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett

Directed by Sam Thomas

New Theatre

542 King Street, Newtown

Season: 9 June – 11 July

Bookings: http://newtheatre.org.au/buy-tickets-2/

 

The story of Anne Frank, her family, the van Daans and the dentist is widely know. More than 25 million copies of the diary Anne kept during the two years she was in hiding from the Nazi have been sold over the years.

It is one thing to read about this horrific occurrence, it is another to see it on stage.

New Theatre’s production of Diary of Anne Frank visits Anne’s experiences as a Jew in a Nazi regime, canonised through her writing and emblematic of millions of Jewish experiences. This production is heart wrenching and highlights the irrepressible humanity that comes to the fore in the face of a brutal regime.

It can be simple to drown out the human experience at this point in history by perceiving the events through statistics or distant narrative, in attempt to stomach the appalling reality. Thomas’ show fleshes out the remarkable characters portrayed in Anne’s diary to confront the audience with a humane perspective, incorporating despair, fear, hope, folly, and love.

As the number of Holocaust survivors diminish, it becomes more important than ever that the experience is revisited in an emotionally affective way to ensure that we never forget and these systemic atrocities are never repeated.

Casting for this show was excellent, particularly in the choice of Justina Ward as Anne Frank. Ward’s performance brought an adolescent complexity to the stage, fraught with confusion and tumult in relationships and heightened by the exasperating circumstances.

I had been bracing myself for a very intense production, as suggested by the subject matter. However the grim depiction of circumstances was interspersed with humour to not only enable the audience to face the events, but also to reveal the spectrum of emotions that feature in human experiences. Ward injected great humour into the piece through Anne’s vivacious and often antagonising nature. Furthermore, Ward presented Anne’s insatiable appetite to pursue the vast potential for her life. Dreams and idealism flourished and released her from the claustrophobic bounds of the annex.

The development of Anne’s relationship with Peter, played by David Wiernik, was endearing and sufficiently awkward. As seen in her diary, this connection with Peter was pivotal to Anne and the play conveyed their sweet teenage affection. The significance of a relationship based on deep understanding is expressed in this situation, but also in any situation at this stage in a young adult’s life.

Ward’s ability to interact authentically with the other performers on stage is salient, evidenced in Anne’s contrasting relations with each of her parents. The strained relationship with her Mother, Edith, played by Jodine Muir, highlights the estrangement that can occur as a result of polarised personality, and inability of a mother and daughter to understand each other. I assume the vast majority of people could relate to challenges in familial relationships, producing characters on stage all the more relatable in spite of their situation being relatively foreign to our own personal experience. Conversely, Anne displayed a profound affinity with her Father, Otto, portrayed impressively by James Bean, embodied compassion and reason at odds with a hateful and hysterical climate.

Contributing to the evocation of claustrophobia was the sound, set, and costume design. Recordings of Anne’s voice reading her diary entries allowed us into her psyche and granted us a magnified insight into her experience, with sound design by James Ackland.

The annex was constructed as if there was a single main room; however the actors performed as if there were multiple rooms in the space, overcoming the need for construction of cumbersome barriers between the audience and the actors. The number of people in the space and the sloping sides of the stage frame produced a restrictive sensation.

The set, by Allan Walpole, and costuming, by Famke Visser, appeared to have been plucked from the 1940s, reflecting effective design decisions. All of the characters initially entered with innumerable layers of clothing, in order to transport as many clothes as possible without drawing attention. Throughout the piece, they took off layer after layer, and changed outfits on stage, highlighting their constriction in the annex and cleverly aiding transition between scenes.

This play left me feeling incredibly upset, and rightly so I think, considering the mass devastation wrought on a people due to prejudice and religious intolerance. The production triumphed in invoking a deep emotional response – any less would not have done the story justice.

Primo Levi, a Jewish writer and scientist, himself a holocaust survivor, summarised well my feelings on the significance of Anne’s story. "One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live."

Anne’s voice has been given new life through her enduring writing, and significantly, continues to be revitalised on the stage. New Theatre’s production is a must-see.

Genesian's Three Musketeers

By Emily Richardson

 

The Three Musketeers
By Alexandre Dumas, adapted by Ken Ludwig

Directed by Mark Banks

Genesian Theatre

420 Kent Street, Sydney

Season: 16 May – 27 June

Bookings: www.genesiantheatre.com.au or 1300 237 217

 

Alexandre Dumas’ classic The Three Musketeers is awash with fencing, romance and heroic deeds that results in an amusing tale suitable for the whole family. The show, staged at the Genesian Theatre and directed by Mark Banks, is produced in a cosy community atmosphere that is accessible and welcoming. Adapted by Ken Ludwig into English and with a few modern tweaks to the original story, the audience follows the quest of d’Artagnan to become worthy of joining the renowned Three Musketeers.

At the beginning the audience meets d’Artagnan who lives a simple country life with his family. He has always dreamed of travelling to Paris to become a Musketeer, dutifully practising his fencing and honing his skills.

When the time finally comes, his parents insist that he takes his younger sister, Sabine, with him so that she can study at the convent school, and their beloved old horse Buttercup.

In spite of the less than gallant travelling conditions, he agrees, in order to pursue his dream. When in Paris, he encounters a range of honourable and dastardly characters where he proceeds to entangle himself in debacle after debacle. He finds love, he finds danger, and ultimately he realises his potential to be a noble Musketeer.

While the play was enjoyable, the acting was generally hammy; perhaps it was endeavouring to suit the light-hearted and idealistic tale at hand.

It should be noted that Genesian Theatre provides a stage for emerging new artists wishing to experiment and sharpen their craft – an absolute necessity in Sydney’s competitive theatre scene.

D’Artagnan’s younger sister Sabine, acted by Joanne Coleman, was a stand out in the cast. She portrayed her role with resolute focus and had a strong stage presence. Interestingly, the character of Sabine was added to Dumas’ original story, adapted by Ken Ludwig, to appeal to modern audiences.

Coleman’s headstrong and boisterous depiction of Sabine was a welcome addition to the piece, differing from the traditional damsel in distress stereotyping of female characters.

Tim van Zuylen brought some well-received humour to the piece as King Louis XIII and John Willis-Richards as Cardinal Richelieu was well cast as an archetypal menacing antagonist. The work featured numerous fencing scenes true to Musketeer style, the fighting being directed by Kyle Rowling. This was exciting to see on stage, enhanced by tight choreography and sound effects.

The Three Musketeers is a step back in time, into a traditional fairytale realm where nobility and justice triumph over evil, resulting in a ‘happily ever after’ ending. If you’re looking for some light-hearted theatre, or for a family experience, this could be for you. If you’re after edgy and thought provoking theatre, maybe give it a miss. But with laughs, romance and heroic valour, a bit of idealism injected into your day can’t hurt.

 

Sport for Jove's Merchant

 

By Emily Richardson

 

The Merchant of Venice

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Richard Cottrell

Sport for Jove

Seymour Centre, Chippendale

Season: 22-30 May

Bookings: http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/the-merchant-of-venice/

 

Shakespeare has likely made the most formidable literary contribution to our understanding of the human condition and other universal issues, relevant even 400 years after the playwright put pen, or quill, to paper.

The Merchant of Venice does not disappoint in this regard. Furthermore, neither does Sport for Jove’s

production. Directed by Richard Cottrell, the production achieves a fine balance between the comedic and tragic elements of Shakespeare’s work.

Each member of the cast shone in their respective roles, and when pieced together with the design elements, vitality was breathed into Shakespeare’s work.

The Merchant of Venice examines human willingness to take risk, the erroneous categorisation of humans in society and the desperate attempts to flee from one’s identity for fear of the harm and loss that could ensue.

Bassanio loves Portia, but hasn’t the money to travel to her and declare this love. His great friend, Antonio, out of love and friendship for Bassanio, offers to act as a loan guarantor so that Bassanio can borrow money from Shylock, a Jew. Antonio does this in spite of previously antagonising Shylock with anti-Semitic remarks and lending out money at low-interest rates.

Shylock agrees to do so, on the condition that if Antonio cannot repay the debt, he must pay with a pound of flesh. Antonio agrees. Meanwhile, Portia is bound to her father’s will which dictates her husband should be chosen by selecting the correct of three caskets. The proceedings culminate in a courtroom drama, whereby women dress as men in attempt to rescue Antonio from the fate of his unpaid debt.

Cottrell achieves a delicate equilibrium in the work by surrounding grave occurrences and issues with high-spirited humour and jest. The Merchant of Venice has been regarded as one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem comedies’ or as a ‘tragicomedy’, as it doesn’t fit the standard criteria for a comedy due to its inclusion of serious, or tragic, subject matter.

In the midst of flourishing romantic relationships between three couples, Jessica’s loving sentiments for Lorenzo, a Christian, are fraught with her desire to escape her Jewish identity. Jessica, acted by Lucy Heffernen, was continually portrayed as an outsider, standing on the outskirts of matters proceeding on stage.

In spite of some beautiful loving scenes between her and Lorenzo, acted by Jason Kos, the audience is stuck with the sense that Jessica’s attempts to alter her identity are futile, and she is rather mired in an ‘in-between’ state. This is perpetuated by the final moment of the play, as the audience is left alone with Jessica on stage, an intimate moment of melancholy as the remainder of the cast exit the space in jubilance. The notion that changing identity for the sake of social acceptance is useless is reinforced by Antonio’s commissioning of Shylock to become a Christian.

Whilst he responds, “I am content”, the audience bears witness to no sign that a transformation as occurred. John Turnbull, as Shylock, performed the “Hath Not a Jew Eyes?” speech with incredible vigour and passion. The alignment of Christians and Jews and thus the implicit call to disregard rigid religious categorisation and conflict remains immensely relevant in a contemporary world where violent conflict between religious groups powers forth. Turnbull’s performance struck a chord with everyone in the audience, I am sure.

The cast gave such an exquisite performance as an ensemble, I don’t have the space required to write what is deserved of each actor.

Notably, Lizzie Schebesta’s leading female performance as Portia was striking, as well as Christopher Stalley’s depiction of his persevering love as Bassanio. James Lugton achieved an expression of deep love for his friend, as Antonio, and additionally a palpable grief and resignation to his fate as he owed a pound of flesh to Shylock. Damien Strouthos, as Gratiano, contributed to the merry and mirthful comedy central to this work, as did Aaron Tsindos as the delightful Prince of Morocco.

A prominent creative decision in this production was to set the story in the 1920s, expressed through set, costume and sound design. The shift of time setting didn’t feel at all out of place, rather allowing the audience and actors to indulge in the romance and scandal that permeated the golden age. Anna Gardiner’s costume and set design was stunning, and allowed for a more intriguing reinvention of Shakespeare’s work, and worked in accordance with David Stalley’s sound design.

It is a gift to see Cottrell artfully bring Shakespeare’s work to life on an Australian stage.

Shivered is gripping stuff

 

By Emily Richardson

 

Shivered

By Philip Ridley

Directed by Claudia Barrie

Mad March Hare Theatre Company

PACT Theatre

107 Railway Parade, Erskineville

Season: 7 - 30 May (Tuesday-Saturday 7p m) Bookings: http://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=129310

 

Shivered will mesmerise you from beginning to end, as you watch, transfixed by the curious personalities on stage, with a pounding heart.

Mad March Hare Theatre Company presents this production at the PACT Theatre, forcing audiences to question the difference between the external self and suppressed internal desires and the imagined world, confronting violence, love, and fear.

I can’t begin to attempt to capture the entirety of the play’s non-chronological complexities in a neat little synopsis. Perhaps art imitates life in this sense, unnerving the audience when the neat traditional framework is abolished and the play refuses to simplify human experience to a tidy beginning, middle and end.

Regardless, the work is set in a fictional industrial town, Draylingstowe, and incorporates the building and fragmentation of familial and friend relationships.

With exquisite direction by Claudia Barrie, a laudable cast and Philip Ridley’s gripping play, this is a production that should be elevated to the forefront of Sydney’s theatre scene.

The cast features an ensemble of interlinked characters, whose connections become clearer as the story flits between time frames to fill in the whole picture. Liam Nunan’s performance as schoolboy Jack was truly captivating. His character’s journey throughout the play required acute attention to detail, especially in regards to his physicality, and his portrayal was alarmingly realistic.

He managed to depict an individual who was so polarising, at some points worthy of pity, often likeable and humorous, and at other points displaying attitudes and behaviours so abhorrent that you almost felt guilty for liking the very same character moments ago.

Yet again, in the ousting of stereotypes and stock characters the work comes immensely close to reality. Not one of the characters is good, not one is blameless. And they are more human for it – which is terrifying. We see humans on stage who embody a spectrum of colours throughout their lives and throughout mere moments, constantly being affected and changed by their experiences.

The kaleidoscopic light embodied in the characters is supported by Benjamin Brockman’s production design. Brockman’s lighting design was also impressive in New Theatre’s When the Rain Stops Falling and Rock Surfer’s Animal/People this year, and while he applies a more simplified concept in Shivered, his design is nonetheless crucial in shifting the atmosphere of the scenes.

Reinforced by his set design, whiteness washes over everything from the ceiling to backpacks and debris, absorbing the light, so that the scene is entirely coloured by a spectrum of colour throughout the work.

Contributing to the suspense Barrie’s deft direction allows the audience to witness a tender moment between two characters, notably between Jack and Ryan. Just as the audience slides into complacency, the tone is subverted and a shocking act is performed, producing an exhilarating work. Ryan, played by Josh Anderson, regularly ventured into the imaginary realm, meanwhile suffering from the physical restrictions of extreme short-sightedness and deformed fingers. Meekly attempting to share the imagined with his brother Alec, played by Joseph Del Re, Alec’s gritty experiences as a soldier cause him to brutally shut down any fanciful solace. Anderson’s humility and quiet demeanour on stage successfully made some of his more drastic outbursts more shocking. Both actors performed skilfully, sensational in their capricious brotherly interaction, partly attributed to Alec’s PTSD, and remarkable as individuals on stage.

Gordy, portrayed by Andrew Johnston, is a fascinating character. The audience learns some of his past and yet there is still so much of this persona shrouded from our vision. Yet Johnston fleshes him out so believably and with great vigour, that the audience forgets his enigmatic nature on stage.

Evie, Jack’s mother, acted by Rhonda Doyle, managed to fused comedy into her scenes on stage, in spite of the gravity of circumstances that surround her. She responds with a disquieting nonchalance when Jack is hurt, which she later reveals is a guard she puts up to suppress her fear. Evidently, Shivered has no shortage of provocative characterisations.

Shivered is a scintillating production that should be at the top of your priority list in the Sydney theatre scene. Created by incredibly talented actors and creative crew, Barrie’s direction hits the mark and evokes profound thought and emotion.

There is so much artistic truth in this work that cannot be conveyed in written form, you must see it for yourself.

The School for Scandal

 

By Emily Rchardson

 

The School for Scandal

By Richard Sheridan

Directed by David Burrowes

New Theatre, Newtown

Season: 28 April – 30 May. Bookings: http://newtheatre.org.au/buy-tickets-2/

 

Back in 1777, vast class distinctions existed in England, whereby the upper class indulged in all their hedonistic desires, working little and gossiping frequently. From this context Richard Sheridan crafted The School for Scandal.

David Burrowes’ production of the play suggests that in our modern age, perhaps little has changed. His School for Scandal s a largely traditional presentation of Sheridan’s work with a vital contemporary infusion, and it draws an interesting parallel between the past and the present, highlighting the farcical nature of this folly.

By nature of a farce, the plot is complicated and features numerous characters all with intertwining and conflicting motives. Lady Sneerwell enlists Snake to spread rumours about Charles Surface (she is in love with him, of course!) because Charles loves the upright Maria and she wants him for herself.

Charles’ brother Joseph Surface is meanwhile in love with Maria’s money and has a conscionable reputation thanks to Lady Sneerwell’s rumours.

Charles and Joseph are examined without their knowledge by their wealthy uncle Sir Oliver to determine who will receive his inheritance. Alongside this debacle, an older bachelor, Sir Peter, has married the young and beautiful Lady Teazle who is causing him strife and only uses him for his money. Lady Teazle is having an affair with Joseph. The play is not short of drama…

Comedy is incorporated at every opportunity, largely utilising irony and physical comedy. Madeleine Withington as Lady Teazle and Samantha Ward as Ms Candour employ stereotypical characteristics of superficial and flighty women to create humour as they gleefully exploit those around them. Decked out in leopard print attire, Ward continually highlights the outright hypocrisy of Ms Candour, in relation to her pronounced detestation of gossip and yet frequent engagement in the pastime.

 Lady Teazle’s relationship with the exasperated Marty O’Neill as Sir Peter illustrates the cruel manipulation at play, and underlines Sir Peter’s desire to avoid being the embarrassing topic of gossip at great lengths. The audience was delighted by Billie Scott’s fabulously camp portrayal of Snake, albeit featuring for only brief episodes on stage.

The use of physical comedy is best exemplified in the play by Joseph’s servants’ performance, with Moreblessing Maturure, Emma Harvie and Nick Rowe. Partaking in very little dialogue, the servants successfully developed salient characterisations in the play largely through physicality and humour. Harvie’s comic timing was exquisite whilst being tormented by Charles, obliged to enter the room each time the bell was rung. Rhys Keir as Charles accordingly brought humour to this scene specifically, and his energy did not falter throughout the entirety of his performance.

The enemy of the performance is the length of Sheridan’s play, thus spanning three hours including intermission. This was a shame because it undermined the great comic work the performers were trying to pull off. This is not helped by the complicated plot, often an inherent feature of a farce, as it is difficult to communicate clearly and maintain audience engagement. The play never managed to reach a point of climax, seeming to push on at the same level, and hence the stakes of the situation didn’t seem to be high.

Isabella Andronos’ production design is certainly commendable, contributing to the contemporary infusion of the work. A stark white proscenium arch stage built into the New Theatre provides a canvas for scrutiny of the upper class and the ridiculous proceedings that play out.

The play is set within various rooms, contrasting private and public spaces that juxtapose truth and concealment. These spaces are enhanced by bold colour furnishings, bringing modern life to the picture. Sir Peter and Lady Teazle’s abode is decorated with irksome portraits of Lady Teazle’s pug, comedy even interwoven throughout the set design. Sheridan’s play format is divided by numerous scenes and acts that involve set changes, which was dealt with adeptly, utilising lavish gold curtains drawn between scenes and booming modern rap music. Ryan Devlin’s sound design was harmonious and complementary to Burrowes’ overall vision for the production.

Given apparent class tensions in Sydney today, Sheridan’s social commentary of the play remains relevant to a contemporary audience despite little adaption to the script.

This is a success of the production, as well as manipulating 18th century humour to still amuse over 200 years later. Does the School for Scandal continue to reign hapless to this day, or is it up to the students to stand up for the truth?

 

Jetpack’s Grim

By Emily Richardson

 

The Jetpack Theatre Collective

The Old 505 Theatre

342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills

Season: 5 - 10 May (8pm May 8-9, 7pm May 10)

Bookings: bit.do/Grim505

 

In spite of the name, The Jetpack Collective’s Grim is sure to brighten your spirits. A clever amalgamation of devised and improvised theatre, Grim is well worth the five flights of stairs you must climb to reach the theatre!

Two men tackle themes rich in comedic potential, Grim spans life, death, hopelessness and bloodlust in the form of multiples sketches – all with the mind of bargaining with the embodiment of Death himself.

The Jetpack Collective is a young theatre company, emerging as a group of friends and passionate artists looking for a platform to experiment and create. Considering the relatively limited opportunity for new dramatists to break into the Sydney theatre scene, The Old 505 Theatre forms an ideal performance space for the Collective, with Grim taking the first spot in The Old 505’s 2015 Fresh Works season. The Old 505 is housed in the same building as the Hibernian House and possesses the same quirk and charm, ever enhancing your night at the theatre.

The performance was carried by two artists, Jim Fishwick and Robert Boddington, with great improvisational skills.

I have been led to believe that a great majority of the sketches are improvised within an overarching dramatic structure of the piece, and thus change drastically every night.

This is an exhilarating creative environment to enter into, never knowing what the artists will offer next, accordingly producing the outright weird and the hilariously wonderful.

Extensive experience and ease with improvisational technique is evident in Fishwick and Boddington’s performance. Pleasingly, the pair didn’t resort to base sources of humour that unfortunately so often features in improvisational work, displaying true skill in their craft.

An array of characterisations and accent work were exhibited over the course of the sketches, and consistency maintained well considering the quick transitions necessary.

One personal highlight was Boddington’s portrayal of an entire mafia mob, in the same scene. The duo has a strong rapport and uses this to their advantage, quickly yielding to each other’s offers to propel the sketch in whatever amusing direction they are so inclined.

The performers filled the theatre space with great energy, and brought The Old 505 to life. This is framed by a simple and effective set, designed by Kirsty Mcguire and Stephanie Bennett, which set an intriguing ambience that could accommodate any scenario.

That night I set off to the theatre feeling a little grim after a lousy day. The show provided just what the doctor ordered, filled to the brim with wacky comedy that kept me laughing throughout.

This first show of the Fresh Works Season is characterised by an innovative concept of a theatrical show, kept perpetually fresh by the new ideas that bound onto the stage each night through masterful improvisation.

The Jetpack Theatre Collective’s Grim brings great hope to Sydney’s theatrical and artistic future, illustrating that there’s much more to be explored on the stage. Although I can’t possibly predict what will materialise in the improvised sketches to come… I can make a pretty good bet that you’ll have a ball.

 

Red Stitch's Grounded

By Emily Richardson

 

Grounded

By George Brant

Directed by Kirsten von Bibra

Red Stitch Actors Theatre

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Chippendale

Season: 1 - 16 May

Bookings: http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/grounded/ or call 02 9351 7940

 A one-woman-show about the US conflict in Afghanistan does not regularly frequent the Australian stage. In this way, Grounded takes risks and packs a punch with an audience residing in a country that often supports the US superpower.

Directed by Kirsten von Bibra and starring Kate Cole, the play gives insight into the experience of a female pilot for the US Air Force, grounded in the ‘chairforce’ after giving birth, controlling the flight of drones in Afghanistan from a trailer in Las Vegas. She develops PTSD and we are shown firsthand the effects of the syndrome on her life and relationships and are furthermore presented with the issue of drones, fraught by ethical dilemmas.

Cole sustains a mind-blowing level of energy throughout the piece, powering through from start to finish. Kinetic movements accompany the monologue, highlighting her polished rehearsal and long familiarity with the work since her original successful season in Brisbane.

She holds the audience’s focus for the entirety of the work; an incredible feat considering the responsibility resides solely with her for an hour and a half. Cole’s character as the Pilot is an unfamiliar role for much of the audience – a reverse gender role figure.

The Pilot is a ragingly independent fighter pilot, immensely confident, frequently spouting expletive-filled dialogue. Quite a blokey figure, this is a woman more comfortable drinking a beer with the boys after work than returning home each night to her husband and young daughter.

Meanwhile, the Pilot describes her husband as boundlessly supportive, sensitive, and willing to take on a gamut of typically ‘maternal’ roles. A relatively rare occurrence in popular culture, let alone theatre, this presented a fresh concept, yet the use of a female protagonist did not err far from our idea of an archetypal soldier.

Cole exhibited an impressive arsenal of emotional expression, particularly for a soldier who stereotypically would not freely release emotions. She flitted frenetically between mindsets, which I imagine must be a pertinent struggle for ‘chairforce’ soldiers – being forced to revert from a warfare mindset to a family frame of mind during the short drive home from work each day. The lack of decompression for a drone pilot is a factor that can contribute to the onset of PTSD, and it is highly valuable to be addressed in this theatrical work.

The piece saliently communicated the tedium associated with unmanned flight of drones, including 12-hour shifts in a dark trailer to fly the drone, and then 12 hours in a domestic setting. Extreme use of repetition effectively communicated this notion, yet I found that my engagement began to falter as the repetition perhaps was instilled too strongly. This was a challenge inherent in a one-woman script, and in spite of the challenge, Cole’s delivery was still strong.

Costume design for the Pilot was simple, Cole wearing a military flight suit for the duration of the piece. Set design was accordingly sparse; a white proscenium arch with plain white backdrop, and no use of props. At certain points there was a block of colour projected onto the back wall, used symbolically for femininity of her daughter or the freedom of flying through the open skies. Music was utilised occasionally, creating humour and general mood.

The most prominent idea I drew from the piece was the notion of constant surveillance… be that by the state, the enemy or any everyday institution, like a shopping mall.

The symbol of the watchful eye was shown in the drone surveillance and through perceived surveillance of the Pilot, heightened by her symptoms of PTSD. It introduces the discomfort one senses in relation to a drone’s ability to survey and accurately identify targets through continual watching, launching attacks with absolutely no danger to the drone’s pilot, and thus creating an uneven playing field.

Grounded is a theatrical account of modern warfare, carrying with it the complex personal experiences and ethical dilemmas integral to war. At what point does security surveillance impede on autonomy and intolerably violate our lives? How far are we willing to go, and at what cost?

 

Animal/People

By Emily Richardson

 

Animal/People

By Brooke Robinson

Directed by James Dalton

Rock Surfers Theatre Company

Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Bondi Beach

Season: 29 April – 16 May

Bookings: http://rocksurfers.org/animalpeople/

 

Most people would like to think that in crises or emergency they would respond heroically, performing noble deeds that reveal their true benevolent nature. Brooke Robinson’s Animal/People throws this idealistic assumption into frenzy, as two confessional characters, Man and Woman, divulge their incapacity or aversion to responding to compromising situations in a ‘morally acceptable’ manner.

Directed by James Dalton, Animal/People repudiates the limits of social acceptability to propose an unsettling reality about who we really are.

Initially, Man and Woman seem like good, normal parents – the type of people you could likely identify in your own life. Anecdotes about children, work, and the banal in life ensue.

Yet during the Man’s routine jog one morning, he comes across an entirely helpless victim of a dog attack…and abandons her. Succumbing to his own helplessness in the situation, he performs this unthinkable act. Meanwhile, the audience learns of the Woman’s festering resentment for her wheelchair-bound son who seems to take odious pleasure in other people’s pain.

Man, played by Martin Crewes, and Woman, played by Georgia Adamson, complement each other exquisitely on stage, as they concomitantly tease out the complexities knotted within the figures through a string of monologues.

A compelling focus pervades both of their performances, drawing the audience into the vacuum of their characters’ shame-ridden consciences.

The piece began with Crewes’ monologue shrouded by darkness, his voice demanding attention. Light slowly revealed his face and allowed his expressions to engage the audience.

This was astutely manipulated by the artists to add gradual layers to the performance, which in turn, created depth in the character and understanding of his situation.

Perhaps this could represent our blindness in the dark as we embrace the idealised qualities of humanity, only able to see the truth when glaring fluorescent lights are used to illuminate every blemish on our character.

This notion was extended in the pairing of the set and lighting design throughout the work, juxtaposing light and shade, impairing and then rectifying the audience’s vision.

Through this contrast, the entirety of the set design was gradually revealed, unveiling a stage shaped by sharp vector lines magnifying a shattered bone-like backdrop. Fluorescent lights were hung haphazardly from the ceiling, flooding the space with light when switched on, creating a sterile hospital atmosphere, sanitising, and eliminating idealistic misconceptions.  

Through the play’s themes, both Adamson and Crewes pertinently express resentment of a disconcerting situation and a simultaneous sense of guilt in their character’s respective circumstances. The subsequent overcompensation for one’s own inadequacies that can follow in this situation was a fascinating reaction illustrated by both performers. A technique that augmented connection to corrupt characters was Robinson’s clever incorporation of ‘everyday’ figures, subverting audience assumptions and increasing connection to characters that perform abominable deeds.

In spite of the terrific energy throughout the play, I found the final scenes lost impetus, stunting the swift pace, and resulting in an anticlimax. This was a disappointing finish to what was otherwise a highly intriguing and dynamic piece, and may have been due to limited rehearsal of the final scenes in comparison to the remainder of the work.

Animal/People will challenge any idealistic over-the-rainbow notions you may have about human character, as well as mundane preconceptions you may have about the people around you… Are people truly more civil and morally upright than animals?

Prepare to work hard and engage in the theatrical space as an audience member, partaking in the vital process of self-reflection as people. When we strip back socially imposed niceties and pretence to the bone, are we animal at our core?

 

A Town Named War Boy April 30, 2015

 

By Emily Richardson

 

A Town Named War Boy

By Ross Mueller

Directed by Fraser Corfield

Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP)

The State Library of NSW

 

Season: 29 April – 9 May Bookings: 02 9270 2400 or visit www.atyp.com.au

 

The ability to revisit the past, immersing oneself in the experiences of those who have gone before, is a gift.

A Town Named War Boy undertakes the task of providing its audience with an authentic immersion in the world of young Australian soldiers 100 years ago. Drawing on the resources of the State Library of NSW, Ross Mueller wrote this play, piecing together fragments of history to form a collective narrative. Fraser Corfield directed four young men in a depiction of the triumphs, tribulation and terror of WWI.

Before the performance, I was a little concerned that a theatrical revival of written accounts of war would wither into a dreary recitation of the content of the letters. However, I had no reason for concern!

A clever interweaving of time periods that focused on wartime and post-WWI, created a strong core narrative and allowed for deeper character development. The plot primarily concentrates on four men - or boys wanting to become men - in the war, and exhibits their evolution of friendship, drawn closer through the experiences they share.

Each actor brings something unique to the table.

Joshua Brennan impeccably displayed the vast detriments of war on a soldier, aided with the shifts of time. This required a deep connection with his character, Snow, in order to convey his grappling with the loss of his best mates.

I was intrigued with his aversion to the counsellor; defensive because he did not endure the same hardships on the war field, and contemptuous of his inability to wholly understand.

Brandon McClelland showed diversity in his ability to take on roles of contrasting age and social status. I was impressed by his effortless portrayal of both, which led to successful enmeshing of time periods.

Edward McKenna portrayed the natural leader of the clan, and exuded charisma. Highly likeable and a true larrikin, McKenna injected great energy into the piece. Finally, Simon Croker depicted the young ’un of the group who was on the cusp of 17, an artist, a dreamer. He displayed unerring comic timing.

 Croker’s character gathered much sympathy from the audience, being somewhat a misfit in a realm of war. The four together illustrated the camaraderie and mateship that has become emblematic of the Australian experience at war. This culminated in great amusement for the audience at the continual banter exchanged and good spirits in spite of the hardships faced.

The Metcalfe Auditorium in the State Library of NSW was transformed into a true theatrical space for the production, thanks to the cunning design of Adrienn Lord.

The incorporation of sand across the stage was a clever touch, chameleonic between the Australian and Egyptian landscape. It provided a continuum for the characters traversing the world. The prominent feature of land acted as a reminder of the negligible justification for the horrific war – the acquisition of land.

A decaying wooden boat featured to the side of the stage, cunningly used in depiction of war scenes, as well as being utilised in many other fashions. A backdrop constructed of a paper-like substance appeared to be the unfurling of journal pages, allowing the handwritten stories to materialise before us on stage. This was reinforced by the various journals fettered across the stage, used as props during various points in the work.

A Town Named War Boy presents an amalgamation of art and history that acts as a pertinent reminder of the horrors Australians endured for us 100 years ago. Whilst bearing the brunt of such difficulties, good-natured humour never failed, and mateship persisted. This was fittingly surmised in the final words of the play, “Isn’t it marvellous what a man can put up with, and yet be happy.”

 

Simpson the ANZAC legend April 21, 2015

 

By Emily Richardson

  

Simpson, J. 202

By Richard Beynon

Directed by Mark Gerard Nagle

Genesian Theatre

420 Kent Street,

Sydney

 

Season: 11 April – 2 May. Bookings: http://www.genesiantheatre.com.au/index.php?mode=booking

 

With the ANZAC centenary approaching, it is timely that the Genesian Theatre is staging Simpson, J. 202. The play puts forth the life of John (Jack) Simpson Kirkpatrick. Jack, also known as “The Man with a Donkey”, is an ANZAC legend who saved hundreds of lives carrying the wounded on the back of his donkey through shellfire to safety at Gallipoli.

The great strength of this play is the fleshing out of Simpson, to produce the true Jack on stage, the loving larrikin purported in the legend.

Contrary to my expectations entering the theatre, the play focused more on Simpson’s early life and personal relationships than on his courageous wartime acts.

Humour was employed continuously throughout the piece, each character displaying moments of wit and with Jack portrayed by Ryan Bown, frequently causing amusement.

Emphasis on his family situation established a firm foundation for the audience to relate to Jack and his relationship with his Mother, acted by Julia Kennedy Scott. Both Bown and Kennedy Scott shone in the cast, seeming very comfortable in their character’s shoes and thus being a delight for the audience to watch; eyes naturally gravitated towards them.

Dialect work specific to South Shields in England, coached by Mark Anderson, was impressive by these two cast members, as well as Penelope Berkemeier who portrayed Jack’s sister Annie.

An immense sense of humanity exuded from the character of Jack, which Bown skilfully drew from the historical figure. His love of animals was palpable and persisted as a constant passion throughout his life journey. We were presented with a true larrikin, the epitome of the ANZAC legend who used his good spirits to improvise in a dire situation,  and selflessly looking out for his mates.

Jack was depicted as a simple man, free of any pretension, who walked to the beat of his own drum without any great reverence for authority.

It is interesting to note that any depiction of history is limited by simplifications of reality into a short story format with clear narrative line. Undergoing some historical research about Simpson after the play, I discovered that he actually deserted the army three times, a less favourable fact omitted by the play.

If you’re interested in other points of historical contention, I suggest you take up some research as well. As with any history, the glorious ANZAC story is not the only existing perspective.

Clever directorial decisions were required to account for a myriad of characters with only a limited cast. Pleasingly, Mark Gerard Nagle achieved this effect through the continual discussion and framing of an individual by the characters, to cause the persona to materialise as another character in the audience’s mind.

Critically, this was best achieved with Jack’s Father and the amusing creation of Annie’s flat-footed husband. Small details amassed to form a character with his or her own idiosyncrasies, without even appearing on stage.

The play did struggle with plot difficulties, rooted in Beynon’s writing. While taking on a strong pace during the first act, the second act dragged at points and I felt some scenes needed to be clipped.

It then ended abruptly, touching on Simpson’s wartime acts yet unable to sufficiently portray the events due to their inability to lead a donkey onto the stage (instead suitably substituted by sound effects), and cast limitations to immerse the audience in an authentic depiction of war. These pitfalls were unfortunate in light of general strong characterisation by the cast and best directorial attempts to avert the issues.

Split staging was used to create contrast and maintain the connection across continents smoothly, bridging the rift between the war front and England, with a direct connection developed through continuous letter writing between Jack and his home. The simple set and prop changes were easy on the eye and aided understanding of the vast movement between settings.

 This was enhanced by lighting projected onto a white backdrop, which changed to show the shift between days and variation of weather.

Lighting effects were further employed in the warfare scenes, which was very effective. Genuine WWI costumes were used in Susan Carveth’s costume design, creating an authentic edge for costuming.

It is vital that we commemorate the ANZACs, and that we consider particularly the courageous actions of prominent individuals. Furthermore, it is crucial that we continuously reconsider what this means for the basis of a national identity, with Simpson epitomising the ANZAC spirit. Simpson, J. 202 is an important play, especially given our current historical context.

 

Hilarious Hitmen April 9 , 2015

By Emily Richardson

 

Jerry and Tom

By Rick Cleveland

Directed and produced by Maggie Scott

Insomniac Theatre

The Craftsman’s Bar,

The Exchange Hotel, Balmain

 

Season: 9 – 30 April Bookings: www.trybooking.com/116838

 

I am a sucker for a crime film packed with hit men, assassinations, and good old New York accents. Insomniac Theatre’s Jerry and Tom was brimming with these features and it was a joy to be immersed in the world of hitmen, with surprisingly respectable family values.

Directed and produced by Maggie Scott, this version of Rick Cleveland’s play provides ample action, violence, and comedy, keeping the audience hooked. Commencing with the chronological end, a man held captive tells jokes to two volatile hitmen, awaiting the phone call to finalise the hit. The amusing banality of this scene is juxtaposed with the impending violence to be triggered by the phone call, the black comedy of which characterises the entire play.

The non-linear structure allows the audience to piece together an understanding of the two protagonists, growing with them as the plot develops, with the drastic end point in mind.

Humour permeated the piece, which successfully kept the audience on board from beginning to end. The comedy is inextricable from the overall effect of the work, and is crucial to the audience stomaching the events being played out before them. The performers displayed immense focus in their characterisation, resulting in a highly engaging performance.

 Unfortunately, in spite of excellent acting and characterisation, accent work was often insufficient. The New York accent is undoubtedly difficult to master, however the inconsistencies in accent drew from the overall effect.

Steve Maresca portrays the young and comparatively naïve Jerry, drawn into the hitman business through his relationship with the men at the used car dealership. It is fascinating to observe his increased captivation by the business as he becomes conditioned to accept the practices, void of compassion.

This climaxes in the scene where he describes his fantasies about murdering his family and the night where he toyed with the notion, holding a gun to his infant son’s head. As an audience member, in the midst of these dark themes, you still maintain a degree of sympathy for Jerry, at no point allowing hate to supersede your emotions for him.

This is achieved through humour and the apparent good nature of him, glimpses of which shine through in various scenes. This is a triumph of the play, sustaining audience sympathy for the main characters who perform despicable acts.

Boris Brkic takes on almost a Godfatheresque role on the stage as Tom, guiding Jerry towards success in the business and developing a strong working partnership. At points Brkic seemed comparable to Brando, effortless on stage and impeccably natural.

The aging process of Tom’s character was intriguing, exhibiting the shift of his bravado and self-perceived role in the business as he ages. The proposed possibility of a professional assassin residing in a condo near you is hilariously frightening, and Tom’s family-centric nature compels you to accept this possibility. The characters are well developed, partially attributable to Cleveland’s writing, and fully realised in the direction and acting. The audience is able to fully embrace the converging aspects and layers to each persona, accepting elements that would seem to ordinarily conflict.

Andrew Mead took on multiple roles throughout the piece, requiring formidable effort to develop complexity in each character. Each time he entered, he lit up the stage, exuding the character’s emotion with absolute certainty as an actor. He performed with tremendous energy and focus, enrapturing the audience. Being murdered multiple times was an integral element of his role, and an element he executed competently. With the stage being in such close proximity to the audience, violent murders are difficult to execute without looking corny and fake. Cunning directorial and lighting decisions, alongside Mead’s realistic ability to die, suspended audience engagement and believability of the proceedings.

Jerry and Tom was staged in The Craftsman’s Bar, a room just off from the main bar area in the Exchange Hotel. This performance space posed some challenges, yet were ultimately overcome through the strong performances of each actor. Minimalistic set design allowed for the flexibility of the play’s varied settings and didn’t crowd out the actors’ performances in the small space. Frequent scene changes called for prop and slight costume changes, which were conducted with relative ease. These aided illustration of character and time shifts in the play and I felt were suitable.

Jerry and Tom hit all the audience sweet spots, successfully complementing incredibly dark themes and deeds with comedy, achieved through complex characterisation. The ambiguity of black comedy is championed in the play, causing the audience to grapple with the conflicting emotions of sympathy with the figures they may identify with, yet with the abhorrence that arises from the dastardly actions performed. In this ambiguity, the audience is left questioning the boundaries of respectability and morality – perhaps we can identify with these hit men a little more than we may have first thought, and enjoy the comedy that emanates in the process.

 

 

Bard magic on the beach

By Emily Richardson

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare by the Bay – Bard on the Beach

Robertson Park, Watson’s Bay

Season: 10 – 19 April 2015

Bookings: http://watsonsbayhotel.com.au/whats-on or buy tickets by the gate.

 

Shakespeare crafted A Midsummer Night’s Dream to entertain, by nature of a comedy. I think if he saw his play being shared with the audience on picnic rugs and eating nibbles in utter amusement, he would be thoroughly impressed by theatre companies’ ability to adapt to suit today’s audience, maintaining the relevant presentation of his theatrical masterpieces.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is renowned for its ethereal forest setting, home to an array of fairies and the tumultuous love story between Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius. In light of this, Robertson Park at Watson’s Bay serves as an ideal setting for Shakespeare by the Bay, powered by Bard on the Beach Theatre Company, in conjunction with The Watson's Bay Boutique Hotel and Woollahra Council. A great opportunity to unveil your kids to the world of Shakespeare in a natural environment, or just a magical night of alternative theatre, Shakespeare by the Bay is a wonderful experience.

A pitfall of outdoor theatre is the limitations of voice projection, however I was pleasantly surprised that dialogue was audible during virtually the entire play, only crowded out by the occasional ferry leaving the bay or other background noise. This added character to the theatrical experience, testing the actors’ ability to convey emotion and a story without always relying on dialogue and vocal variation. Some of the actors had difficulty performing with subtlety on the stage considering their requirements to perform in a space where energy easily dissipates, which tended to reduce some performances to a more superficial level. Josh Wiseman achieved subtlety in his portrayal of Demetrius and Francis Flute, resulting in a highly engaging and believable performance.

Humour was utilised to great audience satisfaction, notably in the performance of the four lovers, as well as in Bottom’s performance, acted by Martin Estridge. The cast played with the comedy evident in the text, as well as elaborating upon ideas to create unique humour. Each actor took on multiple roles, a credit to each of the actors. Notably, Patricia Rowling achieved diverse characterisation as Helena, Titania and Hippolyta, to the extent that I was left questioning whether it was a different actor portraying each role. Costuming aided the actors’ transformation between characters, incorporating primarily traditional Athenian robes. For some characters, glasses were used as a costume piece to distinguish between roles, however I found this to be a weak choice as the lens reflects the stage lighting and acts as a mask between the audience and the actor’s face. Basic set design was employed, using just two Grecian pillars and a flower-laden bed for Titania. This was fitting, choosing to complement the celestial natural backdrop of the parkland and water, and the starry lights of the CBD in the distance.

Shakespeare by the Bay brings forth an unconventional theatrical experience that captures all of the wonder and mystique present in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If you can’t make their closing night, the theatre company regularly stages plays on Balmoral Beach during the Summer, true to their name of Bard on the Beach. The show makes for a splendid evening out – in spite of it being autumn now, it truly does make for A Midsummer Night’s Dream of theatre.

 

Exhilarating dark circus March 21, 2015

By Emily Riochardson

 

Le Noir

Directed by Neil Dorward

Lyric Theatre,

Pirrama Road

Sydney

Season: 19 March – 4 April 2015-03-30

 

Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au/Le-Noirthe-Dark-Side-of-Cirque-tickets/artist/1985780

 

Le Noir was, as the French would say, “Incroyable!” It was an exhilarating night filled with performances that I found amazing.

The show included a diverse range of acts, each appealing to the audience in a different way. These were led and introduced by the amusing Master of Ceremonies, who artfully incorporated audience participation into the performance.

He chose audience members who, albeit a little reluctantly at first, took part in skits and gags in a way they never would have anticipated when arriving at the theatre, definitely putting themselves out there!

It made me laugh the most I had in a very long time, and I think I may have even cried a little from the hilarity. The effect of the Master of Ceremonies’ segments served as relief for the audience, in between being shocked and amazed by the acts.

The sheer variety of acts is a sign of the great talent in the Le Noir ensemble and each time I thought they had revealed every trick in the book, they managed to surprise me again.

Highlights of the show included trapeze, which is one of the most technically difficult acts requiring incredible upper body strength, yet it was made to look effortless by the performers.

Then, on a small stage 1.5 metres in diameter, two skaters spun rapidly, attached to each other just metres away from the audience. The climax of the show featured the Wheel of Death, a truly hair-raising act. Two acrobats performed within and on top of a pair of spinning wheels, rotating high above the stage. I found myself, and the people around me, gasping through genuine fear for their safety and left aghast when they managed to pull off stunt after stunt.

Le Noir exhibits talent that can only be properly appreciated in live performance. The extreme strength and agility of the human body was astounding and highlights the maximal limits that the body can be pushed to achieve.

The show was staged as theatre in the round, with seats on the Lyric Theatre’s usual Proscenium Arch stage, surrounding the round stage area. While the people seated on the stage must have had a fantastic up-close experience, they were also targeted for audience participation – something to be wary of if you don’t have an extroverted personality!

Angela Aaron’s costume designs for the performers were sultry and seductive and show the progression of the show, going from white, to red, to black. Music, composed by Julian Wiggins, continually set the atmosphere for the performances, building tension and suspense, causing the audience to breathe in a collective breath in anticipation of the incredible feats on stage.

 Lighting also complemented the performance, at some points creating party ambience, and other times giving the impression that you are peering through the darkness, witnessing a more intimate performance.

Le Noir is the type of circus performance that you cannot see everyday, and a form of live entertainment that is not often easily accessible. It is a performance to catch while it is still hot in Sydney, and I assure you, you will be blown away.

 

Waterlogged but moving

By Emily Richardson

 

When the Rain Stops Falling

New Theatre, Newtown

Written by Andrew Bovell

Directed by Rachel Chant

Season: 17 March – 18 April

Bookings: http://newtheatre.org.au/buy-tickets-2/

 

“I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in miracles. I can’t explain this.”

Through torrential downpour during a trip to the supermarket, a single fish, a delicacy, falls from the sky and into the grasp of Gabriel. This extraordinary occurrence marks the beginning of When the Rain Stops Falling, which weaves together the exceptional and the mundane components of people’s lives, passing through multiple generations.

Directed by Rachel Chant and written by Andrew Bovell, this play was incredibly moving, striking all the right chords at the correct moments. A compilation of characters whose life experiences overlap, complement and contrast each other highlight the commonalities in human experiences – that of relationship breakdown, disappointment, loss and love.

A stellar cast eased the frequent transition through time and place, holding the audience’s attention in spite of ambitious undertakings - the play traversing continents and three generational gaps. A greater challenge ensues, as the audience must determine each character’s relationship to the other, bolstered by limited clues unveiled throughout the piece. During the play I found this constant thought process a little frustrating, yet as the play drew to a close, I realised it was actually an edifying feature. You were always aware that there was an affinity between the characters. This was achieved through use of dialogue repetition and recurrent themes, casting a link between the characters. Multiple characters repeated very similar dialogue, managing to slightly nuance the presentation, creating humour and audience familiarity. In the course of time, I became very invested in the relationships being played out before me, and finally understanding each person’s relationship to each other at the end felt like the last piece of the puzzle fitting snugly into place.

The interconnectedness of lives was a prominent theme in the play. Each relationship was symbiotic to the life experiences that one involuntarily carries with them, and which can be transported through generations. There were numerous poignant moments throughout the piece, nearly moving me to tears at the play’s climax. A sign of a strong character and actor is when you can see the character being changed by what he or she encounters and experiences. Under Chant’s direction, each actor shape-shifts throughout the piece, depicting a metamorphosing character that is unbelievably believable for the audience. Tom Conroy shines in the multiple roles he takes on, revealing light and shade in his various relationships, showing how formative one’s relationships are.

The set design was beautiful, incorporating abstract elements into the piece that were highly effective due to the malleable nature of an abstract setting. The set design transcended time and place, drawing the focus to the central figures rather than their environment. The design consisted of fabric strewn across the floor, which at times came to life, billowing across the stage as air was blown underneath it. The back wall of the stage was suspended and tilted to loom over the actors, its angle shifting throughout the piece. At points this was unnoticeable, yet in different scenes this induced a sense of claustrophobia – perhaps the inescapability of one’s fate weighing upon the characters. Simple props were used, incorporating no more than necessary. This design decision again allowed the focus to remain steadfastly upon the characters, not allowing them to be crowded out by the things surrounding them. Costume choices were simple and appropriate for each character.

I believe that When the Rain Stops Falling managed to move each and every person in the theatre that night. It is astounding to find great writing that provides so much potential to be unlocked on stage. This production certainly found the key, allowing the audience to be affected by Bovell’s writing, and then venturing beyond written parameters to escort the audience to the emotional crux of the piece.

 

STG’s masterpiece of theatre

By Emily Richardson

 

Suddenly Last Summer

By Tennessee Williams

Directed by Kip Williams
     Sydney Theatre Company

Drama Theatre

Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

 

Season until March 21

Tennessee Williams created a written work of art in Suddenly Last Summer for its first performance in 1958. Subsequently, crafting the piece on stage is a formidable task, creating high audience expectations and leaving no space for mediocrity.

Thankfully, the Sydney Theatre Company production of Suddenly Last Summer did not disappoint - it was nothing short of a masterpiece.

Catharine Holly, a poor relation of a prominent New Orleans family, seems to be insane after her cousin Sebastian dies under mysterious circumstances on a trip to Europe. Sebastian's mother, Violet Venable, trying to cloud the truth about her son's death.

The tension of mystery was cunningly built and maintained to constantly keep the pulse of the piece beating. Eryn Jean Norvill’s portrayal of Cathy was particularly compelling, and rendered the audience ambiguous to her reliability - at points sympathising with her, at others marvelling at her madness.

Robyn Nevin as the venerable Violet Venable is a powerhouse. She exhibits Violet’s paradoxical position, at the mercy of a truth threatening to spoil the root of her power – social acceptability.

Director, Kip Williams, masterfully interwove all elements of drama to heighten audience awareness of the pretence in the play, the presentation of a more socially acceptable manufactured ‘truth’.

This was achieved through the momentary unveilings of reality, be it the camera people visibly navigating the stage to capture the live media projected on the wall, or the actors cowering side stage, surrounded by lighting framework. The audience was continually reminded of the unauthenticity of the events unravelling before them - that they were, indeed, watching a play.

Period costuming and props kept the piece in touch with reality, yet the hyper-saturated New Orleans jungle and stark white expanses of backdrop distorted any sense of realism.

Notably, this decision is in line with Tennessee Williams’ stage directions in the play, admiring Chekhov’s realism yet wanting to blur the lines between the real and the surreal.

The use of media is inextricable from this production and the technicians must be congratulated for the successful risk undertaken. The hand-held live camera footage produced a sense that ‘Big Brother’ was continually monitoring all activity, allowing the camera operator to virtually take on a character role themselves.

I have heard murmurs of people’s disappointment when they expected to witness ‘live theatre’ and yet felt as if they were watching a film.

I don’t believe the use of media detracted from the theatre experience whatsoever. Moreover, I perceived this clever use of media to add another dimension to the piece, presenting a contemporary interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ work.

If we constrain theatre in the pursuit of traditionalism and dwelling within familiar boundaries, I believe we have missed the point of theatre itself.

 

Underwhelming Freaks

By Emily Richardson

 

Freak Winds

By Marshall Napier

Directed by Marshall Napier

Red Line Productions

Old Fitzroy Theatre

Woolloomooloo

 

Season: 10 March – 11 April, 2015

 

Freak Winds is currently staged at the Old Fitz Theatre, written, directed and starring Marshall Napier. He enlists Anna Bamford (Wonderland) and Ben O'Toole to perform alongside him. Considering each actor's prominent television background, I was a little surprised to find them performing in the quaint Old Fitz and yet was eager to see what each would bring to the table.

Unfortunately I was underwhelmed.

Freak Winds begins with Henry, an Insurance Agent, paying a visit to an old misanthrope, Ernest. Enveloped by ‘freak winds’ in a wild storm, Henry becomes trapped in Ernest’s home and develops a dubious distrust for Ernest as more is revealed about his persona.

As Ernest’s companion, Myra, enters the mix, the plot thickens and Henry is bewildered by the circumstances he finds himself in.

There was initial good rapport between the characters, particularly between Ernest and Henry. This rapport was cleverly turned on its head to create uncertainty, each character appearing to be unsure of the other's motives as Ernest’s volatile nature is revealed.

I found this relationship engaging, however some repetitive dialogue tended to drag at points in the first act. 

Myra, played by Bamford, contributed to the mystery of the plot with an enigmatic personal history. Her relationship with Ernest was intriguing, and whilst some of her actions and motives were explained throughout the play, many aspects of the character seemed to be mysterious for the sake of mystery, rather than having a tangible point.

The second act increased intrigue and moved at a faster pace, yet ultimately left me dissatisfied.

The play is a thriller – its ‘thrills’ are orchestrated through mystery and the dark undertones that become more pertinent as the piece progresses. At first I couldn’t understand why I didn’t warm to the play, as it seemed to have strong foundations that should overall lead to a successful piece.

In hindsight, I think the piece lacked clarity, affixing various creepy and perverted ideas together in the hope of making a strong collective impact. It left me confused as to why I had spent a few hours watching the events develop when it concluded as I fully expected (not that I wish to spoil the ending).

The set design constituted of moldy wallpaper and dated furniture, and exactly fit how I would envisage Ernest’s house to be. Clever use of sound was employed to set the scene, as well as onstage lighting through the windows, indicating the storm outside.

As a side note, Napier is to be commended in his rapid adaption in the performance after breaking his leg in recent weeks. His mobility in no way hindered his performance, ensuring “the show must go on!” Clever script adjustments allowed Napier to avoid using the staircase across the back of the stage. Costume decisions were suitable, aiding the believability of each character.

Whilst the play was by no means my favourite, it did draw me in and capture my curiosity at points. In a relatively desensitised society, a play seeking to incite thrills has its work cut out. Freak Winds did not tick all the right boxes, but it attempted a genre that many may avoid on stage, which was a welcome change for an audience, indeed.

 

 

 

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