Posts filed under ‘Inside Theatre REVIEWS’

CRITIC WATCH: I’ll Be Watching You

EVERY BREATH

presented by Company B, April 2012.

… we don’t know what kind of a fool, having seen a plague of Benedict Andrews’ productions on Sydney stages in recent years; would go and see one that is actually written by him as well, and then read it as a conventional piece of narrative. Are you all mad or just obtuse?

Continue Reading 16/04/2012 at 4:03 pm 1 comment

pay attention to the details…

THE WEIR
Presented by The New Theatre, March 2012

Now in it’s final week, The Weir is a fine production in the vein of claustrophobic and comedic menace a-la Brendan Behan or (more recently) Martin McDonagh. The play is less action-heavy than one might expect of a play clearly influenced by the Irish Masters, instead drawing its narrative cloak across the past histories and ancient legends of the deathly quiet moors of the fabled green countryside. It gently fuses the staple small-town Irish foibles of boozing, frugality and pointless rivalry into a creeping series of supernatural mythologies of the land, gradually shifting from the worlds of fantasy (although one tends to believe every word) into the more familiar flights of fear that brush against us in the wee hours (usually to do with love and liquor – not necessarily in that order)… One forgets which metaphysical frights are more forboding; those of ancient lore, the night-faeries of folktales; or the modern banshees of the heart, loneliness and loss. Which send more chilling rhythms into your soul? With unobtrusive direction and an exquisitely detailed set, this small-town bar is a refuge against the dark and cold, one held together with the mortar of community, without which the really frightening question is just where would we be without it?

One cannot go past the lineup of actors for a great night’s entertainment. If you haven’t seen one or more of these fine thespians treading the boards in Sydney recently; then you haven’t been hitting the non-mainstream circuit (for shame!) and this production offers a fine taste of the talents available when one strays along the road-not-taken. To be sure, all are terrific storytellers on their own. This is the kind of performance when a simple anecdote becomes a world of its own and in ensemble; with the kind of half-nostalgic eeriness of the text you are guaranteed to be taken into another world. Catch a glimpse of this before it disappears…

The Weir, by Conor McPherson, directed by Alice Livingstone; featuring Patrick Connolly, Barry French, Lynden Jones, Peter McAllum and Amanda Stephens Lee. Plays at the New Theatre until March 31st.

25/03/2012 at 1:44 pm Leave a comment

DRINKING IN OBLIVION

BLIND TASTING
presented by Subtlenuance, at 505, March 2012

This is another little gem from the strange narrative mind of Paul Gilchrist, steeped in his quirky style of meditative and philosophical storytelling; a one-woman show breaking through the fourth wall in a rich parody of the world of fine wine and romance. It’s an engaging blend of slightly nutty and melancholic memoir, delivered in charming style by Sylvia Keays, who finds the right balance of tragicomic ennui for the script, quaffing as she goes (one hopes that’s not a real shiraz she’s guzzling) through a personal tale of love and hope and disappointment and adventure. For those who braved the rain last Sunday eve for the preview (and there were fifty of us), a rich reward that softened the palate and brought a new perspective on how we perceive and appreciate the finer things in life – by which I mean art, conversation, wine, music, what-have-you – how context becomes a vital cog in creating an understanding of what it is we are beholding. Take off the label, and we are lost… we must learn to appreciate life without the gold and silver medals, or the prestige, or the name of thing. Irrelevant! After a couple of days discussing theatre and criticism at various public forums it was a poignant thing to suddenly engage with artists evoking the very thing we have been advocating – that it matters not who or what the art is called, where it comes from, who made it – just drink in what is there, and like it, or dislike it, and forget the rest. For a fine Pinot Noir is just as it comes. With or without a label… Something to be savoured, like good friends, or simple belief in oneself. Go ahead, have a taste!

BLIND TASTING, written and directed by Paul Gilchrist, featuring Sylvia Keays; playing at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, 13 – 17 March 2012.

12/03/2012 at 4:30 pm Leave a comment

PEOPLE LIKE THAT

THYESTES

Presented by Belvoir and Sydney Festival in association with Carriageworks.
Originally created by THE HAYLOFT PROJECT.
A Malthouse Theatre Commission.
Bay 20, CarriageWorks, February 2012

The word itself sounds like a disease. Onomatopoeic. From the Greek. Meaning “I Make” and “Name”. Thyestes. Like a coldsore. Not something you would want to share with someone. Not unless you truly love them. And even then it’s a kind of horrific scabrous viral parasite. You know how sometimes words sound like what they mean? Thyestes. To most people the word is meaningless, but you would still shy away from the thought somehow. It’s embedded. Like something crawling up the inside of your spine. You know it’s coming, inevitable, and when it reaches your brain who knows what? Not I, said the fox…

Is this a movement or a tradition? The retelling of old stories through the fish-eye lens of the modern urban patois; where once they were passed along in the ancient tavernas unrehearsed by the lyric poets, or expertly carved into marble friezes, or painted on Attic vases, these warnings against the madness of power and corruption and disloyalty long since smashed to pieces by the ravages of time. Or as Joyce might say of history without war (in Stoppard’s Travesties) “a minor redistribution of broken pots”. So it’s tradition. Modernism circa 2010 AD. The creative team at The Hayloft Project have picked up the ceramic shards of one such busted planter and like an archaeological jigsaw done their level best to piece it back together.

The missing fragments are well disguised with reams of inconsequential dialogue, crafted almost too cleverly from pop-cultural scotch tape and waxy bits of post-dramatic conceit. And the bottom half seems to be put back in place all out-of-order… But it definitely holds water. Oh yes. You wouldn’t want to drink from it though. It remains uncleansed – the catharsis is but a brief splash, a vignette placed out of context, which the audience must make their own sense of by reframing the out-of-sequence events in the second half. Like a half-remembered bad dream. You’d rather forget, but you can’t. It forces you to put it together yourself, scene by scene, so the horrors are multiplied because you know what happens next.

Thus the casual banality of the dialogues become loaded with a sickening irony. Simple things like a lover’s gift should make you smile, but they make you frown, as you sift through the wreckage of the cursed Atrean house, like the archaeologist just trying to figure out the who and the why. It happens so fast. Too fast. The speeding surtitles give as much confusion as exposition, so the people next to you have to ask what’s going on? Who is who? English was not their first language so they are stuck. Which one was Thyestes again? You thought it was the other one – so the jumbled pieces collapse and the process begins anew.

While it was Joyce who began the fusion of modern and ancient – it was Foucault who cleaved concepts of history, knowledge and the archaeology of meaning; and the play, perhaps through its self-awareness and unwavering commitment to emotional intensity, excavates a terrible truth that threads right back into a world we will never know, but somehow recognise. It is the sterility of the production design which enables these three performers to create a platform of brutal all-too-human foibles to fire up the imaginations of their utterly captive audience. Backed up with tight direction and some truly astonishing mise-en-scene; the minimalist approach gives way to the kind of psychological and emotional arm-wrestle of which there is no choice but to win.

THYESTES playing until February 19th, 2012
Co-written by Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan, Simon Stone and Mark Winter after Seneca. Directed by Simon Stone, featuring Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan and Mark Winter

09/02/2012 at 11:18 am 4 comments

WANTON

TITUS ANDRONICUS
Presented by Cry Havoc, at ATYP Under The Wharf
October 2011

When Antonin Artaud wrote about a Theatre of Cruelty, what he had in mind was the cruelty of letting an audience in on a truth about themselves they did not necessarily want to know. Like telling someone their flies are undone, or they have toilet paper stuck to their shoe, or they have had too much to drink; it’s cruel, but necessary. For a greater good. He doesn’t mean the cruelty of barbarism, the unnecessary acts of evil; like (spoiling the plot of a good story, or) chopping off somebody’s hand. This is more Theatre of Brutality, in all its blood-drinking, bone-snapping, gullet-wrenching Coliseum tradition. Even so, one feels a sense of Artaudian cruauté permeating this Shakespearean splatterfest, for no matter how wild the ride becomes there are revelations – other than the Apocalyptic kind – about the residence of the human soul in places nobody wants to shine light on.

Not that the loathsome crimes depicted are too far removed from similar plotlines cued up each week on episodes of SVU or CSI: Miami – only here, instead of the slick jump cuts the horrors of sexual violence are shown in the kind of extreme forensic detail only theatre can provide. No wonder people want to look away. No wonder they walk out. Because it is a cruel trick to let someone think they are coming to watch Shakespeare; only to shatter that illusion by giving up a grisly sequence of ritualistic assaults and murders strung together by the odd bit of iambic pentameter. But then that’s what Elizabethan theatre was for the most part; bloody revenge tragedies. In 16C though, one can imagine groundlings cheering with every hacked limb, their voices outstripping the finer points of any poetry the Bard may have thought to add into varied dialogues on moral justice (for example). No groundlings at this venue. Certainly no-one cheering the rape of Lavinia. “This is his worst play” someone quipped behind me at half-time. Of course one of those people had also been chattering quietly throughout Act I so one quietly wanted to stab them in the eyeball. Revenge Tragedy. The only difference is you.

What would Artaud make of Cry Havoc’s Titus Andronicus, one wonders, with their emblazoned dedication to the canon; a play never taught as a masterpiece, but embracing the visceral image theatre, a tradition of truth-telling at the core of performance that demands nearly impossible feats from the cast. None will know, for this is the twenty-first century Titus – the French theorist’s disdain for the classics is of no importance to a 2011 audience, is it? How much of the audience just wants blood for blood? I know I did.

There lies the true horror of this play. That we are creatures of malice, however intended. Revenge does not need to descend into madness to succeed, it is not blind, it feeds on what is wrong, the kind of pure and simple fact that something is awry. Sit in the audience and dare to feel otherwise. I couldn’t. Look. Away.

Titus Andronicus, by William Shakespeare; playing at ATYP ‘Under the Wharf’. Directed by Kate Revz, featuring Helmut Bakaitis, Gabriel Fancourt, Sam Haft, Sean Hawkins, Drew Livingstone, Megan O’Connell, Suzanne Pereira, Berynn Schwerdt, Demetrios Sirilas, Tom Stokes, Anthony Taufa, Aaron Tsindos and Eloise Winestock. Playing until November 5th.

02/11/2011 at 12:51 pm 2 comments

HOW LUCKY WE ARE

LUCKY

New Theatre, October 2011. Presented by IPAN International Performing Arts Network in association with The Spare Room

The politicians don’t care for much beyond the populism of the day. The people tut-tut each other or heckle with home-made signs, and the boats keep smashing on distant rocks. There will be a day, we hope against hope, when the plight of international refugees will be acknowledged, and the western world will take on the responsibility it needs to face; globally, collectively, spiritually – to reach out to the downtrodden and persecuted peoples. Only when we fully accept the role such privilege plays in the global imbalances that create such desperation can we move forward. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but for the sake of our collective human soul. We must act with compassion. Not just in a “let them stay” kind of begrudging welcome (which is all we seem able to barely manage now)- but in a full acknowledgement of the privileges we are born to. To know just how lucky we are, we must face up to the misfortunes of others.

One can get on one’s high horse when it comes to people smuggling, whichever side of the fence one rides.

Lucky for us this play does no such thing. It brings the human stories, stripped down to their bare bones and rags, their most human of hopes riding waves of disappointment. It’s a difficult work to express, and director Sama Ky Balson has opted for simplicity in set and movement, allowing the measured, sparse poetry of the script to float around the production’s impressive physical and image theatre core. The third element in play is Joseph Nezeti’s sound design, comprising live vocals and harmonies that bring out the dreamlike qualities inherent in the script.

Dutch playwright Ferenc Alexander Zavaros has created a challenging piece for the cast to present; part realism part expressionism, and these challenges will translate for the audience as the cast bring a tone that recollects the detached voice of a poet reading their own work off the page. This, along with some slower pacing in the opening sequence means one needs to work that much harder to reach into the world of the play. But once we make that leap of empathy, the language and the semi-hypnotic physicality of the performance overcome the natural limitations this style of theatre can bring for an audience. One has to work towards engaging with the text, it’s deliberate that way – with poetry struggling against the possible, with the possible pushing up against the barriers of translation and the cut-throat desperation that comes with the will to survive.

So it isn’t much to ask an audience to sit forward and actively engage with this work. It’s not that difficult, but we cannot simply sit back and let this wash over us like so much entertainment. The play asks us to put in a little bit of work, and so it should, since the perils of asylum seekers and people smuggling will not go away without some effort on all our parts. But we shan’t get too preachy. People are not political chips, nor bodies piled up for one to take the moral high ground. This is quite a beautiful and rewarding piece of stagecraft, recommended for those of a mind for something that challenges without confronting, and probes without asking too many of the obvious questions. Go see.

Lucky, by Ferenc Alexander Zavaros. Playing at the New Theatre until October 22. Featuring Guy Simon, Drew Wilson, Hoa X with Joel Corpuz and Conrad Le Bron.

Photograph (c) Robbie Pacheco

10/10/2011 at 11:20 am 2 comments

THIS IS WHAT WE CALL FREEDOM

A Quiet Night in Rangoon
Presented by subtlenuance, at the New Theatre, August, 2011

Directly opposite the New Theatre is a shop window with a map of South East Asia facing the street. Upon leaving the theatre it becomes immediately apparent how close, and yet so far Burma is from the world we know. A place of unimaginable beauty and horror. A place that peppers our nightly news with sporadic reports of disaster, uprising or oppression, stories which quickly fade into distance as we tackle our more immediate First World Problems. Burma can wait. After all, it’s been under military rule for nearly fifty years, what’s one more day?

It’s this everyday tyranny where the play lurks. In the experiences of trickle-down corruption, in the human-impact stories of a place bound up in knots of idealism and fear. It goes into some interesting corners, meditating on the seeming impossibility of technology and the oppressive military state coexisting with the sensual and spiritual side to the city. The ever-present Lake and Buddhism serve as prominent motifs to counterpoint the brutality of the main narrative. The writing utilises an array of symbolic and expressionistic techniques to explore how such an entrenched military system has imprinted itself on every facet of Burmese life. Even the powers themselves cannot escape such vile, soul-destroying consequences as will come with any abuse of power. And let’s not tread euphemistically when it comes to the Burmese military. They have systematically assaulted, starved, abused and kidnapped the citizens in a callous defence of their own position. Bully Generals, every one. Under such a regime we must redefine our notions of freedom, of hope, of purpose, of humanity. For a westerner to bring ideals into this place would be hopelessly naive.

This is where Katie Pollock’s script opens itself up, her fish-out-of-water scenario is played out through the eyes of the archetypically clueless Australian ‘journalist’ (cheekily named Piper Marx), whose personal quest becomes simply dwarfed into irrelevancy by the circumstances around her. By acknowledging that the Western world has no answers, we are then able to simply see into the lives of the characters. With a minimalist approach to the set and direction, director Paul Gilchrist has put his fine cast front and centre, without over-milking the intensity of the script and letting the comic moments pierce through with a gentle truth. This is not an easy play to contend with. It will challenge any ensemble, and any audience – but to bear with the challenges pays great dividends, as it not only draws you in but educates, provokes thought and discussion. Important, political theatre that’s not clear-cut or moralising – a rare thing.

A Quiet Night in Rangoon plays at the New Theatre until September 10. Featuring Shauntelle Benjamin, John Buencamino, Felino Dolloso, Aileen Huynh, Sonya Kerr, Kathryn Schuback and Barton Williams.

19/08/2011 at 3:11 pm 1 comment

“We can’t talk to shadows in the street”

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH

presented by Company B Belvoir, August, 2011

When I was a small boy, back in the early 17th Century, I used to look at the strange people on the street as we went past in our carriage and wonder about the lives they lead, their fears, hopes and the many different stories they all had to tell. It’s a fascination I have always had with the city, and the strangeness that comes with being in such proximity of strangers. It’s an affliction I’m guessing is common to storytellers the world over, when they look at their local area, and think things like “where do all these people come from?” or “how many others are there in the world with dreams like mine?” But there’s that convention, that social nuance that prevents us reaching to find out about those who surround us, that business that keeps the mind’s eye focused inward, stuck on our own little world of problems, not so much on the manifold difficulties of the rest of the world.

And this is where things break down. Try as I might, I can’t help but see this production in the context of extraordinary events as have happened in London in recent days. Even though it’s ostensibly about street communities in a suburban city of Australia, it’s about so much more. How the personal is political, how we can carry so much weight of the world – together yet somehow alone. How this culture of picket-fenced segregation leads to whole communities alienated from each other and themselves. How this self-interest leads to the loss of wisdom between generations, which might seem some small thing but can become catastrophic.

Lally Katz has crafted a rare morality fable imbued with modern wit and fear; set around this unlikely friendship between an impressionable young woman Catherine and the indomitable, effusive, charismatic, irresistible Ana across the street. Within simple this framework are such leaps of imagination, magic, music and mystery that draw in its audience, stealthily as I have ever seen, teasing out the empathy with delight and genuine moments of horror or surprise throughout. You know it’s working when your feelings toward a character flare simply because they turned up. Or shift and flip at the behest of a single line – it’s an intoxicating brew of kindness and strangers.

I can say no more without making spoilers. The understated direction from Simon Stone allows the simplest detail of costume or voice to transport us anywhere – almost at the actor’s whimsy; which in harmony with Stefan Gregory’s gorgeous soundtrack and sound design has helped create a new entry to the modern canon. This play will go far. It’s Australian in context – but these are universal stories, set locally, but they could be the voices of any two women, across the street or across the world. It barely matters these days. Global, local, personal, political – everything is connected.

Neighbourhood Watch, By Lally Katz, directed by Simon Stone, featuring Charlie Garber, Megan Holloway, Kris McQuade, Ian Meadows, Heather Mitchell & Robyn Nevin. Playing at Belvoir St Theatre until August 28.

12/08/2011 at 12:54 pm 2 comments

“LOOK IN MY MIND”

OJO

presented by Strings Attached & Younes Bachir
Underbelly Arts Festival, Turbine Hall, Cockatoo Island, July 2011


This site-specific, one-off performance was probably the hottest ticket on the island last Saturday, and those lucky enough to get a booking were mostly unsure what to expect. If they had done the Underbelly Arts Lab tour in the fortnight leading up to the festival they might have known it would be physical, aerial theatre exploring humanity in its primal, post-catastrophic element. But we should know better than to reduce expressionism down to baser meanings, and be ready to accept a performance as it stands. Or in this case, take it as it runs, desperately seeking food or shelter, oblivious to the peering masses of onlookers crowding the cavernous space, we should take this sort of theatre as it screams, as it flies, as it hungers, as it fights for survival. For the one thing it does not do is simply stand still. Or when it does, it’s as a metaphor covered in meat.

As this performance is once-only I feel at liberty to explain; the bulk of the piece takes place at one end of the massive turbine hall. After a poetic prologue from a delirious flying dreamer we are invited through, behind canvas curtains, into a place he describes as “my mind”. There are no seats, and milling around we discover various bodies twisted, shivering amongst mud and metal wreckage, pieces of cars, clotheslines, the detritus of our time. If anyone else like me had been irked by the glut of “disaster porn” earlier this year, it was irresistible to be reminded of that by the shifting, shuffling crowd, not wanting to look too close, but all angling for a glimpse of these suffering humans. Too evocative of that unspeakable pain we could not help but see broadcast over and over to the point of fatigue.

So begins a series of violent theatrical vignettes as the people emerge from the wrecked piles of junk and literally, metaphorically and physically begin to rebuild society. What was a matter of desensitisation is now shocked back at us in the wonderful post-industrial expressionism of a crazed world. Echoes of Lord of the Flies and Tetsuo: Bodyhammer resonate to capture the bizarre fusion of human and technology, fear and futurism. The audience are as much involved as spectator, being shunted around as new elements of the performance begin or end we must move toward or away from the action. It’s pure spectacle and music in Aristotle’s terms; with characters as primal archetypes in mimesis, the barest of narrative as a visual catharsis.

I always wonder why ‘traditional’ theatre writers can’t seem to cope with new forms as these. Audiences seem to love it. It’s equally puzzling when all the elements of the convention are present, just managed in new ways, new styles. But then, I suppose traditional theatre writers are too busy sharpening their pen-knives to dissect traditional theatre to worry about turning up to something so unconventionally imagined as this. It’s definitely theatre, definitely modern, and definitely just a little bit ancient and primal, too. Well I for one; don’t mind if one less critic is in the audience. OJO was sold out, so more luck for the rest of us.

photos by Catherine McElhone – www.catherinemcelhone.com

OJO: at the Underbelly Arts Festival, Cockatoo Island. Featuring Younes Bachir, Alejandro Rolandi, LeeAnne Litton, Dean Cross, Kathryn Puie, Angela Goh, Matt Cornell, Mark Hill, Kate Sherman, Carolyn Eccles, Gideon PG, Robbie Ho, Matt Rochford, Elisa Bryant, Charlie Shelly, Julia Landery, Victoria Waghorn, Cameron Lam, Craig Hull, Leanne Kelly.

20/07/2011 at 5:10 pm 2 comments

“We Were Meant To Be Explorers”

The Farnsworth Invention

presented by the New Theatre, July 2011

I really enjoyed this, it ripples with energy and character; the show has a cast of about eight million (performed by a modest ensemble of nineteen), featuring glorious little cameos and minor roles that pepper the main narrative as driven by the central conflict between Sarnoff & the eponymous inventor Farnsworth. The historical element is something of a fascination and Aaron Sorkin’s script deftly handles the elements of dry science behind the story of a troubled genius and his vision to create the revolutionary household device we know as the idiot box. There are obvious parallels with that other Sorkin penned story of late but the similarities end quickly as the duelling entrepreneurs here both carry far more charisma and empathy than their malignant modern counterparts of The Social Network. This story explores the tension between science and capitalism (sound familiar?) with a subtle hand, drawing a battle over intellectual property into a wider debate over commercial interests, collaboration and the ugly side of corporate politics.

One day someone is going to reveal to us the attractive side to this world, surely; but for this story we are vividly transported into the context of the nineteen twenties – and there’s an understated nostalgia which lightens the tone of what’s really a pretty vicious prize fight told from two very different perspectives. A neat trick to have the protagonists stop and argue the different sides of the story as the action unfolds, what could be a painful stop-start works a treat as director Louise Fischer keeps an almost rolling scene-change pace with her actors barely slowing down a jot – it’s almost too hard to keep up! With Sorkin you want it fast and tight and fans of his work will not be disappointed, newcomers are in for a treat and those just after a terrific night out away from the television should book this into their schedules. After all, what is life without a little exploration?

The Farnsworth Invention, at the New Theatre, plays until August 13.
featuring Shannon Ashlyn, Patrick Connolly, Robert Edwards, Errol Henderson, Lynden Jones, John Keightley, Naomi Livingstone, Corinne Marie, Ruben Neeson, Marty O’Neill, Samantha Roylance, Kate Shearer, Mark Sippel, Gary Smith, Damian Sommerlad, Chris Turner, Paul Whiddon, Amanda Wiltshire and Robert Zavadszky

14/07/2011 at 1:47 pm 2 comments

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