Friday, March 23, 2018

In The Heights

Photo by Grant Leslie

Blue Saints Productions, in association with Hayes Theatre Co presents, IN THE HEIGHTS, Music and Lyrics, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Book by, Quiara Alegria Hudes, at the Hayes Theatre, Greenknowe Ave. Potts Point. 16 MKarch - 16 April.

IN THE HEIGHTS is an American Musical that first saw the light of day in 2005 and arrived on Broadway in 2008. It was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, and won 4, including Best musical. This work was conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the Lyrics and Music, and is centred on a corner of shops in Washington Heights, a borough to the North of Manhattan, occupied by an Hispanic community.

We meet the hard working neighbourhood denizens, through the rap/hip-hop of our narrator and 'hero' Usnavi (Ryan Gonzalez) - himself running a coffee/drink stall - who are all on the edge of change, and we watch, over the two and a half hours of the show (interval included), a generational story where we see the old and the young fighting to maintain and protect what they have on the one hand, and breaking free on the other.

It is a story we have met before - the Book by Ms Hudes is a bit predictable/ordinary - but is different in this instance as it is told through the vibrant culture of Spanish-speaking dreamers of the American Dream in an innovative and uniquely witty musical language incorporating rap and hip-hop and a salsa fusion. It is a kind of NORTH SIDE STORY without Bernstein - it is interesting to note that it was Mr Miranda who provided the Spanish lyrics for the Puerto Rican gang, The Sharks, in a recent Broadway production of WEST SIDE STORY - his witty lyrics for IN THE HEIGHTS, a boon for the show. Although, for my ear, we don't have the variety of musical language of the Bernstein opus, we do have instead a vibrancy of musical score that excites as a curious and exotic 'learning', that is thrilling in its own vocabulary.

On the Hayes stage it is explosively commanded by Lucy Bermingham, the Musical Director, with arrangements of the music that thrill and vibrate the Hayes space with an energetic propulsion that like a cyclonic wind lifts the performers into ecstatic states of song belief and choreographic 'violence' of breathtaking daring.

The Choreography by Amy Campbell is excitingly dangerous, delivering the first act climax in THE CLUB with punch, pizzaz and a movement language that has a kind of elegance of execution from the performers that leaves one breathless and dazzled.

Director, Luke Joslin has cast actors that can walk the walk, talk the talk, song the song, and dance the dance - not a moment of doubt, not a faltering of courage is detectable - commitment from all is 'full-on'.

 Ryan Gonzalez (Usnavi) - this is his second offer on the Hayes stage this year, his virtuoso drag queen (Freddy/Aurora/Whoreaelis) in THE VIEW UPSTAIRS was a similar knock-out - Olivia Vasquez (Vanessa), Tim Omaji (Benny), Luisa Scrofani (Nina) all carry confidently, brilliantly, the opportunities of the 'music/play' with great support from Samantha Bruzzese, Libby Asciak, Will Centurion, Monique Montez, Michelle Rozario, Stephen Tannos and Richard Valdez.

Whilst, I have never heard Margi De Ferranti (Abuela Claudia) better - her song 'Paciencia y Fe' (Patience and Faith) a highlight of act one; and the volatile characterisation by Ana Maria Belo (Camilla) is startling, her song, 'Enough', a comic piece of bravura; with added winning turns of complete believability from Marty Alix, giving a 'reading' of Sonny of complex accuracies and charm, and Alexander Palacio, as Kevin, a fortress of dignity in the turbulence of his character's life's ambitions (beauty in his vocals). This company of performers can hardly be faulted.

The Design elements, the Set by Simon Greer, seems to create space like the amazing Tardis of Dr Who - an illusion of vastness - and so much more convincing than the recent CARMEN for Opera Australia, I thought. The costumes by Elizabeth Franklin, are colourful, demarcating character and providing practicalities for the huge needs of the show with craft and insight. The 'champion' of the Design creatives, however, must be the nuanced Lighting Design from Trudy Dalgleish, that covers general atmospheric deliberation balanced with an intimacy of detail that catches the faces of the actors to keep the story pointed - a small 'miracle' accomplished on this difficult stage.

This Production of IN THE HEIGHTS, has been brought to the Hayes Theatre through the production house of Blue Saint: Josh Robson and Damien Birmingham. This work meets and surpasses their previous gift: the award winning VIOLET.

On the web site I see that this show has already extended its season and Sold Out - Returns maybe your only chance - I should beg, borrow, or definitely, pull those favours to get a ticket, if I were you.

IN THE HEIGHTS, is the pre-cursor of Lin-Manuel Miranda's HAMILTON. I hope it doesn't take ten years, like this production, before we get to see it in Sydney.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Flight Paths

Photo by Noni Carroll

National Theatre of Parramatta present, FLIGHT PATHS, by Julian Larnach, in the Lennox Theatre, at The Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. 16th March - 24th March.

FLIGHT PATHS, is a new Australian play, by Julian Larnach.

Two separate stories. One tells us of Emily (Airlie Dodds), a young woman, who goes to Africa as a volunteer to take part in the manual construction of a school for an Australian Humanitarian organisation that she has worked for and admires. She meets another, a jaded volunteer, Charlie (Aileen Huynh), and Adhama (Richie Morris), the leader of the tasks in Africa. The other tells of Luisa (Ebony Vagulans), a 17-year-old African-Australian woman, who on scholarship has travelled to Oxford University to study. In the Orientation Week, she encounters her appointed mentor, Anika (Monica Kumar) and two white men of power, Tom and Max (both, played by Brandon McClelland). The play is a kind of coming of age journey for these two women as they negotiate their 'privileged' way through the realities of a society that maybe not be as pristine in the cloak of optimism that they have endowed it with and believed in.

It is Africa that connects the two women, the two stories.

Made up of many short scenes to encompass the two worlds, FLIGHT PATHS begins in a less than easy manner and does quite destabilise easy access or clarity to what is happening - let alone that these early scenes are burdened distractingly, with some very lame attempts at 'jokes'/comedy. But, a rhythm and gradual identification begins to assert itself through the persistent focus of the young company of actors, and gradually, in a one-act, no-interval 90 minutes, we are drawn into the dilemmas of the women and the moral debate.

Last year we saw another play by Mr Lanarch: IN REAL LIFE, at the Darlinghurst Theatre, and FLIGHT PATHS is in its, ultimately, intertwined scenario, Directed by Anthea Williams, a considerable advance on what was a promising introduction to his writing skills. Ms Williams, has, as well, harnessed the skills of Designer, Jeremy Allen, and on a Traverse stage configuration, in the Lennox Theatre, has moved her actors around on a set of abstract shapes, lit seductively, by Verity Hampson and supported in the many scene crossfades - kept enlivened - with a Sound Design, by Michael Toisuto.

Too, the young company of actors have been gently stretched into their offers, by their director, and account charmingly with subtle nuance the 'unpeeling' of the experience of the naive.

The National Theatre of Parramatta has at last, for me, developed a work of some youthful merit that I can recommend. A promising writer, some very interesting young actors and Design creatives, led securely and intelligently by Anthea Williams.

The Wolves

Red Line Productions present, THE WOLVES, by Sarah DeLappe, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Wooloomoloo. 14th March - 14th April.

THE WOLVES is a first play by American, Sarah DeLappe, written in 2016, a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize.

THE WOLVES are a female teenaged indoor soccer team. We meet nine of them them over several pre-game warm-up sessions, exercising like crazy, not only their bodies, but, also, their tongues that can, at any one time, manage to negotiate conversation about their studies concerning the Khymer Rouge, to their 'history' with tampons, abortions, and facts such as the new girl lives in a yoghurt (meaning yurt)! The conversations are overlapped and shared equally by most of the girls and what surfaces is a gradual pattern of verbal indirection that undramatically, slowly, reveals, the idiosyncrasies of each, as they move forward in time from their 'girlishness' to the cusp of maturity, signalled by the breathless anticipation of being 'scouted' - separated - for a college team. THE WOLVES is about a team and only one of the girls is named. We come to recognise them as individuals distinguished otherwise only by their player's number.

Ms DeLappe creates a story in an environment that is physically energetic, with dynamic content shifts from the very personal, that can be both hurtful and endearing, to the altruisms of their world's social studies. The robust energy of these soccer players is captured with an uncanny accuracy, in a tight 'musical' writing construct by Ms DeLappe that requires an orchestration of the voices and subtle shaping of the material, supported by an 'invisible' stage choreography for dramatic focus, from the Director.

Jessica Arthur, the Director has found a soccer drill for each of the scenes that has the effect of dance routines - pleasing to the eye. What she hasn't yet managed is the harnessing - disciplining - of the energies of some of her young cast that tend, as storytellers, to obviously indicate the dramatic 'turning points' of their responsibilities, not trusting that the writer is clearly in control and is expert in revealing those changes without the over earnest need for the actor to demonstrate/indicate them for the audience. There is a pattern of excited robust acting (by some of the actors) that breaks the skilful subtlety of the writing and takes us out of the absorbing belief in the 'reality' to have us register, unconsciously or not, that we are in a theatre, watching a play. Too, the necessary 'choral 'conducting' of the voices, by the Director, has not yet found a seamless harmonic utterance for the ensemble of these actors - they sound, mostly, like individual instruments, not an egoless orchestra.

As a result, in this production, the play loses its accumulative impact, for much like an Annie Baker play (also, a contemporary American writer) - say, THE FLICK or JOHN - it is in the undramatic, unremarkable, untheatrical repetition of the verbal and physical action that the power of the life force of these young women can be - is - perceived. Much like a Chekhov play, THE WOLVES, should appear to be about nothing much until it is all told. Some of Ms Arthur's actors haven't the discipline to trust their writer and pre-empt the whole by overplaying the parts - their parts.

However, this production is full of explosive energy both individually and collectively - it is hard to resist the generalised atmosphere engendered by this company in such a small space as the Old Fitz, and Designer, Maya Keys (Set and Costume), along with Veronique Benett with her Lighting Design, have created an exciting space, that, in the scene black-outs is enhanced by the propelling Sound Design from Clemence Williams.

This ensemble is not all in the same play, Ms DeLappe's refined play. The most interesting of the actors are the instincts of Brenna Harding, as #24, the team captain, negotiating her way through the petty politics of her charges and the off-stage coach, dealing delicately with a growing personal knowledge of a particular sensibility; Nikita Waldron, #46, the new girl from the yurt, with a talent for the sport, and Cece Peters, #7, the ambitious but frustrated team member buffeted early in life by 'injury' of both a physical and psychological nature.

This production of THE WOLVES is not as good as the playwriting but is worth the visit.

The Shifting Heart

Photo by Danielle Lyonne
White Box Theatre and Seymour Centre presents, THE SHIFTING HEART, by Richard Beynon, in the Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 8th March - 24th March.

THE SHIFTING HEART is a revival production of an Australian play by Richard Beynon, premiered in 1957 in Sydney, that, then, under the sponsorship of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, subsequently, toured the nation and had production in the London West End in 1959. This production is part of the Reginald Program supporting Independent Theatre. The play is part of the syllabus for NSW schools.

Following the catastrophe of World War II there was an Immigration policy from the Australian Government to populate the country with Immigrants (refugees) from Europe. This saw a 'wave' of peoples from countries of the British Empire and Mediterranean. The Italian arrivals were part of that policy.

THE SHIFTING HEART, concerns an Italian family, the Bianchi's, who have been resident for some 8 years in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, and we meet them on a hot Christmas Eve and Day. Poppa Bianchi (Tony Poli) and his wife, Momma (Dina Panozza), have worked hard and managed to buy there home whilst bringing up two children, now grown up, Maria (Ariadne Sgouros) and Gino (David Soncin).

The play examines the careless discrimination and attitudes towards these 'new' arrivals that sometimes escalated into violence and tragedy, abetted by the lethal indifference of authority, such as the police, represented in the play with the presence of Detective Sgt. Lukie (Lawrence Coy). We meet, from one side of the fence, white Australian neighbours: sympathetic Leila Pratt (Di Smith) and her, relatively, socially, 'comatose' husband, Donny (Lawrence Coy), and learn of the openly hostile other-side-of the-fence neighbours who have been a source of a kind of unspoken 'warfare' against these newcomers to Australia. We hear verbal references to the Bianchi family as 'dagoes', 'wogs', (which reminded me of my upbringing that also used epithets such as 'reffos' for my neighbours, the Vivivandi's, an Italian market gardener family that grew potatoes, carrots and flowers [stock and poppies], next door.)

Poppa and Momma have borne social difficulties with gracious, cautious gratitude for their 'good fortune', for the benefit of their children. It is there, with the children, that the real heart, the shifting heart, of the story beats as we watch Maria, who has married and is pregnant to an 'Aussie', Clarry Fowler (Lucas Lineman), and Gino, who has proudly taken on Australian citizenship - these two generational 'in-betweeners', the 'halfies', both Italian and Australian, neither, wholly, one or the other - attempting to negotiate their way through the 'mine-field' of actively hostile prejudice.

The concerns of the play, written in 1957 are, alarmingly, as relevant today as it was then. True, today, it is a new and different 'wave' of immigrant/refugees, but the superficial attitudes of our dominant community, driven, perhaps, by deep seated fear, created by defensive ignorance, has altered little. The contemporaneous relevance of the play is stunning - excitedly, shocking.

The play has the 'melodramatic' structure, event and characterisation, reflective of its contextual literary period, but is no less a powerful experience, today. I speculate, that there is something almost 'New Form' about the experience, perhaps, for a young audience, who may have to deal in 'real time', for the first time, in extended naturalism, emotional conflicts of acts of physical and mental violence, that period-wise, contextually, is seen as 'normal', without the ease of edit, or political correct concerns to soften, censor, the edges of what they are watching.

I would, also, suggest that many in the audience may be moved to tears by the denouement experienced by the Bianchi family, at the end of this play, who have weathered such a difficult Christmas celebration, and reflect on their own personal and societal attitudes to the refugee plight in their Australia, today. I, was, both, in tears, and reflective.

Kim Hardwick, as Director, with her Designer, Isabel Hudson, abetted by The Lighting Design by Martin Kinnane have created a setting and a patina of atmosphere that is conducive to engage the audience into believing the events of THE SHIFTING HEART with an ease of imaginative conviction.

The actors are solid in their understanding and commitment to the world of the play and the importance of what they are telling. Dina Panozzo especially zestful in her organic creation of the complex shifts and changes of Momma Bianchi, whilst, Di Smith is mordantly witty in her characterisation of the woman, Leila, experiencing the burden and traditions of a marriage of the period, who is still aching with a generosity of goodness that, surprisingly, has not being worn away to bitterness.

This production of THE SHIFTING HEART, is a more than enjoyable storytelling experience that has a deep and evident relevance for us all. A 'Classic' piece of Australian writing that will resonate with all who get to see it.  I recommend that you do.

Lethal Indifference

Photo by Prudence Upton
Sydney Theatre Company presents, LETHAL INDIFFERENCE, by Anna Barnes, in the Wharf 1 Theatre, at the Sydney Theatre Company, Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay. 22 February - 10 March.

LETHAL INDIFFERENCE is a new Australian play/monologue by Anna Barnes. This work has been nurtured by the Development Wing of the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), the Rough Draft Program, since 2016.

In a secure (but grey) bedroom in an apartment above ground we meet our protagonist (the Woman), played intriguingly by Emily Barclay, who embarks on telling us the story of a woman, Deema, who is the victim of family/domestic violence, and despite fulfilling all the requirements of the legal system to ensure her own safety, met a more than tragic ending.

The text is almost of a stream-of-consciousness quality, that, seemingly, meanders through other incidents and events that are not part of Deema's story, but as a jigsawed whole, by the end of the 90 minutes or so, make up a cohesive vision of a certain part of our society that needs attention to be paid to it. The collective digressions around the principal narrative thrust of the play underlines other neglects of support for women in extreme vulnerabilities and, perhaps, our own 'vicarious trauma' or 'empathy fatigue' in what is a hideous and insidious growing behaviour of Lethal Indifference.

Emily Barclay gently and without melodramatic offers, under the understated and detailed Direction of Jessica Arthur, draws us into the character of our narrator and the 'population' of her preoccupations. She tells simply, but admirably, with increasing vulnerable sensibility this important story by Anna Barnes, such that the tension of absorption by the audience, I was with, was palpable. It is a performance of some real skill and empathetic humanity that could not be further from the explosive creation of Ms Barclay's murderous Katrina in the 2006 film SUBURBAN MAYHEM, or other of her theatre performances (e.g. STRANGE INTERLUDE; THE SEAGULL). LETHAL INDIFFERENCE revealed the dramatic range of this actor to startling effect.

This is the second play from writer Anna Barnes I have seen: minusonesister was the first, and both reveal a talent of some quality and social conscience and advocacy (although, some small editing could be useful to LETHAL INDIFFERENCE).

N.B. I have just seen the Academy Award Foreign Language film, the Chilean, A FANTASTIC WOMAN, telling the story of a transgender woman (played impeccably by Daniela Vega) enduring the lethal indifference that she encounters from a family and society at large in her adjustment to a tragedy that has turned her world upside down. I highly recommend it as a further provocative experience of the political zeitgeist of the rise of consciousness and the embracement through storytelling, of the contemporary injustices towards women in our community.

Friday, March 16, 2018

One Way Mirror

subtlenuance presents ONE WAY MIRROR, by Paul Gilchrist at the Blood Moon Theatre, The World Bar, Kings Cross. 14 - 24 March.

ONE WAY MIRROR, is a new Australian play, by Paul Gilchrist, produced by Daniela Giorgi, partners in subtlenuance, a Sydney based, independent theatre company dedicated solely to the creation of new work.

Ushered into the Blood Moon Theatre space, which is really a momentarily occupied bar space belonging to the The World Bar, we are met by the company of actors in everyday clothes, and invited to sit around the walls to observe a 'discussion'.

It begins with the introduction to a 'potted' history of the World War II war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, up to his trial (and later hanging) for his complicit organising of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Eichmann's defence at his trial was that he was simply 'obeying orders'. We, then, are introduced to Stanley Milgram, a famed American social psychologist, who devised an experiment to explore man's willingness to perform acts conflicting with their own personal conscience. The results were published in 1963 as BEHAVIORIAL STUDY OF OBEDIENCE and were a cause of controversy, but not only for the scientific results, but, also, because of the debate that ensued about the ethics of the basic experimental design: a mixture of innocent subjects were used with prepared 'confederates' - actors, at $4 an hour - to establish the results for the research.

This is where the writer, Paul Gilchrist enters the fray. From his program notes:
The use of actors as stooges or confederates in psychological experiments has a long history. Tonight's show is not an attempt to detail that history, but rather an opportunity to share something ..... maybe some questions.

Do we behave differently when we are watched? Is the sense of being observed a fundamental aspect of the human condition? We're tempted to see Performer and Audience as some sort of opposites, but are they? To what extent is each of us both?

What is the relationship between Science and Art? We're tempted to see Science and Art as some sort of opposites, but are they? Isn't each of these great human endeavours concerned, in their own way, with both Truth and Beauty? 
Just some idle questions....
Mr Gilchrist goes on to say that he hasn't, over the ten years of his work for subtlenuance, necessarily provided answers but has been grateful for been part of a discussion.

This work is an 'intellectual' discussion then - not a narrative play - on experiment ethics and the role of science and art, and the actors: Matthew Abotomey, Alison Benstead, Angus Evans, Sylvia Keays, Sonya Kerr, Mark Langham, Linda Nicholls-Gridley, Ash Sakha and Sheree Zellner, participate with a convinced competency. That the work does not quite lift off the page onto this stage has to do with, perhaps, the fact that Mr Gilchrist is also the Director, and is a trifle too close to the work to be able to see or hear whether what he has guided his actors to do is translatable for an audience to comprehend his writer's discussion. There are signs of conviction going on assuredly, from the actors, but less assuredly is the clarity of the intent and how the content is the development of an argument for the thesis of the writer to inspire insight in/for his audience.

In Sydney, we rarely have such ambitious intents from our writers. Intellectual discussion on ethics and other moral modern dilemmas are rarely embarked upon in the theatre experience, here. Mr Gilchrist has an interesting purview and one would like to take away from his efforts more than curiosity and, certainly, less befuddlement.

At the moment I feel ONE WAY MIRROR is, literally, a one way mirror. I could not see anything, while in the theatre, but my reflected bewilderment. I could not grasp, in the moment, what was happening and how or why it should concern me.

See for yourself.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Shakespeare Dance Party

The Leftovers Collective present, SHAKESPEARE DANCE PARTY, original Concept and Direction by Curly Fernandez, at the Hustle Flow Bar, 105 Regent St Redfern. 11 March.

SHAKESPEARE DANCE PARTY, was a rapper's gig incorporating the mysterious beats of DJ Jimmy New, using a Shakespearean monologue, taken in a faux competition between some 16 or so artists. It was an experiment in taking Shakespeare back to the 'rabble', hosted by MC Jag. There were 4 heats, of micro-phoned Shakespearean speech dictated at rapper speed from the DJ, interrupted for more drinks, with an ultimate play-off between two crowd selected competitors. There was a winner, claimed by the noise of the rabble in rsponse !

And rabble, humoured with those autumnal afternoon drinks, and mostly friends of the performers, it was. The audience provided with 'cream pies' (the artillery) to barrage the performers in appreciation or otherwise, created a Mob rule of good humour and generous support (one reflected, amusedly, on the energy in the space in contrast to one's last visit to the Bell Shakespeare, as one wiped away the cream from the shoulder, hair, nose etc.)

The urge for this 'mad' event came from the posing of some serious questions from Curly, of the Leftovers Collective: What is True acting? Is it Art or is it Competition? Is the actor disposable? Can anyone act? No answers surfaced during a hi-jacked Q & A session that followed, if even, seriously, the questions were ever heard.

Yes, Virginia, there is a rebel heat out there in the arts, and this collective is a regular provocateur on the Sydney scene.

Merrily We Roll Along

Photo by Clare Hawley

Little Triangle presents, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by George Furth, at the The Depot Theatre, Addison Rd, Marrickville. 7 - 24 March.

This is the second production from this young company Little Triangle. The first was, last year, when they presented Stephen Sondheim's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. It seemed to me a herculean proposition and one 'doomed' to an unhappy end. To my surprise (and unhappy regret that I was so presumptuous ) the word-of-mouth could hardly praise that theatre experience enough. And I had heard from people that knew of what they were talking - it became a sell-out and I couldn't get a ticket.

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG is a musical from Sondheim of 1981 and sits between the great hits of SWEENEY TODD (1979) and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (1984). 'MERRILY' was a surprise Sondheim failure and closed after 57 previews and only 16 performances on Broadway. It is based on a 1934 play of the same name by George F. Kaufman and Moss Hart. George Furth, the Book writer for this musical updated the time frame to 1976 -1957 and begins with the jaundiced celebrations of the hero's triumphant Hollywood career as a film producer and then rewinds the clock to go backwards through time to recall other turning points in the relationship between three young excited aspirants for the arts: Franklin Shepard (Patrick Howard), Charley Kringas (Zach Selmes) and Mary Flynn (Victoria Zerest), finishing in 1953 in their college days.

This young company, with very young artists under the Direction of Alexander Andrews, have simplified the Design aspect (Design is also by Mr Alexander Andrews) - to the black box of this intimate 'room' space that is the Depot Theatre stage with a series of nine suspended white doors (OPEN NEW DOORS) on the back wall emblazoned with the year date for each of the episodes, with spare but necessary movable furniture and properties - with the Musical accompaniment reduced to two musicians with only two keyboards, a cello and a double bass led by Antonio Fernandez. It has been amazingly orchestrated and fulfils all expectations of the musical element of the writing.

I have seen this musical before and although of a minor nature in contrast to the famed works is a more than charming piece. The music is jaunty in its propulsion and has enough of the genius marks of the Sondheim milieu to keep one captured and enraptured - the lyrics are, as usual, a standout. What Mr Andrews, as Director has done is to keep the focus of the work on the dramatic spine of the characters journey without too much distraction from the burden of Design elements of nine periods - keeping everyone virtually in the same costume over the long time arc (Costume and Props, Mitchell Wassink) and with an uncomplicated choreographic choice. The emphasis is then on the song lyrics and the book development - the story and Mr Sondheim's point-of-view is as clear as a bell.

The full company of actor/singers are agile in their all their responsibilities and have the confidence of a well drilled and passionate co-hort that are enjoying the ensemble demands of Sondheim in this work. That it is being led by Patrick Howard in the leading role of Franklin Shepard is a great boon, for Mr Howard is extremely secure and handles the dramatics of the book well and has a voice of some power and nuance and leads the ensemble through the journey with leadership qualities that mirror the charisma of his actual character. The other principals, Zac Selmes, Victoria Zerest are surrounded with clearly defined work from Matilda Moran (Gussie), Shannen Sarstedt (Beth) and Richard Woodhouse (Joe).

Little Triangle are ambitious but also are very wise (canny). They are young and talented and so far have 'hitched' their efforts onto one of the greats of the Musical Theatre repertoire, Stephen Sondheim, who really cannot be less than good (though sometimes problematic) in any of his works thus far written. The company could not be better supported than by the quality of the writing, and with what I saw as discipline, clarity and meticulous harnessing of their passion, they have cleverly 'cut their cloth' (production) to the circumstances of their theatre to artistically solve the material to give its audience a no-frills but more than enjoyable time.

It seems to me that Little Triangle have another 'HIT' on its hands within the modest circumstances of their company's resources. I recommend MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG as worth a visit. I am so glad I took my self-admonishment to heart and ensured that I took in this production.

N,B. This production is using the revised version.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Being Dead (Don Quixote)

Unofficial Kerith Fan Club in association with MKA I Theatre of New Writing and KXT bAKEHOUSE present BEING DEAD (DON QUIXOTE), creation by Kerith Manderson-Galvin, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), Kings Cross Hotel. 6th - 10th March.

BEING DEAD (DON QUIXOTE) is a work created and performed by Kerith Manderson-Galvin. It has been seen at Blue Room (Perth) and the Spiegeltent (Melbourne). It is an evolving work and is "a dangerous quest of literary theft, build-your-own identity and post-anarchy that steals from Cervantes, Barbie and instant p*rn."

On the traverse stage of the KXT, against a pink gauze curtain we attend to a waiting figure in old-fashioned (large) but seemingly comfortable underwear - bra and panties - and a sheer one-piece stocking over the legs, accompanied with a theatrically embroidered mirrored sequinned head cap and an ostentatiously attached mouth microphone to the head/face (it occasionally sputters and 'burps' to derail the artist.)

Once we are seated we meet the 'persona' of a disingenuously shy and more than slightly incompetent artist - pretty-in-pink most of the night - who proceeds in a stream-of-consciousness conversation to take us on a 60 minute befuddled journey that attempts to bring Don Quixote, Sancho and, briefly, Dulcinea into the 'light' using a variety of theatrical gestures that includes, self-deprecating chat (with a lot of apology), dance, music (well chosen), song (including a sing-along: the chorus going: 'Give me a home among the gumtrees'), video (on a laptop) and pink costume 'puppetry'.

Kerith Manderson-Galvin is a beguiling energy, and despite the supposed incompetence and disorganisation of they/them 'persona', displays an armoury of theatrical skills of some sophistication. This sophistication of skills, frankly, in my experience of BEING DEAD (DON QUIXOTE), are employed in presenting a work that became more and more opaque as it proceeded to, ultimately, an underwhelming experience, whatever it was pursuing, both, in a literary sense and as a theatrical event.

This work has been brought to us by the above three companies and is the other part of KXT's contribution to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras events. ARE WE AWAKE?, by Charles O'Grady, was its recently seen partner.

Mardi Gras weekend, the 3rd-4th of March, has just passed and the celebrations are over and all are in 'recovery' mode. Many a celebrant 'high' on the 40th Anniversary (I suppose) are now in the transition to normality. That we were seeing this show on the 7th of March, well post-Mardi Gras, seemed to underline for me that this creation and performance had similarities of some conversations I had observed of people around Sydney proper, yesterday and today, in what is euphemistically called an 'ecky Tuesday/Wednesday' interaction. This 'pin-ball' bounce of ordinariness from concern to concern in (deliberate) conversational chat from our 'persona' on stage felt much like that familiarity, and unless one is in a similar 'state' of transition to normality, it can become quite a wearisome challenge to be attentive to.

There is intention with this creation, I think, to confront/traduce the 'norm' of theatrical gesture in its form and expressive tropes, and there is an appropriation of a famous literary text, Cervantes' DON QUIXOTE, but it seemed to me, no matter the skills and sleight-of hand employed by this artist, BEING DEAD (DON QUIXOTE), is an experience that failed to impact at a sufficient level of engagement, despite, at first, some initial charm. The 60 minutes or so, during this wind-up unwinding,  began to feel quite interminable.

I was reminded (kinda) of the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, experiences at past Art Festivals: Sydney (NO DICE) and Melbourne (LIFE AND TIME. EPISODES 1-4) and the costume sculptures of Justin Shoulder (CARRION AND THE RIVER EATS), and this work is a modest achievement in comparison, though comparisons, some say, can be odious (odiferous?).

The pink costume sculpture-puppetry 'dance' of some ten or so minutes, for instance, in the latter half of the work, was a modest offer and was present, I concluded, because the artist could do it. Its context in the structure of the work was simply baffling dramaturgically, and so I came to an ungenerous conclusion that it was a gratuitous flaunt of one of the artist's particular skills repertoire.

BEING DEAD (DON QUIXOTE) is for a 'family' friend cognoscenti, I think. No harm done and I am glad to have been charmed by Kerith Manderson-Galvin. With better dramaturgical clarity one might be encouraged to meet they/them again.

N.B. In the program: "Note for the reviewers: Kerith Manderson-Galvin uses the pronouns (they/them/theirs)"

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Kill Climate Deniers

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company presents, KILL CLIMATE DENIERS, by David Finnigan, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 23 February - 7 April.

KILL CLIMATE DENIERS is a new Australian play by David Finnigan. It was the winner of the Griffin Award in 2017.

The author of this play, Finig (Eden Falk) narrates this complex happening for us: Gwen Malkin (Rebecca Massey), the Environment Minster, along with her Media Advisor/Assistant, Georgina Bekken, (Sheridan Harbridge) are bent, determinedly, on an approach to Climate Change that is, ideologically, a welfare boon for their political party to assure the continuing reigns of Government stay in their hands. Meanwhile, a militant cell of eco-activists, led by a charismatic spokeswoman, Catch (Lucia Mastratone), with her principal 'henchwoman', (Emily Havea) and other terrorists, Throat, Lucky and Ebb - all with code names of famous music artists - are, similarly, bent on bending those same government policies to a different ideological solution, so take hostages, at a concert by Fleetwood Mac in the Parliament House, demanding that Australia immediately cease all carbon emissions and coal exports or, they will start executing those hostages, all 1,700 of them. Both sides become armed and in a scenario straight from film literature of the likes of DIE HARD or WHITE HOUSE DOWN, a show down of carnage evolves as both sides, appalling and murderous, begin a 'battle' that may lead to mutual extinction, both with parts of hero and villain.

KILL CLIMATE DENIERS is a controversial take on the climate change 'debate' in Australia.

This play was originally commissioned for the Canberra based theatre company, Aspen Island Theatre Company (Artistic Director, Julian Hobba), begun in 2013, with a government grant of $19,00 dollars. With the announcement of the play, the title alone, KILL CLIMATE DENIERS, roused the bellicose ire of Andrew Bolt and his conservative bloggers, sight unseen (or, read), resulting in the production being shut down in the ensuing storm. In this new version of the play, David Finnigan, has folded that 'scandal' into the text:
It's a play within a play, an action film inside a documentary, a satire inside a rave.
David Finnigan is a new voice and it is a very 'smart' voice at that. One feels stimulated with the verve of this man's intelligence and passion. From his program notes:
I've spent the last ten years producing theatre in collaboration with climate and earth system scientists. I produce 'science theatre' with a collective called Boho. ... In that work I spend a lot of time bending over backwards to 'avoid politicising the science', picking my words carefully to avoiding getting anyone offside. ... This play isn't that. This isn't going to change anyone's mind about anything. This is years of anger and despair tied up in a barrage of some of the best music our species has ever produced. This is everything I wanted to say but bit my tongue about, year after year, until I sat down and blurted it out in one hit. This is fuck it I'm scared, turn the volume all the way up, panic euphoria, hold hands tightly and let's go. Straighten up and fly right, ecstasy chasers. It takes a full day's work just to survive.
And that is the thrill and challenge of the writing in this play. I recommend that you buy the text/program in the foyer (Currency Press). Its presentation is unique and exciting - a very good and outrageously informative read. Lee Lewis has taken on the task of Directing this play and has created a dazzling set of offers, visually (Design, by Jonathan Hindmarsh; Lighting Design, by Trent Suidgeest; AV Designer, by Toby Knyvett)), and sonically (Sound Design, by Steven Toulmin) to accommodate Mr Finnigan's demands. Too, she has elicited performances, from most of her cast, of outstanding courage and brilliance, with Rebecca Massey 'butting head' with challenges of physical comedy of total hilarious brinkmanship with Lucia Mastratone, each 'topping' the other, aided and abetted by Sheridan Harbridge, who is no shrinking violet in the 'madcapping' arena of comic bravura - it can be deliriously funny. Mr Falk, in a fairly dramatically thankless but key role, asserts his intelligence to keep us apprised of the many 'Finnigan' twists-and-turns in the writing's ambitions/densities.

Ms Lewis in her program notes talks of the legend of this 'scandalous' play and of the 'wonder' (like all plays) heading into production, if his words can make their way off the page, onto the stage and into our consciousness in such a way that it can make a difference. The main play thrust of the hostage take and battle between the two 'warring' parties works a treat, but the written AV text/play scrolling up on the screens on the walls behind, dealing with the Bolt and cohort revolt - as well as the many self-referencing of the writer to himself in response to the chain reactions to the events - became the cause of an intrusive and confronting dilemma: which do I attend to? where do I give my focus? the live action or the textual information? The double and often simultaneous offers became a distracting alienation effect that Brecht, maybe, could not even manage, to serve and support the other. Maybe, too much is trying to be achieved here. Two simultaneous plays, too hard to absorb.

However, KILL CLIMATE DENIERS, at the SBW Stables Theatre, is a provocation to all of us who agree with the scientists and the eco-activists and yet sit, heads in the sand, relatively, passively, whilst our governments dither and slither from the courage of taking controversial leadership to make this planet earth sustainable for the future, for our children and childrens' children's future. The passionate stance of both sides in this play could/should sober us, and urge us to bring these parties together where sober reason could employ these passionate energies to bring compromise and inspirational negotiation to the fore, to help bring an urgent joint solution to fruition. For, otherwise it seems, extinction may become the only real option for our species, and that is not at all funny. Like the Gun Revolt led by High Schoolers in Florida, the kinetic action for change may come from the youth who will have most to deal with and lose. Our Children and their Children - for nature knows I'll be dead, more than likely, so why should I care too much? Hmmm.

Says Terrorist Throat:
In the mental picture you paint you need to think about your own house, where you live right now, and project 30 years. House aged by 30 years or so. You gotta have yourself in the picture. 30 years on, how old will you be? Do those calculations in your head before we go on. You gotta have your family, especially any children, they'll be adults.
Gotta have the east coast of NSW and Queensland hit by increasing storm surges, wiping out coastal towns.
Gotta have rising heat intense droughts destroying Australian farmland. 
Gotta have the temperature in the cities hitting 50 degrees, day after day, week after week. 
Gotta have boatloads of refugees fleeing climate disasters in Asia coming not in hundreds and thousands, but hundreds of thousands a year. 
Gotta have no more food on the supermarket shelves. Black markets for clothes and medical supplies and being unable to buy basics for your family. 
Gotta have massive dust storms blasting through the cities taking down power lines and causing brown outs and black outs. 
Gotta have hyper inflation, banks collapsing and taking your savings with them, not being able to spend the money in your wallet. 
Gotta have rich people sealing themselves off in air conditioned gated communities guarded by private security forces.
Gotta have police not responding to calls from poor suburbs, nurses looking after their own families rather than going to hospitals. 
Gotta have massive bush fires burning out of control with no-one left to fight them and whole suburbs on fire with everyone who didn't make it out alive. 
Gotta have a world population of 9 billion people with only enough food for half that many. 
Gotta have the government of Australia now desperate to keep climate change under control, but now the Arctic has melted, the huge methane bubbles that were trapped under the ice are beginning to rise, locking us in to more and more warming. Things are out of control and getting worse. 
We're approaching a bottleneck. And humanity is not going to scrape through to the other side without some horrific wounds. 
I hope you have imagined it vividly. Fortunately you're never going to see it, either because we've made it all up because climate change isn't an issue, or because we're going to murder you all tonight.'

KILL CLIMATE DENIERS, is worth a visit. It certainly puts THE TURQUOISE ELEPHANT, another play dealing with the urgent Climate Change debate, which we were given in this theatre not so long ago, into perspective as an effective experience.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Are We Awake?

Charles O'Grady in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre present ARE WE AWAKE?, by Charles O'Grady, in the Kings Cross Theatre, at The Kings Cross Hotel. February 21 - March 3.

This is a new Australian play by Charles O'Grady and is part of a season of plays being presented at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT) as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 2018.

Hypnos (Daniel Monks) and Endymion (Matthew Lee) are two young gay men living in Sydney in a very loving relationship that is expressed in very intimate terms. The love adoration is palpable between the two in the play. Endymion, however, has had an opportunity to work in another city, Melbourne, and is about to leave by plane for a crucial interview, that could resolvedly bring tremendous decisions of upheaval of location for both these young lovers. Now, this is a not an unusual crisis met by many in this contemporary world, but what complicates this particular story is the fact that one of them, Hypnos, has a chronic illness, and such a move will mean a major change for his continuing health support system. The fork-in-the-road, a crucial turning point, is imminent for this relationship. This story, ARE WE AWAKE?, unfolds particularly from Hypnos' point-of-view. The practical needs and the love needs, are intertwined with Hypnos' fear of abandonment.

In the publicity notes to this production we are told:
The play sidesteps conventional disability narrative of tragedy and inspiration, choosing to take a more complex and personal approach to the question of how a marginalised person can navigate a world designed to exclude them. ...

This is a very personal story that engages us with the focus on the 'courage' of Hypnos in dealing with the possibilities of how he may be able to manage his 'fate' alone without Endymion. It is the agony and ultimate ecstasy of this theatre experience. There is in this narrative no mitigated resolution and we are given just a presentation of a possible ending that is full of hope for the mental survival of Hypnos - he does have choices, there are alternatives.

Hypnos is in Greek mythology the personification of Sleep, his twin-brother is Thanatos, the personification of Death, and his children are the personification of Dreams. Endymion is a shepherd, love entranced. Charles O'Grady does not tell us of the interview and its success or not as that is not the issue pursued here, rather it is the questions that the two men are forced to ask themselves: are they holding too tight to their reality, or is what they reach for just a dream?

Are they awake? Truly, awake?

Director, Sarah Hadley, has a firm hand on the story and elicits two strong performances from both her actors in a Design environment by Tilly Robba, that has a telling atmospheric (and practical) influence to the tone of the performance. The Sound Design is remarkably influential in creating the inner surrealistic 'struggles' of Hypnos, and with the Lighting keeps the experience on a keen edge of interest.

Charles O'Grady is a writer of some real insight and ARE WE AWAKE?, in the production hands of this company, is well worth the effort to go see.

Accoding to Otto

Tunks Productions presents the world premiere of ACCORDING TO OTTO, by Wayne Tunks at The, Depot Theatre, Addison Rd Marrickville. 14 -24 February.

ACCORDING TO OTTO, is a new Australian play by Wayne Tunks. He is a prolific writer of plays. He has another work premiering at The Depot Theatre in June: THINGS NOT TO DO AFTER A BREAKUP. ACCORDING TO OTTO has been written as part of the 2018 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 2018.

Otto Brooks (Jasper Musgrave), from the stage greets us with a winning but youthful smile, and tells us of the consequences of his decision to 'come out' on his 16th birthday to his family and, subsequently, to his schoolmates.

According to Otto his family are a 'boring ' suburban collective in a 'boring' ordinary suburb - 'blah, blah, blah'. Here's how the 'coming out' goes: Dad, Gavin (Wayne Tunks), is surprised but supportive; Mum, Corrine (Jacinta Moses), in a state of shock, is undecided and on the hostile side; older sister, Ava (Tasha O'Brien), is 'cool' and acts as a friendly sounding board; disabled grandma, Lesley (Felicity Burke) - recovering, apparently, from a stroke - always suspected Otto's true nature and is supportive in her limited way for her favourite grandchild.

However, according to Otto the scary, big issue is how his best mate, Max (Brendan Paul), on whom he has a crush, is going to react. They are always hanging-out together, but there has never been any conversation about sexuality at all, even despite the taunting of the school bully, Brady (Cooper Mortlock), who relentlessly insinuates otherwise.

In a direct address mode to the audience Otto recreates real and fantasy interactions with all the family and other periphery characters, of his world, who are variously impersonated by Eliza Duncan and Andrew Wang, to keep us up to speed with his dilemma.

The writing is lightweight and gently winning in its comic cliches and recognisable character tropes. It is no surprise, to read in the program notes, that part of Mr Tunks experience has been that of a 'storyliner at NEIGHBOURS' - this work has the simple and efficient appeal of early-night television. I sometimes wished that Otto 'told' us less and 'showed' us more - it began to feel, sometimes, too much like a tiresome monologue.

The company of actors, when brought into the action, in the writing, are well cast and deftly confident with the little material they are given - they all have a happy charm with the relatively undemanding demands of the writing. Mr Musgrave is especially pleasing with the mighty task of the never-shut-up Otto, that Mr Tunks has created.

Mr Tunks has taken on four responsibilities with ACCORDING TO OTTO: that of Producer, Writer, Actor and Director. I wonder if this production would have benefited from a Director who could have sat outside the playing and employed a more rigorous Directorial 'musical' ear for the rhythmic flow of the playwriting, for this production's comic timing was too often laboriously slow and the 'inner monologue' gear changes became interminably frozen and empty (let alone the physically clumsy scene changes - and there were many) - giving us too much time to disengage, so that the 'gossamer' fragility of the writing conceit teetered dangerously into revealing itself.

No matter what kind of writing-genre we are witnessing, it is always "In the Timing", and never more so than in this kind of boulevard flimsiness. A fleeting speed would have hustled us along and have the 'sweetness' of it all, obfuscate, the obviousness of it all. Though, not to be churlish, I should report my audience were happy all the way with the storytelling. And it was a mid-week 'Full House. Something was working. I, sympathetically sat there with them, and just wished it were faster so that I could have stayed on board with the performance more happily.

In the past week we have met two 16 year old Australian boys discovering their 'gayness' on our Sydney Stages. Shane, of STRANGERS IN BETWEEN, and Otto Brooks, in ACCORDING TO OTTO. One is toughly realistic, the other a suburban fantasy. Both, probably, legitimate stories. They are in character chalk and cheese. Choose your 'food' according to your theatrical needs.