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.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Strangers In Between

Photo by Sarah Walker

Cameron Lukey and Don't Be Down productions in association with fortyfivedownstairs and the Seymour Centre present STRANGERS IN BETWEEN, by Tommy Murphy, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. 14 February - 2 March.

STRANGERS IN BETWEEN, is a revival production of Australian writer, Tommy Murphy's 2005 play. This play won the NSW Premier's Literary Award in 2006, and it is satisfying to see that there was some good reckoning in giving this play such recognition, as this present production at the Seymour Centre reveals it as a timeless insight into its world.

Director, Daniel Lammin, has with his Designers: Set and Costume by Abbie Lea Hough; Lighting by Rob Sowinski (associate, Bryn Cullen) and Sound by Raya Slavin, come up with solutions that place the scenarios of the play clearly and securely in our imaginations with sufficient suggestive but minimal detail, that is enough to throw the weight, the emphasis, of the storytelling onto the writing by Mr Murphy and his actors: Simon Burke (Peter), Wil King (Shane) and Guy Simon (Will/Ben). Those qualities of presentation are well judged.

These three actors have mined the potentialities of Mr Murphy's characters as living and breathing humans of deep three dimensional pulse. We come to care, empathise and recognise the people and the situation. We are not just moved but also appropriately amused, shocked and celebratory to see this 'gay' world in its culture of survival, being revealed to the community, at large.

Shane recognising his 'difference' and having lived through discrimination and violence, even from his adored brother, Ben, flees his country town and seeks refuge in Sydney's Kings Cross - the heart of the site of many displaced individuals, a kind of 'bohemia'. He is 16 years old and has little savvy knowledge on how to navigate his way, though he has developing wiles enough to lie about his age to manage to find accommodation and a job - in an off-licence 'bottolo'.

It is there that he meets and develops his first contacts that gradually reveal themselves, amongst other encounters, as the cornerstones of what the Director calls 'the logical family', quoting from American writer Armistead Maupin (of TALES OF THE CITY fame): "Sooner or later, though, no matter where in the world we live, we must join the diaspora, venturing beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us." The family that we choose, in a community we can, generally, trust.

Shane soon meets young Will and begins an 'affair' of attraction and explosive sexual expression that teaches him stuff about 'love' and subsequent health consequences that he had never even dreamed of. The relationship is at once naively innocent - though biologically, animalistically charged - and 'funny', but, also, one that in its turn can be brutal, shocking and hurtful. In sheer panic, generated by fear and ignorance, Shane unleashes his internal homophobia, reflective of his country community's upbringing, as he navigates through the landscape of his chosen world. Fortunately, Shane has also found an older man, Peter, who takes him under his wing and who provides not only, occasionally, food and shelter but wisdom and 'sanctuary' - a responsible adopting and adopted 'parent' in the maze of a tough living reality.

It is in the observed wisdom of Mr Murphy's writing that he can present what the outside world, strangers to this place of 'refuge', might regard as 'dangerous intentions' and shift the gaze to the basic humanities of these three men, to see how these individuals, all three, become survivors across generational needs in a 'hostile' world. We meet three strangers in part of the odyssey between the innocence and knowledge of Shane's coming-of-age journey.

Wil King, is absurdly wonderful as the guarded but 'wild' adventurer, in turns, breathlessly outrageously funny and vehemently frightening in Shane's reactive naivity through his Pilgrim's Progress across the "City of the Plains" in the guise of Sydney.

Simon Burke, as Peter, the honest wise survivor of a life that has required him to wear a mask to survive, which he can slip off and on, with ease and strength, at the required times, touches a depth of insightful knowledge of what the older 'gay' generation needed to weave to survive. His Peter is wryly 'camp' and flowing with the goodness of learnt empathy. Peter, in the 'hands' of Mr Burke, touches one greatly.

Guy Simon, plays a juggle of opposites, superbly: Will, the young but more experienced 'gay' of the Cross finding, too, his way to live a life with more ease about himself, and Ben, the self-lacerating, potentially violent brother from the country. Mr Simon is an actor of profound subtleties and even on the stage has a relaxed cinematic second-by-second 'cluing' that gives an audience a rich experience into both of his men. He is remarkable in the feats he offers us.

Sitting in the Reginald Theatre this company of attuned actors, together, gathered my audience into the world of the characters and their dilemmas. We became involved swiftly, 'lost' in it - laughing, gasping, fearing - the interval was an intrusion! These actors responding to the quality of the observations of Mr Murphy and to the skilful 'language' of the writing on the page, gives the 40th Anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Arts Program a genuinely sophisticated Australian work of universal quality as a gift for Sydney. Nearly 13 years old, set in another time, STRANGERS IN BETWEEN, still is as instructive, as enjoyable today, as it was on its debut at the SBW Stables Theatre.

Like the American Musical up at the Hayes Theatre, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, the 'politics' at the centre of this work is an important social history recall that puts the importance of the Mardi Gras Parade into serious and appreciative perspective. Do go and see for your self.

Single Asian Female

Photo by Daniel Boud

Belvoir presents a La Boite Theatre Company production SINGLE ASIAN FEMALE, by Michelle Law, in the Upstairs Belvoir Theatre, Belvoir St Surry Hills. 16 February - 25 March.

SINGLE ASIAN FEMALE, by Michelle Law, was first produced, after being commissioned, by the La BoƮte Theatre Company, in Brisbane, in 2017, and has been revived for this Sydney season at the invitation of the Belvoir Company. The work was developed with the assistance of the Lotus Playwriting Project, an initiative of Playwriting Australia and Contemporary Asian Australian Performance (formerly Performance 4a).

A family of females have been abandoned by the husband and father figure. Mother, Pearl (Hsiao-Ling Tang), runs the family restaurant, The Golden Phoenix, to support her two daughters through the 'minefields' of the Australian/Asian culture. Zoe (Alex Lee), the eldest, 29, pursuing a professional music career (the violin) suffering from high anxiety, and Mei (Courtney Sewat), in her last year of High School, grappling with the 'politics' of exams, outside social expectations and family loyalties. Pearl, too, has an imminent personal crisis of some importance to solve, which is unknown to her daughters. In affect then, we have three Single Asian Females, each with a life trajectory crisis of their own as well as the united family Asian/Australian one. It is palpably shown in the last moments of the Act One dimming of the lights into the interval. The theme 'song' of these women is parodied in a karaoke rendition of Gloria Gaynor's I WILL SURVIVE.

Michelle Law in the program notes tells us that in her theatre going experiences she has liked to watch the audience identify with the 'people' of a play and see them being connected and validated -
something I rarely experience and (that) makes me deeply envious. Who knew that being made to feel unwelcome and invisible in my own country was something that extended to the art I consumed. I would leave the shows feeling lonely. ... I want SINGLE ASIAN FEMALE to play a small role in changing that for people like me. People of colour. Women. Migrants. Outliers. The Other. This show is a love letter to them. And I want those in positions of privilege to gain some new insights: namely that we are here, we have been listening, and that now it is our turn to speak. But above all, I want the audience to be entertained. These are difficult issues to dissect, but that doesn't mean we can't have lots of fun unpacking them along the way.

Says the Director, Claire Christian:
There is no denying that Michelle Law and this play are special. It feels special because it is real. ... It feels special because it's important. It's important that we can tell stories that privilege the other, that reflect the actual Australian society we live in. ... SINGLE ASIAN FEMALE gives voice to the voiceless and talks about race and gender in ways we don't. In ways that we should; in honest, vulnerable and angry ways that reflects what is really going on. But, most importantly, this play is special because it's about women, it's written by a woman, and it is masterfully performed by women. Funny women. I know right? Who knew that women could be funny.
On a Set Design by Moe Assad, that captures a rundown restaurant and upstairs flat (apartment), we watch these three women interact in familial ways with each other and with the outside world. The outside world for all is, especially, the invisible, father figure. For Pearl, it is, as well, the Australian Immigration Department. For Zoe, it is her career and sex life which concentrates to a burgeoning relationship with Paul (Patrick Jhanur). For Mei, it is her coming-of-age in the last cycle of high school, navigating her relationships with the 'good' girls, represented by Katie (Emily Burton), and the 'mean' girls, represented by Lana (Lucy Heffernan).
Ms Law has written characters that are broad brushed 'dramedy' types as they investigate the cliches of everyday family 'clashes' between themselves, and the thoughtless, ignorant and discriminatory attitude of the community of the 'outside'. In response to the text, Ms Christian has encouraged, elicited, a broadly drawn comic style, reminiscent of some 80's television comedies, from her actors, which has a 'look'/'feel' of extreme confidence. The actors have a honed sense of their relationships and the comic in the writing - they inhabit the characters with great playful ease - it seems it is their shared sense of humour that gets these characters through their travails.

We are told in the program blurb that Michelle Law's play, SINGLE ASIAN FEMALE, is 'fierce and funny, as it is vital. It's Australian domesticity like you've never seen before.' And, you know, it is funny in a 'comic book' way and does have a chaotic, bubbly, vitality. However, the vitality is neither strange nor new and the domesticity is not too unfamiliar and one really wished that there was more ferocity in the observation of the different 'given circumstances' of this Asian Australian experience that is presented in this play and production.

One reflects on the wonder of the Tony Ayres' film, THE HOME SONG STORIES (2007), and its insights into the Asian/Australian family experience and the comparison between the two, despite the passing of ten years, is one to take a pause over. Ms Law has written comic novel and for comic anthologies and has won a Australian Writers' Guild Award AWGIE award for her screenwriting work. Whether the Writer and Director has achieved their above stated objectives sufficiently is for you to go see.

SINGLE ASIAN FEMALE is Ms Law's debut (first) play.


National Theatre Live presents FOLLIES, book by James Goldman, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Filmed in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre, South Bank, London.

I have not talked about the National Theatre Broadcasts before but felt that one should not pass on mentioning the superlative production by Dominic Cooke of the iconic and monumental, legendary, Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman American Musical, FOLLIES, screened this past weekend at some selected cinemas.

FOLLIES was first produced in 1971 on Broadway, Directed by Harold Prince and Michael Bennett. It won some seven Tony Awards but closed after only 500 performances at an absolute loss to all of its investors.

Watching this revival production from the National Theatre of Great Britain one can't help but take in the sheer conceptual scale of this work. It uses the reunion of a group of ex-follies women and their partners on the stage of a soon to be demolished theatre and manages to create a homage to a past age of the American Theatre and tell a vivid story of the reality of the fervid dreams of youth that marinate through time into tragedies of deception and lovelessness - the common condition of some married lives. (Sondheim's jaded view of relationships was heralded in his previous hit, COMPANY). The title FOLLIES as a double whammy - the Follies as a theatrical form integrated with the literal follies of man - in this case exemplified in the last section of the musical in a pastiche of the Follies, with the follies of the principal characters Sally and Buddy, Phyllis and Ben, brought centre stage.

The intellectual execution of this work, the literary work of James Goldman, and the musical genius of Stephen Sondheim, both with his empathy for his country's musical heritage and his own evolving 'voice', bursting with a wit and peerless sense of the word-smithing of the piercingly wonderful lyrics of his songs, that has not really been surpassed (except by himself, perhaps), is astounding. This musical is an Epic Tragedy and the immensity of its architecture really is brilliantly shown-off in this monumental production mounted by the National Theatre in the Olivier Theatre. FOLLIES requires the National Theatre's generous resources to reveal and realise the scope of the ambition of this towering work.

The Design by Vicki Mortimer, the Musical Direction by Nicholas Skilbeck, Lighting by Paule Constable, Choreography of Bill Deamer and the density of wondrous talent and experience of the performers Directed by Dominic Cooke (in his first Musical Direction) is of a scale excellence that one can only weep in envy at what we see and hear.

The leading tragedians/singers Imelda Staunton (Sally), Janie Dee (Phyllis), Peter Forbes (Buddy) and Australian Philip Quast (Ben) are outstanding, haunted in the production by their younger selves and the eerie figures of fully dressed ghosts of the Follies Girls.

If you have a chance go. It is worth it. This is a musical play of epic tragedy of the most sophisticated kind. (So many of its songs have become standards of the musical theatre repertoire). FOLLIES' demands of scale make it prohibitive to stage. It also makes it extraordinarily difficult to 'pull-off'. This production delivers the scale in brilliant proportion and lands the drama with immaculate taste and satisfying, elevating temper. One feels all right with the world when an Art form can achieve so well.

My companion and I were walking on air afterwards.


Milk Presents, in association with Derby Theatre and The Seymour Centre and Siren Theatre Company, JOAN, by Lucy J Skilbeck, in the Sound Lounge, at the Seymour Centre, Chippendale. February 16, 17 and 18.

JOAN is a one woman, Award winning performance, from the United Kingdom, having toured to Perth as part of the Perth Festival. It has been written and Directed by by Lucy J Skilbeck and is performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson.

 Lucy Jane Parkinson, a drag king champion, takes on the story of Joan of Arc, playing Joan, herself, 'history's greatest gender-warrior' ... and dragging up the men she defies: among them her father, Jacques d'Arc; the Dauphin of France (soon to become Charles VII, crowned at Rheims, under her protection); and Pierre Cauchon, a pro-Burgundian who tries and condemns her to death, by burning at the stake.

The Seymour Sound Lounge, usually a jazz venue, has re-configured its seating to create a 'theatre-in-the-round' where we meet the artist. In a play that uses a combination of language text of some poetic breadth, the technique of broad music hall comic inter-action/participation, and some songs of cabaret style, we are regaled with some of the true 'herstory' of Joan of Arc of the first half of the fifteenth century (1412-1456).

It is, in turns, comic, disarming and moving, irreverent, respectful, entertaining and clever. Ms Parkinson in a sly mixture of rough bravado and inspired sensitivity has us consider the curious case of young Joan (17) who being more comfortable in men's clothing convinces the men of the time to grant her leadership of an army, based on her said voices from Saint Catherine (Margaret and the Angel Gabriel, as well), to fight the invading English army, and crown the Dauphin as King of France.

It is the charm and shining intelligence of the actor that shamelessly employs the many 'tricks' of beguilement of both 'high' and 'low' theatre techniques to seduce her audience to a participatory engagement to carefully consider an argued sexual political insight to the puzzle that has tantalised historians for years. In our present gender fluid environment it is a very arresting idea.

Later in the year the Sydney Theatre Company are presenting a version of G.B.Shaw's great play, ST JOAN, with Sarah Snook, and this short entertaining work is a very interesting prep for that experience, I reckon.

The work is Directed and Composed, by Lucy J Skilbeck. The Design is by Emma Bailey. The Lighting by Joshua Pharo/ Sarah Readman. Sound Design and Arrangements by David Lexington.

Catch it if you can. A rewarding idling away of time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The View Upstairs

Photo by  John McCare

Invisible Wall Productions and Sugary Rum Productions, in association with Hayes Theatre Company presents, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, Book, Lyrics and Music by Max Vernon, at the Hayes Theatre, Greenknowe Ave, Kings Cross. 8 February - 11 March.

THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, ia a recent American Off-Broadway Musical with Book, Lyrics and Music, written by Max Vernon.

In a shadowy room we meet a shady Realtor (Martelle Hammer) winning a deal with a returning New Orleans youth, Wes (Henry Brett), who having moved from New York is planing to set up a fashion shop supported, presumably, by the wealth of his parents. Wes is a hip gay iPhone wearing modern media savant with all the eager and blunt needs of the capitalist American Dream pushing down his basic humanity in a giddy pursuit of fame-celebrity and a stunning BRAND. He is driven but could be described as 'shallow' - lacking, perhaps, 'the milk of human kindness'.

In his excitement at the step he has signed on for, he snorts some cocaine that trips him into an interlude where he 'awakes' to find himself in the space he has bought but in another time, that of 1973, in a hidden gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans, decorated with all of its period taste, and culture heroes - that famous centre-fold naked image of Burt Reynolds, on the wall - and full of a group of men who have clandestinely come to this bar to find a 'kind of heaven', a respite, a safe space, where they can relax and unwind to be themselves, and enjoy the company of other men.

What Wes finds with the cross-section of customers that range from a religious minister, Richard/Rita-Mae (Thomas Campbell), to a Cuban Drag-Queen, Freddy/Aurora Whorealis (Ryan Gonzalez) and his supportive mother who makes the costumes, wig and make-up for her son, Inez (Martelle Hammer), a married man with two kids nursing a 'buckling' piano-man career, Buddy (Anthony Harkin), a misanthropic and bullied misfit, Dale (David Hooley), a honeyed older man of 'that' persuasion with a mellow history of experience which he is only too generous to dispense for the education of the crowd, Willie (Madison McKoy), served by the sympathetic, 'butchy' bar-keep Henri (Markesha McKoy), and, especially, Patrick (Stephen Madsen) an attractive rent-boy/world wise prostitute, in a place where community may be a description that surprises and educates the gay commercial go-getter who has only transacted relationships through the gadgetry of the App. Hashtag/swipe/photograph-snap! - no need for personal interaction/connection. Real people are 'confronting'.

This production, with a rambunctious delight of detail Directed by Shaun Rennie in a Set Design dripping with resourced period memories by Isabel Hudson and dressed extravagantly in what, I think, is the original Off-Broardway Costume Design by Anita Yavich, jumps out at you with tight Choreography from Cameron Mitchell, and a dazzling and meticulously prepared Lighting Design by Trent Suidgeest - the best of this Mardi Gras season of productions I have, so far, seen.

The show works best when the contrasting politics and life-styles of the gay man of the early 70's is laid beside the evolved 'horror' of what it has become in the world of Trump (and others) and the zeitgeist of "Money-celebrity-money" of 2018 - what the Mardi Gras play, THE HOMOSEXUALS, OR FAGGOTS, by Declan Greene, of last year, set in Sydney, satirised/ called-out, brilliantly. There is savage wit and stark contrast to be seen, heard and 'sniggered' at, between the decades of the time zones, and it could give a new salutary point-of-view for some of the younger in the audience to see where the tradition and community protest symbolised by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, this year celebrating 40 years of existence, began. A re-appraised understanding of what the spirit was that launched a protest march in the 70's, that could have landed the participants in jail or a psych ward for 'treatment/cure could be learnt here. For, the 70's were indeed a different time of the valuation of the need for human connection in a world that was afraid and violently re-active when 'the other' life paths showed themselves. The simple contrasted representation of the law through the appearance of two cops (Nick Errol) in this show, one of the 'Sam Rockwell' narrowness and scorching viciousness of the THREE BILLBOARDS character-kind contrasted to a more careful and reasonable man in 2018, is clear enough.

When the observation of the two value systems are the driving engine of the material this Musical has heft. Unfortunately, it becomes diluted with the American or Musical Theatre  or American Musical Theatre propensity for sentimental romance, which, sometimes, here, is troweled on in the writing and inevitably removes the spike and spunk of the other. Too, the Music recalling the disco/soft rock/glam of the period over the hour and forty-five minutes becomes repetitive and tiring - no matter the alert keeness of the Musical direction by Nicholas Griffin and his band, and the energy and 'beauty' of the singers' sounds.

The whole company give good value for money. The characters are written with an obvious brush-stroke and each has a song to tell us of their journey in a cliche manner. Despite that, Mr Rennie has coaxed performances of convinced 'truths' from most and elicits an electric tension in the play's dramatics. Henry Brett, in the lead as Wes, is especially arresting, with a balancing performance from Stephen Madsen, as Patrick, helps the 'heart-bleed' of the writing between the pair to exist without too much 'treacle'. Ryan Gonzalez is a treat, in and out of drag, as is Ms Hammer as feisty and 'tragic' mum, and who knew that Mr Campbell not only has the chops to be an award winning actor in stuff like Chekov's THREE SISTERS, but, also, has a glorious voice and fearless verve for the Musical Theatre genre.

I recommend THE VIEW UPSTAIRS if you like the musical form. This production matches the stylistic qualities of the Hayes Theatre's best reputation. I, especially,  recommend THE VIEW UPSTAIRS for its educating politics - the old can enjoy the nostalgia, the young can learn of some of their 'tribal' history.

N.B. The play is based on an historical event, of a fire in the UPSTAIRS LOUNGE - a city bar in New Orleans, in 1973. 32 bodies were found in the debris. The official report for this mass murder was, officially, 'undetermined'. It was the worst crime of that kind until the Orlando Pulse night club shooting in 2016, when 49 people died. Perhaps, times are not too different, eh? Now, there may be a lesson for the necessity for vigilance.


Apocalypse Theatre Company and Redline present, METAMORPHOSES, by Mary Zimmerman, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo. 8th February - 10 March. (Photograph, by Robert Catto)

In 2006 when Barrie Kosky presented THE LOST ECHO,  a play by Tom Wright, using Ovid's METAMORPHOSES and Euripides' THE BACCHAE, I gave myself the task of reading the texts. I do not find reading poetry easy - embarrassing confession! I was fortunate to obtain a copy, a relatively new translation, by the American poet, Charles Martin (2005), and after surrendering to the rhythm of the verse in translation, found myself immersed in a page-turning journey. I loved it.

METAMORPHOSES is a 15-book, Latin narrative poem written in 8AD by the Roman poet Ovid, during the reign of Augustus Caesar. It is a myth-historical concoction, tracing the history of the world from Creation to the deification of Julius Caesar, and in English is known, as well, as the 'Books of Transformations'. It deals with some 250 myths in an idiosyncratic structure and gathers the Greek stories/myths into an easy and exciting, often amusing read. Love (Cupid) is at the centre of most of the book. So much of what one reads has been part of one's education, though its origin and details are remembrances foggy, that the recognition on appearance of the characters and stories when reading the Poem are like meeting up with long lost family - there is a found echo, resounding in the mists of one's consciousness. I discovered that 'my heritage' was not only made up from the Fairy-stories (the original and Disney versions), Aesop's Fables and  the Old and New Testament stories, that the Catholic Church permitted to be taught, but also, wondrously, of the Greek Myths (even if in a Roman guise).

Mary Zimmerman, an American Writer and Director, presented a version of METAMORPHOSES, in 1996, of some of the characters and some of the stories. However, Ms Zimmerman, in her work has used other sources of these myths for her storytelling besides Ovid. For instance, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice is told from two points of view, the first from Ovid's tale, the second from an inspiration of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The story of Echo and Psyche is sourced from the work of Lucius Appuleius. Ms Zimmerman's version begins with an edited and general Creation story and swiftly moves into the Story of King Midas (though edited, leaving out the ending!) and it gave one a sense of security and an inkling of a cultural depth, deep from one's DNA, perhaps, that was comfortable to participate in.

Director, Dino Dimitriadis, has taken license with some of the material and has also gone on a visual exploration and gender-bending casting option for his production with a keen sense that this work is being presented as part of the 40th Anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Famously, Ms Zimmerman's play production has used a large pool of water to illustrate, maybe, the 'porous' sexuality of the material in the 'games' between the gods and humans, in the sensuality of liquid - water. It is, then, a kind of triumph to see how Mr Dimitriades and his Designers, Jonathan Hindmarsh (Set and Costume; Assistant, Bella Cannavo), along with Lighting Designer, Benjamin Brockman have created a sensuous environment, with a pool of water, for this team of actors, 5 men and 5 women, to inhabit these tales, in the very small space of the Old Fitz Theatre. There is, too, much nakedness (none of it, to my eye and experience, gratuitous), tulle and leather accoutrement to seduce one into the world of the play and its intentions, all enhanced by that small oblong pool of beautifully lit milky water, surrounded by a maze of silver gleaming scaffold and platforms. Imagistically, in this production, there is much to seduce one in the theatre.

Mr Dimitriades has chosen a company of actors that seem extremely comfortable of their intimate appearance in such close quarters. He has also cast some actors who have a physical skill that permits a conjuring of breathless gravity-defying action. Particularly, David Helman, who uses his skills of dance, circus (pole dancing) to mesmeric effect. Others come from a wide range of experience, from the young, such as Zoe Terakes (features as Eurydice) to the more mature, Deborah Galanos (featuring, as King Midas). All of the actors: Claudette Clarke, Jonny Hawkins, Sam Marques, Bardiya McKinnon, Diana Popovska, Hannah Raven and Sebastian Jamal Robinson are fantastically and comfortably committed.

What one wished for with this shared Choral text by Ms Zimmerman, from this company of actors, was for voices that were more attuned to one another. All of the actors were 'tuned' to their divided 'word' cuing (mostly) but none were sensitive to the musical sound cuing or scoring. They were not listening to the sound being baton-relayed from one to the next. There were 10 vocal instruments, each distinct, but none harmonised to delivering the music of the story from one actor's sound to another. So, there was no satisfactory orchestral pleasure in the sound of the work. With any text, but particularly with a choral poetic text, it is one of the greater demands for the complete success of the project. - choral musical orchestration. On the other hand there is some extremely interesting and sensitive Sound Design and Composition from Ben Pierpoint that helps suspend the audience to the thrall of the events and figures of the experience.

METAMORPHOSES, at the Old Fitz has the content allure of our historical/mythical heritage, the imagistic magic of startling visuals that I can thoroughly recommend, but barely satisfies with the vocal work to give a completely satisfactory transcending experience in the theatre.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Visiting Hours

bAKEHOUSE and Kings Cross Hotel present VISITING HOURS, by John Harrison, Constantine Costi and Michael Costi, at the Kings Cross Hotel. 7 February - 17 February.

VISITING HOURS, by Australian team John Harrison, Constantine Costi and Michael Costi is receiving a second life after a successful debut for VIVID in 2016. It is an art installation, site specific work that takes us to an off-the-grid medical facility where a Doctor is performing a new operation.

We, an intimate group of 20, arrive at the top of William St - the famous Coca Cola sign gleaming across the road - at the entrance to the DIVE BAR, where we are met and given 'triage' - a coloured and number coded wrist band - and ultimately are escorted into an induction space where a 'Lynchian' behaved nurse medicates us (and herself) to begin a journey through the locations and events of this 'hospital'.

During the course of some 75 minutes, or so, we meet a jazz quartet and singer singing songs with themes of dreams. Some of us are swabbed, eye tested and mouth cleared, all are given face-masks, and ultimately meet a patient who has had a procedure that has 'youthened' her - she had the procedure in the '80' s and though it is now 2018, looks spunky in her early 30's still - one has expectative thrills reminiscent of imagining mad Doctor Moreau's experiments.

Some of us - those with the red band - take a trip in an Hawaiian themed elevator, up to a room where we find the others waiting and are taken through a series of medical procedures and tests given by a staff that seem to, accumulatively, medicate themselves into a kind of 'oblivion' crisis. We are ushered from that 'debris' into an operating theatre to witness a procedure which ends when the spirit of the patient rises from the gurney to guide us into a gloss walled room, densely 'hazed' and lit in the 'mists of time and space' where we meet a mysterious figure that holds a white lighted globe and speaks portentously of, I think, spiritual profundities.

Next, we find ourselves in a medical janitor's space and are 'rescued' and released back into our own reality, which happens to be the Roof Top Bar of the Kings Cross Hotel, with spectacular views on a warm summer night, and drinks.

VISITING HOURS has a spectacular visual style Designed handsomely, by Anna Gardiner, and lit with all the suggestive tension packed splendour needed to help create an intriguing atmosphere, by Benjamin Brockman. Directed by John Harrison and Michael Dean it moves seamlessly and safely through all of its locations and creates vignettes of activity in each of the spaces with a wonderfully drilled and empathetically committed group of actors of some 22.

From a state of wonder at the aesthetic of the Design and the focus of the actors, one, however, began to feel time pall, beginning essentially in the operating theatre sequence, and losing us completely with the existential attempt at universal profundity in the beautiful long misted room. One longed for some proper drama, theme or meaning. One began to wish for something, like the gothics of an American Horror Story type vibe, or the ruthless satire of the 1971 Paddy Chayefsky film THE HOSPITAL, starring George C. Scott and Diana Rigg. There is no real dramatic action thread comprehensively going-on to keep us present after the initial admiration of the spaces.

Ultimately, VISITING HOURS is a triumph of STYLE over SUBSTANCE.

One enters the Roof Top Bar with an impression of design and execution excellence that is empty of any rhyme or real reason for all that effort. The writers need to re-examine what they were wanting to say. Surface is not enough, really.

Still, the Production is in the installation 'form' of a theatrical engagement, that for the uninitiated could be very exciting to participate in.

Fucking Men

Photo by Bob Seary
New Theatre presents FUCKING MEN, by Joe Dipietro, at the New Theatre, King St. Newtown. 6 February - 10 March.

FUCKING MEN, written in 2009, by American Joe Dipietro, an award winning Musical Theatre collaborator (I LOVE YOU YOU'RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE; MEMPHIS), uses the shape of Arthur Schnizler's 1897 play, REIGEN, more popularly known under the French title, LA RONDE. The shape is that of 10 interconnecting scenes between pairs of lovers across a strata of social standings.

Schnitzler, a Doctor (like Chekhov), living in Vienna, was also a playwright/novelist/short story writer. His repertoire is oddly neglected in Australia. The plays deal, mostly, with the middle class and are forensic observations of the basic humanities of his characters with perceptive explorations into the psychological motivations of their lives. (A favourite play of mine is a large cast play, Das weite Land, adapted by Tom Stoppard in 1979 as UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY.) LA RONDE was castigated for its daring sexual unearthings and alarmed some with its serious intent to promote awareness and discussion, and was essentially banned after its initial publication and was not produced in a theatre until 1920 (in Berlin). Schnitzler was called 'a jewish pornographer' but had received a note from Sigmund Freud saying :"You have learned through intuition - through actually as a result of sensitive introspection - everything that I have had to to unearth by laborious work on other persons.' The play has been, over time, widely produced for theatre and film. The last sensational English adaptation was THE BLUE ROOM, by David Hare, featuring Nicole Kidman, at the Donmar Warehouse, in London.

This literary conceit by Mr Dipietro is an interesting adaptive take, using the gay world of fucking men and their casual practice of sexual encounter, in a daisy chain interconnection collection of scenes across a sociological demarcation of its contemporary times. This play, however, tends to soften the edgy politics of the original preferring a tendency to sentimentalise the men and their engagements with a pathetic tone of 'closeted' neediness and 'murky' well-being. Written in 2009, the content of the play feels a little behind the times in this pathetic colouring that emphasises the self-loathing and the feeling of the shame - helplessness - of these men in their trying to find a way to behave/create a life. Nearly nine years on from the original writing, although, undoubtedly, this reality still exists, the message in contemporary literature and legalities is certainly shifting and ought to be shifted. The witnessing of this play and production, in 2018, after the recent seismic legal shift of our government led by the people of this nation, in their attitude to 'the others' in our world, is certainly not an optimistic or heartening viewpoint.

Staged efficiently by Director and Set Designer, Mark G. Nagle, the production of the play is hampered by his decision to create musical interludes, with Matthew Raven, who sitting at a piano on the side of the stage plays and sings live, between each of the scenes, which are, mostly, soporific in content and musical invention - slowing down the impetus of the storytelling with a grinding, repetitive energy. The acting from the company of men, elicited by Mr Nagle, is adequate but highlights a tendency to play the scene only as written with no sophisticated revelation of motivational history or back-story for the individual characters to give the material any depth of dilemma. We watch and are, consequently, not much concerned. We sit outside the emotional possibilities rather than being immersed in them. We look because we have little to 'read' with either our eyes or ears - to be able to endow. The Costume Design by Krystal Dee is appropriate.

The actors are a handsome lot. Stanley Browning (John), Nick Pes (Steve), Tom Marwick (Marco), Michael Brindley (Kyle), Anthony Finch (Leo), John-Michael Burdon (Jack), Anton Smilek (Ryan), Jackson Blair-West (Sammy), Ray Mainsbridge (Brandon), Pete Walters (Donald).

FUCKING MEN, is the New Theatre contribution to this year's Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras events. Some may find the physicalities of the cast reward enough.

An Act of God

Photo by Phil Erbacher

Darlinghurst Theatre Company presents, AN ACT OF GOD, by David Javerbaum, at the Eternity Playhouse, Burton St, Darlinghurst. 2nd February - 28 February.

Our species has, over the ages, tried to make sense of the events that have impacted on its survival. With our evolving, developing imagination, us humans have tried to explain the 'ups and downs' of the life experience - floods, famine, feast etc - with the invention of forces, Gods, to take some of the explanatory responsibility. For us Westerners the Books of the Old Testament, handed down to us by our ancestors as the written word of that God, and, latterly, the New Testament - recorded memories of the Apostles of Jesus Christ - has been the corner-stone of our behavioural guides. Looking at these 'relics' "You can't deny that He (God) had a compelling quirky attitude for storytelling from the start."

David Javerbaum, began ghostwriting for God on Twitter @TheTweetOfGod which subsequently transformed into a book,THE LAST TESTAMENT: A MEMOIR BY GOD, and then into this play in 2015, AN ACT OF GOD.

God has become more than a little impatient with His Word which we swear, hand on book, 'to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth' knowing it contains stories that are physically impossible - couldn't be a truth. So, because he, 'it', is an ethereal energy out there in the ethos somewhere - formless - he has decided to borrow a human shape to come down to earth and correct, update, the Ten Commandments, originally handed down to us through Moses.

In this recent incarnation of God, he has inhabited the form and used the charm of Jim Parsons (THE BIG BANG) and later, Sean Hayes (WIIL AND GRACE), to deliver a new set of commandments, and, behold his Australian vessel is Mitchell Butel, who, he tells us, many times, is the holder of three Helpman Awards, for his work as an actor, singer and director.

A gag a minute, it has many a reference to himself, the audience - some particularly - and some of the contemporary idiosyncrasies of our evolving cultural, social and political world, for easy laughs, as God, in the shape and charm of Mr Butel, takes to dismantling some of the ridiculous notions in and of the bible. There is much good humour going on, and it is interesting, to observe, that the human manifestations that God has elected to use - Parsons, Hayes and Butel - have a propensity to use the 'camp' lens and comic technique to dismantle the touchstone, edifice, of our societal construct.

For some, daringly, the work, gradually, shades into a critique of the actions of God, as it delves through the glib surfaces of the material and begins to take on a more serious tone. We go, for instance from a deconstruct of the Noah and his Ark story, which becomes, through the comic eye, 'a phylogenetically complete nautical bestiary' with the logistics debunked hilariously, to God examining his behaviour to suggest serious 'wrath management issues' that reveal himself as 'a jealous, petty, sexist, racist, mass-murdering narcissist'. Much like some infamous men of history, I ponder. Men that, we are taught have been created in His image. It is a chicken and the egg notion, isn't it? For us questioners which came first - God, and then Man, or, Man, and then God?

Mr Butel, on a steep, white set of ascending stairs interrupted by a platform supporting a white couch - a la Oprah - by Charles Davis (much like the original production) - holds forth in a white coverall bible-dress, covering jeans and a pair of red sneakers (looking like the original design). He is supported by Archangel Gabriel (Laura Murphy) who reads relevant references from, supposedly, a copy of the Guttenburg Bible and, occasionally, accompanies with musical interludes. While Archangel Michael (Alan Flower) begins as a roving assistant giving questions to God from the audience who gradually begins to question, himself, the actions of God, that brings the scourge of God's temper and physical harm to himself - the loss of a wing!

AN ACT OF GOD, is a stand-up comic riff of some 75 non-stop minutes, and Mr Butel has a rattling good time. However, much of the success of the night will depend so much on the responsive energy of the audience each night. The show will be ignited by the receptive temperature of the audience. If each entity, the actor and the audience, ratchet up the laughter stakes together, this show could go through the roof, if not, it could sit revving its comic wheels trying to get traction. My audience were partly receptive and the best part of Mr Butel's performance came with his later darker material - the 'dramatic stuff'.

Says the Creative Producer and CEO of the Darlinghurst Theatre:
AN ACT OF GOD was pitched to our company by Mitchell Butel who had a wonderful vision for the work. The play's casual genre and comedy belies a compelling discussion - centred on our relationship with religion and belief in the contemporary world.

This production is a contribution to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras program and is Directed by Richard Carroll and Mitchell Butel, himself.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Intersection 2018: Chrysalis

Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) presents INTERSECTION 2018: CHRYSALIS, at the Griffin Theatre, in the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross. 31January - 17 February.

Fraser Corfield, the Artistic Director of the ATYP tells us in the introduction to the published texts of this play program:
Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP), the national youth theatre company, is committed to commissioning and developing plays that young people can perform. ... INTERSECTION 2018 is a collection of short stories for the stage written by some of Australia's leading young playwrights. ... INTERSECTION is an annual program, each year offering new characters, situations and scenes.
Following on from a selection of writers a week long retreat helps focus and develop the work: seven-minute scenes for 17-year-old- actors. Actors are found, a team of creatives come on board and together they prepare a showcase of the new work.

There are 11 writers this year: Alexander Lee-Rekers, Gretel Vella, David Stewart, Joseph Brown, Liz Hobart, Madelaine Nunn, Phoebe Sullivan, Pippa Ellams, Julia Rorke, Harry Goodlet - they are aged between 18-26 and come from all over Australia.

Rachel Chant has taken up the Directorial reins to bring the 11 pieces of writing into a cohesive world for the audience, with the image of the CHRYSALIS - where the characters are evolving their 'adult selves' before bursting fully formed into the world - with a team of Creatives: Set and Costume Design, Tyler Ray Hawkins; Lighting Designer, Emma Lockhart-Wilson and Sound Designer, Brett Smith, and has deployed and guided eight actors to inhabiting the characters and creating place to deliver event, action or theme.

Five young women and three young men: Anika Bhatia, Ben Tarlinton, Brenton Bell, Cait Burley, Claire Crighton, Clare Taylor, Jeremi Campese and Margaret Thanos, tackle their responsibilities that vary from monologue to two people scenes, with one of the plays, GET GONE, by David Stewart, presented as a joint company effort, shuffled throughout the ninety minute, no interval storytelling.

All of the writing is interesting and all of the actors give a shape to the characters and situation that will differently impress the audience at different levels of communication with their 'juvenile', developing skills. We all will have our different favourites.

It was a recent treat of a very high order to engage with one of Australia's great actors, Noni Hazlehurst, in a one-woman play written for her by Daniel Keene called MOTHER. It was an example of the wonderful 'marrying' of the writer's talent with an actor. The words on the page sprang to life with the embodied and insightful maturity of the actor and her 'learned' skills, so that the writer and actor's work became a seamless intertwine to take the audience into a complex and compassionate experience (Directed by Mat Scholten) - a word-by-word, moment-by-moment revelatory thrall.

One hopes that these young actors, who, generally, have enormous potential are able to witness Ms Hazlehurst's artistry. To learn from the objective example of a 'master' using the language that her writer has given her to create character and story to reveal 'theme'. Most of these actors in INTERSECTION 2018: CHRYSALIS gave nervous 'performances' of thrilled impressions of the characters that they were playing, mostly, only, an energetic gist of the writers' creation and not necessarily a word-by-word revelation of evolving character or action-storytelling. Their excited energy tended to blur any clarifying internal detail for the audience to own and create together with them - the ideal objective of the actor's craft. They tended to be 'Performing' and, so, not reaching the appearance of 'being'.

For my experience, Cait Burley, in the solo work, #NoFilter, by Pippa Ellams, was most effective in moving me into the world of the character and her dilemma. Jeremi Campese and Ben Tarlinton, as Isa and Tim, in Joseph Brown's Lights on the Water, too, create a delicate interaction of character and situation, while Clare Taylor as Bec in Alexander Lee-Rekers' The Witch in the Window, makes an impression of torment and guilt.

INTERSECTION 2018: CHRYSALIS, works as a collaborative pursuit to developing the skills of young writers by having their writing brought to living form on the stage to communicate with an audience to help us see and hear the concerns of the 17-year-old's of 2018. Each audience member will have their favourite successes as I have had.