Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Giving Up The Ghost

Pop Up Theatre presents, GIVING UP THE GHOST, by Rivka Hartman, in the Limelight Theatre on Oxford, Oxford St., Darlinghurst. 17th October - 3 November.

GIVING UP THE GHOST, is a new Australian play, by Rivka Hartman.

A husband (Chris Orchard) is dead and in a coffin at home. His wife (Elaine Hudson) is preparing for the mourning. Her daughter (Madeline Withington) has the option of a bright future in research at a University but is caught up in a relationship with a wealthy distractor (Andrew Wang). Neither parent are happy about this. The wife conjures the spirit of the husband and together attempt to strategise the ways and means to lose the boyfriend.

The major part of this play has the aura of a Jewish 'New Yorky' comedy but neither the writing, nor the Direction, from Rivka Hartman can find the right tension and timing to bring it to life for the audience. The play works best when the emotional 'kicker' for all this delusional affect is revealed - that the Wife, also a Doctor, has assisted her Husband to death. Euthanasia. He was suffering from terminal cancer and she, now, has a worrying sense of guilt - this dramatic edge was the best part of the night.

GIVING UP THE GHOST, is the first production in a new performance space in Sydney: LIMELIGHT on Oxford, run by Julie Baz and David Jeffrey. It is a pleasant space on the top floor of a three storey terrace in Oxford St - 58 seats. A Bar and Restaurant on the ground floor and a live music and bar space on the first floor. Next up, at LIMELIGHT, is a production of the musical COMPANY.

Whose Uterus Is It Anyway?

Photo by Jasmine Simmons

Bite Collective and the Old 505 Theatre presents, WHOSE UTERUS IS IT ANYWAY?, by Georgie Adamson, at The Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St, Newtown. 30th October - 10th November.

WHOSE UTERUS IS IT ANYWAY?, is a new play by Georgie Adamson. Ms Adamson recently completed her MFA (Writing for Performance) at NIDA and this was the play she wrote whilst she was there. It is being presented as part of the inaugural FreshWorks Femme season at the Old 505 Theatre:
FreshWorks Femme is a brand-new initiative, bringing together some of Sydney's fiercest young female theatre makers exploring new ideas and how they view the world.
The Creative Team has Eve Beck, Directing; Madeline Osborn, Producing; Camille Ostrowski as Set Designer, and of course, Ms Adamson as the writer. Martin Kinnane, is the Lighting Designer and Alexander Lee-Rekers is the Sound Designer.

WHOSE UTERUS IS IT ANYWAY? is set within the frame-work of a television Game show where four contestants compete against each other for their free reproductive health treatment. There is only one winner. A young mother, Lila (Annie Stafford) with two young children and a disintegrating marriage; a single, uncommitted to any aspect of her life, by-habit, narcissist, Michelle (Chelsea Needham); Tom (Finn Murphy) a transitioning female-to-male; and a young nun, Mary (Ally Morgan), are the contestants. Clearly, the range of 'types' fits within the notorious boundaries of contemporary Reality Television, as well - wildly diverse. The host, frontman-'stooge', is Toby Blome. He regales them, in turn, with 'provocative' questioning and in each case they are taken into vicarious re-enactments from their lives to clarify how and why they are seeking the health treatment.

The advertising 'blurb' for this play tells us that it 'pokes and prods at the intricate invasions and sinister ridiculousness of reproductive health care', giving an indication that in this set-up of the Game Show/ Reality Television format, that some serious reveal and political gestures will be made about contemporary women's health issues. They also promise that: 'We'll (OOPS) get right deep down to dirty secrets and messy details'.

It is the latter tone, the OOPS, that dominates the body of the writing and the skills of the actors. Says the 'blurb': 'What happens when an IUD, and STI and an abortion walks into a bar?' A question for a jokey punch line. It is the question and the jokey punch lines - clever, though they are - and a huge weight of afternoon television melodrama, that takes up the bulk of the writing and the style of acting. It is an entertaining light-weight experience, and at 90 minutes, in need of the blue-pen of the editor.

The actors, generally, stride the satiric send-up of the undergrad humour of observation of television mediocrity and the soap-opera style of 'naturalism', with varying competencies, and, unfortunately, with, for them as artists, not much material of real bite for political intensity and challenge. The title of the play: WHOSE UTERUS IS IT ANYWAY?, is the most provocative text in the play.

Good fun is had by all. Especially, Toby Blome, who not only carries the Compere with great, sustained, cheesy élan, but also plays a huge variety of pencil-thin characters in the soap-opera re-enactments.

It is a busy show to stage technically with all of its shifts of location and styles, and Director, Eve Beck, manages it, within the limitations of the budget, fairly well, with Martin Kinnane delivering with his usual meticulousness, lighting cues to keep it all attractive and 'moving forward', aided and abetted by Alexander Lee-Rekers' Sound support.

There was not much bite from this Bite Company production. It pandered to the ridiculousness of contemporary mediocre television that dominates our viewing opportunities, and, relatively, neglected the opportunity to seriously challenge and educate its audience with the cultural ignorances of the every day real dilemma of being a woman with issues that concern their health, let alone their uterus.

Watching this play I was reminded of the Paddy Chayefsky script for the 1976 film, NETWORK, Directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Peter Finch (recently staged as a play in London), where the Game Show was used as framework for a fierce social critique. It was horrifyingly amusing and damned confronting in its philosophical musings.

WHOSE UTERUS IS IT ANYWAY? does not honestly represent "Sydney's fiercest female theatre makers exploring new ideas', the stated aim of this inaugural work for the FreshWorks Femme season. Nor, did, by-the-way, the recent STC production of ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST, give us anything too fierce to deal with. So, might I recommend Betty Grumble's, LOVE AND ANGER. Now there is FIERCE. And you can get to see it at the Griffin SBW Stables Theatre early in February next year.

The show at the Old 505 Theatre is a light weight escapade - a silly night in the theatre, easy to enjoy.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Wyrd - The Season Of The Witch

Ninefold present WYRD - The Season of the Witch, Devised by the company, Ninefold, at The Pact Theatre, Erskineville. 31st October - 3rd November.

WYRD - The Season of the Witch, is a new Australian work devised by the company Ninefold, under the Direction of Shy Magsalin, inspired by the Suzuki Method of Acting Training. It has an intense physical centre married with an intellectual approach to text. Ms Magsalin has worked and trains regularly with the Suzuki Company of Toga (SCOT), Japan, and through her further training at the University of Western Sydney has been exploring the form and content of MACBETH.

The ensemble's relationship with MACBETH began in 2013 with their project: MACBETH: 9 SCENES REHEARSED. This version of the project , WYRD, has been almost 2 years in the making and has been specifically assisted by an atPACT Residency. atPact is for companies exploring new ideas, new performance platforms and new forms of audience engagement.

The discipline and the dramatic power of the physical commitment of this ensemble: Erica Josephine Brennan, Aslam Abdus-samad, Paul Musumeci, Gideon Payten-Griffiths, Melissa Hume, Shane Russon, Jessica Saras, Tabitha Woo, led by Victoria Greiner, as Our Lady, is in a mesmerising state of embryonic potential. The movement techniques and expressions (dance) for the storytelling are beautifully conceived and executed, if not, yet, completely, seamlessly owned by all of the performers. But, vocally the instruments are not all equal and whatever the hard work of the vocal coach, Amanda Stephens Lee, it remains the weak link of the project development.

This story places The Lady Macbeth in a push and pull collusion with the Wyrd sisters. The textual spoken adaptation is pure Shakespeare cut-up and diced for the company's own focus and concentration - well done - to follow the arc of the human tragedy whilst, also dialling up the 'volume' of the horror.

Victoria Greiner has the focus, charisma and stylistic bravura to hold the centre of this work steadily - her vocal work and physical vocabulary is disciplined and always meaningfully possessed. Great and easy to watch. She is well supported by all, especially Ms Brennan as Wyrd One (watch her stunning physical finish). Ms Woo, too, is a physical dynamo. Mr Russon gives real gravitas and language clarity in his well focused offers.

The atmosphere of the witch craft and magic spells, the horror of the world of the play, is enhanced magnificently, by the Music soundscape of Melanie Herbert - exciting to hear and provoking in its sensitive details The Design by Victor Kalka: Set and Costumes, is stylistically simple but most effective, the Lighting by Liam O'Keefe supplying visual tension and atmosphere galore.

The black magic incantations - led by Hecate and her sisters are often edited out of the play - coming from the well lit circle of these players, had me comprehending the superstitious power that this play has emanated throughout the centuries. The infamous curse of the play of Macbeth awesomely respected by most thespians, may well, indeed, be true. That we were seeing it on Halloween Eve heightened the effect even more!

WYRD - The Season of the Witch, is a very rewarding hour in the theatre. Crammed with a dense amount of hard work - clearly, the physical training has been intense; , however, the vocal training needs the same commitment in time, focus and discipline. It is a very brief season exposure but well worth the effort to catch.

The last time I was at the Pact Theatre was to watch the SheShakespeare version of MACBETH. Last time it was a difficult couple of hours, this time Ninefold has a work inspired by the MACBETH play that merits your attention and appreciation. It is on the cusp of 'greatness'. I recommend it.