Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Stop Girl

Photo by Brett Boardman

Belvoir present STOP GIRL, by Sally Sara in the Belvoir Street Theatre Upstairs. 20th March - 25th April, 2021.

STOP GIRL, is a new Australian play, by a Wakley-award winning journalist for the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC), Sally Sara. It is her first play and it tackles the story of Suzie who is a journalist working in the world conflict hot spots of Afghanistan, Iraq etc. Suzie could be a doppelgänger of the writer.

On a Set by Robert Cousins, that is virtually an open space with 'symbolic' objects that serve the utilitarian requirements of the action of the 90-minute play without interval, has on the back wall a large screen that facilitates video support for showing images of suffering and the atrocities of war, of the ordinary people of those war torn locations. The images display action that Suzie (Sheridan Harbridge) and a friend and fellow journalist Bec (Amber Mc Mahon), experience while preparing a story on Suzie's career for a Sydney magazine, together - Suzie responds to the present dangers of war shown in images accompanied by a penetrating soundscape, with the coolness of the oblivion of the familiar whilst Bec, in her virgin state, responds with horror and true fear. 

Both women return to Australia to live their lives in the safety of that country. Images continue to appear on the screen accompanied by the sound intrusions, but now they are exclusively those of memory for Suzie (and a storytelling gesture for us, the audience). Bec is in contrast divorced from her solo experience of being in a war zone, comfortable with the environs of Sydney, home, and becomes puzzled by Suzie's disintegrating behaviour.

Other contrasting reactions are given via Atal (Mansoor Noor), an aide of Suzie's in war, who now has, as a refugee, brought his family to Australia and reflects, gratefully, the 'oddness' and stress of accommodating to that, in contrast to Suzie's carefree responses to the same familiar Australian occurrences; and, more significantly, the personal dialogues between Suzie and her Mother, Marg (Toni Scanlon). This relationship becomes is the pivot of the play and gradually blends the traumas of war with the traumas of ordinary family life, with Suzie's accumulating paralyzing sense of guilt at her absence of presence during the family's crises, culminating with her sense of guilt over the death of her father and her inability, so far, in dealing with his wishes, his ashes. The play suggests that her father's ashes spread will unblock some of Suzie's mental health issues.

This play brings to the audience a confronting case of Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD), made all the more confronting because it is written by a well-acknowledged 'daughter' of our community who has served us as a television journalist in places of conflict around the world over a long career. Sally Sara, has become a member of all our 'families'. This play is stressful in its distant war revelations, but becomes a truly poignant piece of common grief when Suzie's story touches the personal element of what it is to be human, with the death of her father and the dealing with his wishes. It is something which we all must go through.

For me, this production was pleasing especially because most of the actors featured in the event of telling the story are actors who have worked regularly and consistently of quality in the outer fringe of the Sydney acting scene, and I was grateful to see Deborah Galanos (psychiartrist) on a main stage; Mansoor Noor in his usual intelligent, flawless and engaging reveal of the Afghan, Atal; and Toni Scanlon giving a great support with both true comic and dramatic sensibilities as the mother, Marg to the protagonist of the play. All three of these actors are deserving of this opportunity given by the Belvoir Company and Anne-Lousie Sarks, the Director. These actors are welcome on this main stage and have, honestly, earned their 'stripes' to be there. Amber McMahon is a regular on this stage and gives sterling support to the play's dramaturgical responsibilities demanded of her. 

Sheridan Harbridge after many years of hard quality work in the fringes of the Sydney Theatre has begun to emerge into focus on our main stages after many years. On the Belvoir stage, THE SUGAR HOUSE*** and the musical CALAMITY JANE***, demonstrating her talented range of versatility in Dramatic work and Comic, which was significantly brought into devastating focus in the recent Griffin production of Suzie Miller's one person play PRIME FACIE*** (which will be reprised at the Seymour Centre, later this year - not to be missed). As in PRIME FACIE, Ms Harbridge takes on a confrontational journey of character as Suzie in STOP GIRL, one that demands an incredible emotional commitment that in actor's parlance and knowledge is a 'risky' and 'scary' one. The performance that Ms Harbridge gave here (at my sitting) was powerful but lacked a consistent depth of 'risk', there were times when one felt that the actor was skimming over the top of the need of the characterisation and so, was 'in and out' of the depth of the demands of the writer. The performance work was impressive but sometimes, relatively, shallow, a 'cheat' of the depth of emotional need. The tragedy of the play 'glowed' rather than 'glowered'. 

The audience I was with were generously affected and gave warm applause at the curtain call.

STOP GIRL is an arresting first play dealing with an issue that needs urgent social and political attention .

N.B. Check out MUM, ME AND THE I.E.D*** another devastating account of PTSD in our returning warriors of war.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Is There Something Wrong With That Lady?

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company present, IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THAT LADY? Created and Performed by Debra Oswald, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst. 13th - 24th April.

IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THAT LADY? is a single person, 90 minute  monologue. Debra Oswald an Australian writer of 'plays' for the Theatre, Television, Film and Radio. She is also a Novelist. Born in 1959.

In a funny and excruciatingly honest one-woman show, Debra tells stories about her neurotic childhood, clumsy romantic history, and the anxieties and joys of the writer's life - all in the hope that the audience can help her work out that ever-important question: what comes next? ... (from the publicity blurb).

This elder Australian writer appears on stage in a simple costume of warm Autumnal colours and takes quiet command of the space of the SBW Stables stage and looking at all of us in the full lighting of the auditorium engages us in a journey through the fantasies and realities of a career as an Australian artist.The lighting arranged by Ben Brockman is the other excellent performer - relatively subtle in influence.

Standing, sitting, wandering around the space, occasionally sipping from a glass of water Ms Oswald entrances you into hearing the incredible journey of her life, the private and the professional. From the hypochondriacal depths of fantasy fed by commercial television as a child - MARCUS WELBY MD - where every week, consequently, she was suffering from some different tragic incurable disease, to the naive pursuits of a romantic and sexual life at University, and her encouragement to consider the life of a writer as the path she should follow at the age of 17 by none other than one of her theatrical heroes : John Bell.

She reminds us of her successes: I claimed DAGS (1987), BANANAS IN PYJAMAS (1992), GARY'S HOUSE (1996) and OFFSPRING (2010 - 2013) as my conscious touch-points with her output. There is much more that has found a life. And during the night she physically produces a tonnage of script, laid out on the floor of the stage, commissioned but never produced - a weight of lifeless paper. She talks of work sent to producers, theatre and otherwise, of characters and stories conjured joyfully from her imagination provoked by her acute observation of the world about her that has never had a life beyond that conception - of work sent and never even acknowledged as received by the gate-keepers to production, a rudeness that is accepted as part of the business etiquette. Ms Oswald shows the tribulation and pain of her striving as an artist. It demonstrates for the audience the reality of the life of a writer, in which the pain of rejection is the most prominent sauce. It may, also, by plain thinking, and comparable referencing  present the general familiarity of any person who chooses the ARTS in any of its means of expression as a way of living. Rejection being the most common factor.

There is in the weaving employed by Ms Oswald, some moments of acute politics that protests, gently : e.g. one being of the obsession of our producers who are in pursuit of the emerging artist at the expense, the ignoring, of the experienced, the Elder of the Tribe, who knows that the wheel has been invented and knows how it is constructed and can be construed. Who actually can write plays and who have a track record of doing so. Elders who could, should, mentor the emerging youngster - you know like what used to happen in "the good old days".

This night at the Griffin, sensibly Directed by Lee Lewis, is so pleasant that I buried my negative prejudice about one person performance. This work, led by a raconteur of such self-deprecating style, is full of seductive humour and the means to have us identify to a point of absolute comfort. We, happily recognising the events where her life and ours have crossed paths (e.g. MARCUS WELBY M.D.), but, as well, her showing us without rancour or angry judgement some of the injustices/outrages of her profession.

Do go. It is a charming opportunity to gather with like-minded people and warm up to some of the reasons that make life worth living and provides some direction as to where to place our own battle fronts with the Artists of our time - with the famous and the occasion famous and those artists that have had no fame (or living) at all, but could make no other choice of career, could not do anything else. Those storytellers who quietly bleed for us - take an artist such as Van Gogh as an instance of suffering.

Ms Oswald has woven a little triumph.

Dead Skin

Photo by Jasmin Simmons

White Box in association with KXT bAKEHOUSE present DEAD SKIN by Laneikka Denne, at the Kings Cross Theatre (KXT), in the Kings Cross Hotel. 2nd April - 17th April.

DEAD SKIN is a new play by a young playwright, 19 year old Laneikka Denne, and although the author declares, in her program notes, that the play is not auto-biographical, there is a vicissitude in the energy of the company, particularly, as the writer is also playing the leading character, Andie. It is that that makes this production a truly purgatorial experience as we witness so large a number of raw emotional crises.

Andie, driven by the usual hormonal shiftings that go on in a young schoolgirl, has a passionate crush on her best friend at school, Maggie (Ruby Maishman), who does not, it turns out, feel at all the same way - a huge kissing moment becomes quite complicated for all of us. Andie, further, belongs to a single parent family, brought up by her father, Henry (Abe Mitchell), and his partner, step-mother, Audrey (Camila Ponte Alvarez), and she finds that situation a volatile trigger, as Audrey determinedly wants to be the good step-mother. "She is not my mother" is an angry undertone of Andie's  behaviour. For, Andie aches, aches, for a knowledge of her real mother. And we enter the story on the night that exploded her life - declare the visuals on one of the walls of the set. It is the night, whilst working at her part-time job in a Redfern convenience store, that she sees a hooded figure, on the security screens and feels, viscerally feels, she is seeing her mother. Is it a haunting or a reality? Climatically, we find that her instincts were true, and the hooded biological mother, Andea (Sarah Jane Kelly), was, indeed in the store. Andrea has her story revealed, consequently.

Director Kim Hardwick has nurtured this play over two years with the writer, and has found a solution to cope with the many, many, short scenes with an extremely minimal set of props that facilitates the text's fluidity, to allow the complicated space and time jumps that the writer has jigsawed the text with as her dramatic means of construct. She has written a shuffle of episodes to keep the audience, I suppose, alert, rather than comfortable, by using the more familiar linear story structure. Set and Costume Design solutions are by Angus Kosti. The assistance given by a very busy lighting plot from Martin Kinnane, also attempts to create a design pattern so as to not derail the audience's patience with the short attention spans of the brief scene writing - keeping us engaged.

My purgatorical endurance really has to do with the obvious effort that Laneikka Denne imbues in the leading role that she has written for herself, as she exhibits all the observed 'ticks' of the teenage girl at a certain time in her metamorphoses - by realising the girl's agitated physical insecurities and high volumed vocal pitch as she actually remembers it - and by not employing any theatre crafting at all, so her efforts are literally physically painful to watch and prevents one from empathising at all with the character's triggered explosions, and from caring to work through the jigsaw of the narrative as it happens. The performance is a difficulty because the character is so central to almost every scene, there is no respite.

In contrast, the rest of the company of actors attempt to ground the play with nuance and steading control, working around the offers that Ms Denne hurls at them, to try to bring the audience into an empathetic fold to stay with the play's journey.

DEAD SKIN, asks us to observe the collision of many explosive triggering events of psychological importance for growth in a very compressed time reality of a young woman/girl moving into a place of maturity and hopefully, responsibility. 

It was an exhausting 80 minute sit. 

The writing is very promising and one hopes that Laneikka Denne keeps close to her trusted mentor, Kim Hardwick, when writing her next work, and, perhaps, elects to not play the core role in the first outing of her next work. Watching DEAD SKIN from outside may have helped the production more, than it did by sitting in the centre of the action. 

Obviously, a writer's first play outing of interest and promise.