Friday, May 21, 2021

Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner

Photo by Teniola Komolafe

Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre Company present SEVEN METHODS OF KILLING KYLIE JENNER, by Jasmine Lee-Jones, at the Eternity Theatre, Darlinghurst. 17th April - 15th May (an extended season).

SEVEN METHODS OF KILLING KYLIE JENNER, is a 2019 play, by Jasmine Lee-Jones. It premiered at the London based ROYAL COURT THEATRE - a theatre company that is a factory (meant in a complimentary way) producing some of the best new work that there is to see. If we are ever are able to get over to London again in our lifetime, this is a theatre that should always be on your list of must attend no matter what is showing. (In fact, I advise, no matter what you have read from the British critics, go. The standard of work is always impressive even if the particular production is regarded as a dud. The Australian stage, rarely, reaches that quality of presentation we see over there. It is always rewarding somewhere, somehow.) With the available National Theatre productions the quality of work one can see in London is immensely impressive and, mostly, awe inspiring. 

The National Theatre can be seen on the Net, so, some of the Royal Court repertoire can also be seen. The productions are also screened in the Art House Cinemas: The Palace and the Dendy.

SEVEN METHODS OF KILLING KYLIE JENNER, after reading the London reviews, seemed to be an impossible wish to see in Sydney. It is written for two black female Londonites: Cleo (Moreblessing Maturure) and Kara (Vivienne Awosoga), arguing in a difficult regional dialectical demand debating black politics, and using a youthful cultural entry point of the twittter/internet sphere. All this may have presented as obstacles for attempting to produce this play in Sydney as an Independent Production. Darlinghurst Theatre Company and Green Door Theatre Company were not deterred. Bravo their courage.

A twitter announcement from Kylie of the Kardashian/Jenner cultural juggernaut as the cause of triumphalism as the first self made billionaire infuriates a low earning citizen, Cleo, to retaliate with a reply that burgeons a dynamic lighting up of the 'gadgets' of contemporary communication. Cleo's best friend Kara joins her at Cleo's small flat/home where the 'twitter war' ignites a cauterising battle of political ethics that are at once, universal, and personal, between the two women. Covering, amongst much else then just colour/race, blackness, feminism and queerness, the play becomes a crucible of hot confrontation and telling of truths that flay the two women to the central core of their joint beliefs - challenging their friendship. Kara is forced to leave the friendship, and standing alone, Cleo must confront the pedestal that she has placed herself on. The play is brilliant in its furious argument, a stimulant for intellectual awakenings and compassionate empathies, rawly exposed for the characters and, I believe, for the audience. The play, I must add, is a comedy as well as a confrontation - bracingly funny. 

SEVEN METHODS OF KILLING KYLIE JENNER, in this jubilant, bold production by Shari Sebbens is the best theatre that I have sat through in ages. It is a theatrical, intellectual  cyclone of energetic thoroughness that makes one feel that the theatre is not dead as a contemporary means to stir an audience to thought, word and hopefully, deed. 

Now, reading some other reviews of this production it has been interesting to see the authors declare their cultural age/heritage in assessing this play, to justify their owning and loving the material, treading delicately around the social appropriation, by them, (HA!) for having enjoyed it so much. I have to declare that I'm an elder of the tribe, an old, near dead white guy, who has passionately pursued his life goals and is quietly satisfied, and I wish to declare my identification with the conversation action of this play. I am unequivocal in my love of it.

This text had a third character on the stage : a live action video by Wendy Yu that vitally flashes the internet conversations in their encrypted language and emoji images, above the stage, accompanied by an adept Sound Design by Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers, both, helping to sustain a flow of energy that ensnared our concentration. It was no matter that I had to 'learn' what was going on above my sight lines, for while I sat there, I became a quick learner - because the energy of this production made me to want to be in the know, not to be left ut of it or behind. Nor did the fact that the  dialect used by Ms Maturure was almost, to begin with, a foreign language, to my ear, for, similarly, I gradually 'tuned' in, and I used the distinctive contemporary cultural gestural offers that both the women used, as an accompanying tool to assist in my translating. Nothing much was lost in translation - though I saw this production late in its season and I wished - wish - I could see it again.

The Set and Costume Design by Keerthi Subramanyam, fitted this space as best I have seen it used, lit well by Kate Baldwin.

Both Ms Maturure and Ms Awosoga, as individual artists and as a comic duo - ensemble - were brilliant in all their courageous flamboyances. Ms Sebbens should and ought to take great credit for her whip smart, daring Direction. Jasmine Lee-Jones was brought to life with assuredness  to bring contemporary theatre life in Sydney into the next age. This production should find a further extension. I, personally, have many, many theatre going friends who missed it in this first showing and I would like them to be able to see it and grow. I, definitely, want to see it again.

It is interesting to see that the Royal Court has announced that a revival of SEVEN METHODS OF KILLING KYLIE JENNER will be the opening production of the Theatre after the long stop hiatus caused by Covid 19. 

Bring it back to Sydney. We can learn from its urgency.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Dogged

Photo by Brett Boardman

Griffin Theatre Company presents, DOGGED, by Andrea James and Catherine Ryan, at the SBW Theatre, Darlinghurst/Kings Cross. 30th April - 3rd June.

DOGGED, by Andrea James and Catherine Ryan, directed by Declan Greene, is a new Australian play. It is set in the 1840's during the colonisation with sheep farmers in the electorate that became McMillan, up in the Alpine district that we know today as Monash, but is Gunaikurnai land. 

DOGGED is an Australian Gothic tale of a white farm daughter (Blazey Best) with her dog (Anthony Yangoyan) scrambling in the primitive bush for a living and engaging with a Mother Dingo (Sandy Greenwood), in search of her "little ones", her lost pups. It is a bleak unforgiving land realised in an oppressive black and white envelopment by Designer, Renee Mulder: claustrophobic  walls, floor and roof, that is pierced by atmospheres of light created by Verity Hampson, met by the eerie and penetrating musical score by Steve Toulmin. It is the constant aural presence of the Sound that is a pregnant propellant of the tension of the storytelling.

Catherine Ryan has written a poem play with the dialectical grounding of the Gunaikurnai woman Andrea James. The language is for the human and the animals of the story- the dogs and dingo - accompanied by a physical muscularity created on the bodies of Sandy Greenwood and Anthony Yangoyan by Kirk Page.

It is an intense and impressive 80 minute immersion into a dark time past in a territory of bleak scratchings for the means of survival. It is primitive and full of blood, blood and brutal domination, told with a sense of savage time and place, but resonating with the terror and horror of the cycles of life that do reveal, then disappear but, inevitably reappear. Sitting in our seats in the SBW Theatre, 2021, the patterns of nature are still palpable and present - the engagements of the past are the meetings of today.

The production is mostly a visceral confrontation that is physically exciting  - breathtaking - if it is not quite as thrilling in the delivery of the vocal work that is often full of noise and blurred content (remember, as a contrast, the poetry of Angus Cerini's 2013 play THE BLEEDING TREE),  Problems with text, are its many stagnating repetitions that slow the advancement of the action of the play - though, that is buoyed  by the propulsive and incessant score, disguised by the energetic force of the committed actors and their personal belief in the webbing of the play.

I felt the content and protest of the play had been more or less superseded by the Gothic power of the text of the play THE DROVER'S WIFE, by Leah Purcell (2016), and, certainly, in the Screenplay of THE NIGHTINGALE, by Jennifer Kent (2018). The magical realism of the mask and physical possession of the actors in creating the storytellers of this story is a theatrical feat but I felt it landed as a phenomenon for the young adult audience. 

DOGGED, may capture the attention of some, but mostly for its theatrical genre and 'tricks', and not for its message that I felt I had heard before and with more adult power of confrontation.

Honour

Photo by Prudence Upton

Ensemble Theatre presents, HONOUR, by Joanna Murray-Smith, at the Ensemble Theatre Kirribilli. 23rd April - 5th June.

HONOUR, by Joanna Murray-Smith, is a 'war-horse' in the canon of Australian Dramatic Literature, for we have seen several productions of this play over the years since its inaugural production in 1995 at the Playbox in Melbourne. Kate Champion is the Director of this present offering. Ms Murray-Smith in her program notes talks fondly of this play and suggests it may be the best of her work. Certainly, its success in Australia and Internationally might, also, verify that thought. 

I have always thought that Ms Murray-Smith was one of Australia's leading playwrights despite an infamous time when Ms Murray-Smith was represented only by this play on our professional stages in Sydney, but times have changed, and despite the fact that much of her repertoire  has not appeared in professional production here in Sydney still, plays such as her SWITZERLAND have found honour on Sydney stages and thrilled us with her wit, acuity and sensitive eye and mind for her social and political critique of our times. 

This play concerns George (Huw Higginson), a successful literary figure married to Honour (Lucy Bell), who gave up her own literary aspirations as a young poet, to care and facilitate her husband's career, and nurture their daughter, Sophie (Poppy Lynch). And after 32 years of marriage abandons it for a younger woman, Claudia (Ayeesha Ash), a brilliant student of his. It is, as Ms Murray-Smith herself asserts, not a very original story. It is one that we have seen and heard before.

In HONOUR, however Ms Murray-Smith, in a brilliant collection of two-handed scenes allows each of these intimates in this familiar domestic tragedy, to argue passionate points of view that allows us, the audience, to be enthralled by the harrowing verbal thrash for these relatively sophisticated persons in search of reason and survival. 

In this small space at the Ensemble Theatre, I found the play was revealed to me with much more clarity than ever  before, and this was despite the weakness in the casting of Ms Ash, as Claudia, who seemed to me to lack both the physical and intellectual lust of this recklessly ambitious woman who chameleon-like can shape shift her actions with such blade-sharp accuracies to justify her actions throughout her encounter with this family. A clever family that becomes devastated.

Mr Higginson creates a brilliant, elder man helplessly entranced by a youthful siren who can sing and dance the right tunes of flattery to cause him to abandon easily, ruthlessly, all his good sense and life balance for us to suspect that it was always a veneer that cloaked a cruel streak of cold-hearted selfishness cured in misogyny. Beside him, Ms Bell radiates a woman of much hidden strength and ultimate goodness as she navigates the wreckage of her life to arrive at an end that is independent and heading for blossoming fulfilment. It is a warmly intelligent reading of the role. Too, Sophie, has cause to grow up swiftly in a tempestuous sea of moral challenges, that are wonderfully juggled by Ms Lynch in scenes that are mostly of a fragile delicacy of uncharted discovery.

Higginson, Bell and Lynch, are marvellous, attractive to observe. 

The set by Simone Romanuik does not serve the actors comfortably on its different levels that are sharp edged and squashed, nor does it successfully convey a metaphor to enlarge the content  or environments of the play with its Ikea-like unfinished chipboard colours, despite the gesture of the tower of shelves of books (that, with thought during the night, appear to be mostly inaccessible). Damien Cooper lights this space as empathetically as this design allows. While the composition of the music and structure of the Sound Design by Nate Edmondson is sensitive and resonant.

HONOUR, at the Ensemble was an okay night, rescued by wonderful acting by Higginson, Bell and Lynch, and despite the weakness in the casting of Claudia the catalyst of the play's raison d'etre.