Synopsis: Venice 1571. An artist is commissioned to create a masterpiece, a celebration of one of the most decisive military victories of all time, the battle of Lepanto. A 1000 square foot immortalisation of Christian dominance over Islamic barbarism. But the artist creates instead a bloody and horrific condemnation of the State. Therefore, drastic measures must be taken.
Review: Newly formed theatre company Tooth and Sinew I quote “Are looking to change the face of independent theatre in Sydney. With direction, design and performance that is both highly theatrical and brutally honest, it aims to make its mark.” Reading the programme and seeing the calabar of artists across the board involved in this project, Tooth and Sinew have set themselves a high bar of expectation for themselves and their audience. I was excited to see what this company had to deliver with such highly skilled artists. I also had an admiration for their mission statement, myself being a firm believer that Sydney’s independent scene needs strengthening. Independent should not differ from its professional counterparts due to the minor difference between the two, so often being finance. Of course this is a huge part of staging a production but quality should never suffer because of it. The stigma of independent theatre has been created due to a lot of terrible unthought out productions that have left a bitter taste in the mouth of the general audience who attend. This is NOT the case for Tooth and Sinew, the moment you step into the quaint space of the Old Fitz you are delivered excellence.
Set Designer Andrea Espinoza’s design is elegant and complimentary to the story, no edge wasted or without consideration, a simplistic design with purpose. The set was enhanced by the addition of Ben Brockman’s ambient lighting design and Christie Bennett’s rich gold and red palette based costumes were ‘off the hook’ excellent.
Director Richard Hilliar must be commended for his efforts in bringing this piece of theatre to life. It would not have been an easy feat. Playwright Howard Barker has written an epic production that is extremely rich textually, poetically written hemmed in by politics and religion. It would have taken a tremendous amount of commitment and focus for Hilliar to ensure his actors knew who their characters were and their intentions. Hilliar delivered a well rehearsed production. The text moved swiftly, stage direction was purposeful and clear. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the continuous pattern of triangles which were formed by props or persons. Triangles (if you studied Art History) were a significant process of the Renaissance movement in creating powerful imagery. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was as deliberate as I hoped it was. It was as visually unctuous as a painting itself.
Lucy Miller, as Galactia the artist in the spotlight, delivered with great conviction, vigour and passion. Miller had this character by the balls. Her choices were purposeful and without apology. It would have been tone setting and interesting to have seen her without makeup for this role though as I felt it masked her character slightly. This for me would have assisted the rawness in her femininity. That extra pinch of salt to an already seasoned performance.
Jeremy Waters, as Carpeta an average painter and Galactia’s lover played his character with an emotional frustration with tremendous energy. Waters was brave in his delivery, at times having some very striped bare moments that were blush worthy. Waters choices in physical expression to convey his characters anguish though over the top at times rung true to Carpeta’s situation. An enjoyable performance from start to finish.
Katherine Shearer, as Dementia/Rivera and Nicole Wineberg, as Supporta played Galactia’s daughters. Both ladies showed great spirit and naturalism in their performances which balanced some of the more animated characters in the story. Wineberg who often narrated to the audience what was unfolding on stage carried herself strongly from start to finish. Shearer gave the audience a vibrant performance with beautiful humourous under tones.
Peter Maple, as Prodo the man profiting from his ailments was funny and heartbreaking in his performance. Maple’s character tortured by Galactia’s words responded with a performance that left you feeling compassionate towards his case. An enjoyable watch throughout the story.
Brendan Miles, as Suffici/Sordo gave both his characters a vulnerability and vanity that was pleasing to watch, reminding us all that personal opinion on ideas or art is subjective in the eye of the beholder. Miles performed love-able characters, even though at times they came across a bit pig-headed. Miles had a gentleness in his delivery that had you loving them anyway despite this.
Lynden Jones, As Ostensibile the religious figure of State, gave a portrayal remarkably accurate to life. Passive aggressive in nature, Jones performed with an air of dignity and control about his character, secretive in his physicality a well paced performance.
Mark Lee, as Urgentino was a highlight for me, Lee’s stage presence demanded attention, you could not deny him your complete focus. Lee was animated in his delivery, a childish and fun caricature of a selfish rich powerful member of the State. His portrayal of Urgentino was full of charisma and humour. Lee has a tremendous ability to capture the imagination of the audience in his performance, their attention all his. A delicious performance.
Scenes from an Execution is a food for thought play. It’s content though based in 1571 Venice reminds us that though times may change, human nature seems to not have evolved as much in regards to power, artistic opinion, public opinion and power shifting persuasion. Who decides what is creatively sound? Good or bad? How does one become so hated then so loved? Through out the centuries artists like Galactia have been imprisoned and suffered greatly for their convictions produced in their art. Religious and political fear still controls so many in their opinion and acceptance or denial of others expression. This work is an epic exploration of thought regarding these matters. It has you checking your own personal views, in fact if you allow it, it too can feel very personal. There is a lot to digest and take into account, be ready to focus. What I took from this play was a challenge, sticking to your convictions is not often easy nor is dealing with other people’s projected fears and insecurities. Howard Barker has written universal questions for us to consider. See this play, Hilliar and company have produced a work of art that leaves ample room for the imagination to run wild. Tooth and Sinew have produced a gallant show!
13th May- 31st May at The Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo