THE GOD OF HELL

Synopsis: Sam Shepard’s funny, frightening and relevant comedy is a scathing indictment of the invasion of old-time America by a cruel new America. The quiet life on a Wisconsin dairy farm is disrupted by the unexpected visit of a scientist on the run from a mysterious secret project; and by the intrusion of a government bureaucrat whose aggressive patriotism becomes a form of torture.

Review:
Walking into the Old Fitzroy theatre space one is normally expecting to see the quaint space used to the best of a company’s ability. It is compact and endearing, more often than most the set designer has succumbed to what they have to work with, with no complaints from the audience as all accept and would most certainly agree you’ve got to use what you have been given. This indeed was not the case for the mind of director and designer Rodney Fisher who has managed to transform the quaint space and overturn its announcement of its constraints. Busting that thought right open by transforming this space into something quite surprisingly extraordinary. Fishers design is epic in its detailing of a Wisconsin farm-house, nothing a miss or forgotten, professional on every level from trinkets to the smell of cooking bacon. Your initial thought with this design is that audience is being presented a play of literal means, yet the text unravels being exposed as more abstract with bold symbolic revelations than entirely literal. A literal set turns eerie by the texts heightened reality making it evermore the brilliant.
Fishers direction was equally as beautiful and transfixing as his design. Not a new kid on the block, his experience and expertise shone through his actors, their movement and convictions were firm and unwavering. The silences were filled with purpose, intent was clear, gripping and well guided. The text was imbedded into the minds and bodies of these actors as truth and that is directing at its greatest success.

Vanessa Downing plays Emma, the house wife of this little dairy farm. Downing portrayed this character with a constrained boldness. The character a simple house wife who was born in the house she still resides is pushed to her limits by a pushy political figure to her tether. Downing exposed her characters fears and lack of understanding in ways that felt sincere and honest. Downings performance was rich and moreish, enjoyable and relishing to the dawning of the lights to curtain.

Jake Lyall plays Haynes, the on the run science experiment of sorts. I don’t like to compare actors to other actors but I could not help compare his acting abilities to that of American actor Ryan Gosling. Lyalls emotional depth and physical connection to his characters immense fears and torture was an exceptional performance to behold. The energy he projected and consumed was electrifying. This young talent will no doubt go far in his career if he continues to clearly sponge up direction and character like he did on The God of Hell stage. Stunning to watch.

Ben McIvor plays Welch, a grossly patriotic guilt-tripping political figure of the new America. McIvor played the part with an immaculate calculation that was humourous and sinister. A heightened charismatic caricature that was compelling to watch. His execution was heartless towards the other characters who showed signs of humanity and the human condition, where as his had no sympathies what so ever, only to his cause. McIvor presented an almost alien robotic human being which is terrifying in itself a brain washed idea of a man. McIvor was believable and gave no hint of who the man behind the mask once was. McIvors convictions presented some scary ideas of first world manipulations and terrorism. Again Fishers direction spot perfect, McIvor in step beautifully.

Tony Poli plays Frank, the Farmer and lover of his heifers. He cares for a simple old-fashioned America with an old-fashioned dream. Poli gave a performance to watch that was like eating Grandma’s Sunday roast, warming, humble and satisfying. Frank is an impressionable character with a big heart that is taken advantage of. Poli uses his movement and facial expressions in a manner that words can not often express. Poli was pure in his performance, comical and transparent. An almost child-mannered like approach that had his character in a regretful bind having you feeling sympathetic for the kind of person he represents.

In conclusion The God of Hell is a whip smart play by Sam Shepard a play of the utmost professional standard. Rodney Fisher has put together a production worthy of a sell out season with a company of actors and production crew that held nothing back, a HUGE bravo from me! It goes down like a great 10 year aged smooth whiskey!

The God of Hell is playing at SITCO at the Old Fitzroy 26th-13th September

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CIRCA ‘S’

CIRCA are a Brisbane based company who pride themselves on the extraordinary blend of ballet, gymnastics, tumbling, contortion and mystique, creating together a contemporary circus. Director Yaron Lifschitz has combined these art forms into a show that doesn’t want to make you blink. Some would describe the performers as defying gravity but I would describe them as athletes who use gravity as a tool to assist their bodies to perform maneuvers that require a great element of trust between the invisible force (gravity) and among each other. I was particularly impressed with CICRAS boasting un need for flashy costumes or elaborate lighting and imagery to add to the festivity before us, the audience, but instead presented the astonishing abilities of the human body and its form. ‘S’ is a production that is full of breath-taking moments, some beautiful shapes and energy like electricity. An hour and fifteen minutes of beauty, humour and simplistic invention, using only shards of colour, water, light and microphones as props to heighten moments of clownish humour, acrobatic feats and balance beyond belief.

The ensemble members Nathan Boyle, Jessica Connell, Gerramy Marsden, Daniel O’Brien, Brittannie Portelli, Kimberley Rossi and Duncan West together and singularly show cased their talents to a gasping and entranced audience. One of the highlights for me was Jessica Connell’s Hula-hooping skills, she had those hoops moving at such a pace at times it felt as if she was maneuvering through a bubble instead of a giant plastic ring.

The music used to assist the performers in ‘S’ is fantastical and emotionally rewarding, giving a sense of power and achievement, a hunger games kind of drive (but no ones trying to kill each other.) Music designers Kimmo Pohjonen & Samuli Kosminen have done an outstanding job in creating a perfectly paced, balanced and rhythmically designed scores that propelled the ensemble, like their invisible ensemble member gravity to a platform of supernatural grounds.

CIRCA is made up of an ensemble of fine atheletes who have taken their skills to the creative field of theatrical circus showmanship, a show for young and old, not for the faint hearted but for the heart after boldness and adventure!

CIRCA ‘S’ is showing at Riverside Parramatta 21-23 August
information on their tours nationally can be found on their website circa.org.au

JOAN, AGAIN

Synopsis/note from writer and director: Joan, Again is not an attempt at history. In the twenty years following Jeanne d’Arc’s death. there were at least four imposters who claimed to be her; but this particular story is my invention – Gilchrist

In the world of this play, the extraordinary Jeanne has been reduced to a story. Reduced? Hopefully, the play explores both the potential and the danger of stories, and does so at several levels From the public to the personal, from the political to what might be called the spiritual.

Review: Subtlenuance is a company who has rightly earned its place in independent theatre in creating works that will always satisfy with its consistent thread of strongly written pieces of theatre. Playwright Paul Gilchrist continues to hone his talent and craft as a playwright with tremendous ability. I have seen many Subtlenuance productions, this is the first I have reviewed. And I am glad it is Joan, Again that I have the privilege of reviewing.

Gilchrist has out done himself with his saturated descriptive and poetic text for Joan, Again. A real feast for any actor to wrap their mouths around and any audiences ears to behold. Gilschrists writing leaves you with a banquet of thought to consume, rich in philosophical ideas and debate Joan, Again is well-balanced with humour making the laden text easy to digest. Gilchrist has a mastered ability in keeping his audience attentive through his writing, he is a savvy insightful debater, throwing his thoughts into characters with tremendous clarity and drive.

Lead of the show Sylvia Keays played Joan with great spirit and ability, and with brazen assurance. She performed with vigor and conviction with a comfort that had ease. Keays had a un wavering capacity taking her character to the nooks and crannies of a curious unexplored mind of a women burnt by the world. Keays played a Joan that was consuming and brave in her facade. The second act had Keays show different shards of Joan’s humanity that had you comparing your own.

Helen Tonkin who plays strong protagonist Isabelle was not given an easy task. Her dialogue so gutsy, raw, poetic and relentless. Tonkin arrived on stage with guns blazing, act one was solid and cynically delivered, her words condensed to poison or honey depending on your personal view on religion and politics. Tonkins character is rich in opinion, Tonkin not letting a word lie without meaning, driving each word home to whom she was directing it to. A comedian at times as well as a cynic, (or realist) her delivery was welcomed and respected. A stand out performance.

Bonnie Kellett gave a spritey performance as Bernadette, playing the role as a following lamb well. The gullible impressionable type was well delivered by Kellett. Her performance was consistent, performed with a child like contempt which suited her character to a T.

Dave Kirkham as Felix was a roaring success in his comical timing and ability, using the humour with in the text in a loveable and contagious manner. Kirkhams ability to reach out and receive compassion had merit and I for one felt compelled to support his cause. An elderly innocence well-played.

Kitty Hopwood as Marie, performed her straight as an arrow character with sufficiency and directness. Her characters convictions were strong and she stuck by them with out apology. A strong performance in the first act and an emotional unravelling in the second. Insecurities that were peaking through her performance in regards to her characters journey, broke through in the end like spilled wine. An overall good performance.

Lynden Jones as Cardinal Theobald has this role well and truly in the bag. His slyness and execution of his delivery in both speech and body language was brilliant and infuriating. Jones’s ability to shine the repulsive nature of true falsehood behind sacred cloth supports Gilchrists debate and views on the legitimacy of the motives behind the power. Jones held his own, with an anchored core and a sailing delivery. There wasn’t a single moment you did not believe him.

James Collette played Gerard the village coward. Collette delivered both a comical and animated character whose every feeling or mood was expressed boldly in his facial expressions and body language. Strongest in moments of humour his deeper moments especially in the second act would have been stronger if he had given more grunt in his characters moments of intoxication, a bit more follow through would have made his scenes more human.

Ted Crosby played Father Berthold, though a passionate performance and likeable to watch. I felt that Crosby stood out among his fellow cast members who suffered the most with lack of direction, especially in his physicality often looking uncomfortable in his characters skin. In saying that Crosby showed great commitment and followed through regardless of dis comfort.

Kit Bennett played the quite village simpleton Therese, Bennett delivered a character that held the weight of the world on her shoulders with a meekness and stillness that was endearing and loveable. Bennetts performance was reassuring and quirky in manner and tone. In the end the last one standing with perhaps the clearest perspective of all of the characters Bennett presented a thoughtful and underestimated character from strength to strength.

Special mention must be made to Liam O’Keeffe for his beautiful lighting design which from the get go rally set the tone and mood for each act simply and purposefully. Rachel Scones set design had great eye to detail, her costumes also thoughtfully pulled together. believable surroundings supporting the play.

As always when attending a production by Subtlenuance I am left appreciating the text so much, I wish I could be as generous with my words when it comes to Gilchrists directing. Gilchrist is a playwright, but as a director I feel for his own work it does not support the text like it could. His plays should soar, have people in standing ovation in applause. I believe very strongly that Subtlenuance would benefit greatly allowing another directors eye to take the reins on their productions. I wished this so much for Joan, Again. This production though altogether as a whole enjoyable to watch could have been so much more with stronger direction. The text carried the play to the sky, more assertive direction could have carried it to the stars.

Joan, Again is playing at the Old Fitzroy theatre 5th-23rd of August

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