WHEN THE RAIN STOPS FALLING

Synopsis: A story of love and loss, placed between two worlds, between a prediction in 1959 and its outcome eighty years later, told through the interconnected lives of two families over four generations.

Review: ‘When The Rain Stops Falling’ is a densely rich, and dark play intertwining characters in a poetic and cinematic nature. The content of this production is not light and fluffy, with family devastation on both sides of the fence that most would never recover from in reality and which haunt all involved in Bovell’s written word. Director Rachel Chant made this complex piece clear, keeping movement simple and purposeful which assisted in audience following who is who, when, where, and at what age circumstances where taking place. Chant’s casting was precise with a strong collection of actors performing complex characters. Chant generated some beautiful shapes from her ensemble, with some moving theatrical portraits.

I did feel strongly on the other hand that this space was not quite right for this particular production, a more intimate environment was required to assist and heighten both text and especially physical action. There was simply way too much room to move in for these actors, which interfered and went against characters stakes, and actors physicality. The text has some very confronting moments from an audience perspective which required a sensation of entrapment and contrast which was rarely achieved. There were also some dramaturgical concerns with some of the scenes, especially those that contained context that required some serious consideration of beats and the purpose of each tiny physical action, the inner symptoms of the characters during these scenes were not as powerfully pushed as required. In these moments the transparency of clear objective or life and death stakes for the characters and performer were thin and less grounded.

The design for this production by Martelle Hunt, though cleverly put together on an independent budget was not the right angle of abstraction for the work, with choices that were overly complicated in approach. With a work as intricate as Bovell’s, less is definitely more. An even more suggestive set would have proved as worthy. Stage management scene changes unneccisarily broke action for prolonged periods of time which hindered the musicality of Bovell’s writing. This too I felt could have been avoided. This all boils down to having too much space to play with.

As I mentioned previously, Chants’ casting choice for this production is well rounded. David Woodland starts strongly as one of the many generations of Gabriel’s. A man running from his past and avoiding his future alone in a run down hopeless unit. Gabriel does not believe in miracles or God, and a fish has just fallen out of the sky in the middle of the dessert. Woodland performs a resonably long monologue with beautiful rhythm and consistency, which kept audience captivated and drawn in. There is definitely room for improvement within the rather constant beat changes from character to character to give clearer definition. Woodland overall gave a solid performance, showed confidence with infectious vitality.

Helen Tonkin, plays the older distant mother of one of the generations of Gabriel’s. A mother who’s harbouring secrets has distanced and unrecoverable hindered her relationship with her son. Tonkin is a fine actor, who showed grief, heart ache and discontent in her characters physicality through the art of stillness. Stillness in fact was beautifully executed throughout this work, a wise choice by Chant and a heartfelt delivery by Tonkin. The stillness in Tonkins’ performance spoke much louder than her characters words ever could. Which is a true reflection of the soul.

Tom Conroy, played a few sons through-out which showcased his capacity for subtle adjustments in character. Conroy is a quality performer who had clearly found some foundational truths that were honest and believable. Conroy is a very generous performer who held nothing back without revealing all the mystery. Plenty for the audience to question and discover in his performance.

Peter McCallum, as Joe gave his audience a character to feel for and cheer on. Joe a soft-hearted, simple living man who has spent his life loving a woman who is loosing her mind in her age, with past and current circumstantial painful truths being flung in his face. McCallum’s performance was all heart and soul.

Renae Small, played the country girl Gabrielle with an awkward endearing quality that gave her character a rough diamond appearance. Her performance was enjoyable and at times humorous throughout. There were exchanges between Conroy and Gerald that at times felt textually out of beat and jarring, but these were not dominant of her performance. Small was engaging to watch.

Hailey McQueen, was given the challenging role of the younger version of one of a few lineages of Gabriels’ mother. McQueen had text that was by far the most confronting of Bovell’s writing dealing with a husband whose secret reveals subject matter that would make any stomach turn. Though somewhat unexplored I felt in the physical incarnation of her performance, and her emotional choices were surprisingly subtle considering the subject in spotlight, McQueen gave a gripping performance throughout. Her stillness also desirable to the eye with a human connection of sorrow not easily brushed aside.

Olivia Brown, played the aged Gabrielle whose mind is wandering from past to present with tremendous capacity and strength. Brown is a gripping performer whose emotional dwellings were clear and raw. Brown held a physical presence which made clear the stage is her place of comfort. Browns’ performance gorgeous from stake to stake. Lovely, sad and heartbreaking.

All in all Chant has done a beautiful job with a delicate text and smart casting. Sensational written play by Bovell. Worth your buck and worth your attention. On at The New Theatre till the 18th April

Photo credit: Bob Seary

AND NOW TO BED

Subtlenuance Theatre Company

Kings Cross Hotel Theatre

Directed by: Paul Gilchrist

Starring: Paul Armstrong, Shauntelle Benjamin, Erica Brennan, Richard Cornally, Jennie Dibley, Edric Hong, and Eleanor Stankiewicz

playwrights: Donna Abela, Sarah Carradine, Margaret Davis,Mark Langham, Melissa Lee Speyer, Con Nats and Katie Pollack

Synopsis: Apart of Paul Gilchrists ‘Table Talk Trilogy’ ‘And Now to Bed’ is the final installment, this time the exploratory topic is sex. From the actors experience, then penned by some of Australia’s finest playwrights.

Review: Vulnerability, it’s one of, if not the most important necessities of being an actor. Vulnerability is the fuel for success, drive and human connection. It is through vulnerability truth emulates. Paul Gilchrist has done a sensational job with ensuring vulnerability is in the spotlight. Sex isn’t so much a taboo topic in our western society, talking about it makes for normal conversation with little embarrassment these days, which made this show more relevant than ever to a modern audience (not to say this play wasn’t packed with blush worthy moments, there were plenty of blushing giggles.) The openness and tenderness that accompanied each and every performer in this production was so tangible, pure and truthful I could almost taste it, you could certainly feel it. Each and every crafted monologue was skillfully written, empathetically delivered, interesting, unique and bold. This is what true theatre is all about! I recently read a quote by academy award winner Julianne Moore, on acting “I’m looking for the truth. The audience doesn’t come to see you. They come to see themselves.” As a whole whether audiences acknowledge this or not, I believe this to be true. Human connection is craved, knowing you are not alone in your thoughts or, in this case sexual journey is a relief and it relates, no matter your journey. We all have a sexual journey and stories to tell, good, bad, horrific and divine. It was a gripping choice to have actors voice their own personal experiences.

Gilchrists’ directing was lovely, gentle and fun. The set was simplistic, just a few chairs mirroring the immersive seating arrangement of the audience. Actors looking at audience, audience looking at actors. Intimacy was experienced in a non sexual way towards the performers and the audience, a common knowledge, understanding and heart to heart in this gorgeous basement theatre space all in all absolutely sublime. Gilchrist hit the spot, with tempo, rhythm, and narrative. A very well balance show with a cast that knocked the ball out of the theatrical park.

Up first Paul Armstrong. Calm, sure and direct with brushes of budding nerve endings took us on a journey of bisexuality, love gained, love lost, and love born. A great start to the show and a joy to watch.

Erica Brennan, delivered an honest heart bearing monologue. The girl is funny, taking her audience on a vulnerable roller coaster ride of self discovery and declaration of peace with one’s self. Brennan was beautifully unapologetic and bold in sharing her experience. No doubt an influential performance.

Shauntelle Benjamin, painted a rather graphic portrait of sexual experience, which was forth right and brutally honest to the core. The awkward sex, the bad sex, the kinky sex and the right sex. Benjamin covered it all, there was a beautiful moment when she directed her performance to her partner in the crowd which was romantic and lovely, a privilege to witness.

Edric Hong, performed a sexual journey that began from primary school curiosity and religious discipline that quite clearly shaped the journey he is on today. Origami was used magically assisting Hong to dive into a more adult reflection of sensuality and partnership. Hong gave a performance that was generous and prismatic in style.

Jennie Dibley, gave us a gorgeous performance with long ago tales of love from days when sex was taboo and rarely discussed. Self education was her key to knowledge. Dibley is a darling of a performer that could not be matched in life experience. For the younger audience it was a reflection on history and a reflection of how far we have come in educating our children on the topic of sex and pregnancy. For the older crowd I don’t doubt the giggles and sighs were memories of similar experiences long ago. A clear favourite from where I was sitting.

Eleanor Stankiewicz, played cleverly her views through the eyes of politics. Stankiewicz performed with power and style, less romance more truth-of-the-matter. She showed her feminine sexuality at times, but in small bursts making sure the audience knew she was in control of her sexuality, no one else. Stankiewicz was a beautiful contrast, funny and gloriously factual in approach. She had my vote!

Richard Cornally, performed a poetic coming of age story of seeking truth and meaning and what it was to be a man, in love and finding his true self through all the facade built over time. Survival. Survival. Vulnerable and soul-searching. Cornally presented puzzle pieces of his life that formed a visual picture that was somber yet beautiful. A lovely end to a smashing show.

Each cast member, hand-picked by Gilchrist held unique vastly different experiences which made for a rich, funny, vibrant edge of your seat show. I can not recommend ‘And Now to Bed’ enough, you will not be disappointed. A show with heart is a winner in my books, there is so much heart you can feel it beating in the room.

FREAK WINDS

Old Fitz Theatre – Red Line Productions

Written & Directed by Marshall Napier

Starring: Marshall Napier, Anna Bamford & Ben O’Toole

10th March – 11th April

Synopsis: In a quiet neighbourhood on a dangerously stormy night, brash insurance salesman Henry Crumb invades the home of the reclusive Ernest and his mysterious companion Myra. Although Ernest seems like the perfect patsy, Henry’s sales-pitch doesn’t go as planned and the evening soon takes a strange and unsettling turn…

Review: It never ceases to amaze me when set designers take the intimate odd shaped stage that is the Old Fitz and use the architecture to its full advantage. Set and costume designer Lisa Mimmocchi stole the show with her savvy and sophisticated design. Very impressive to say the least giving this production a professional feel that was executed brilliantly. I was sure I was in for a wonderful surprise, the last time a set designer transformed this space so magnificently was Rodney’s Fisher’s ‘God of Hell’. And that was a hell of a show! So when the performances began my expectations were high.

The play started out beautifully, lighting designer Alexander Berlage and sound designer Nate Edmondson setting the tone of the piece that was immersive and interesting. Marshall Napier as Ernest was first on the scene, things were starting off well. We were taken through a moment of an apparent lonley, disabled, old man which was an endearing beginning. This moment was soon interrupted by the sound of his door bell to which we hear a very loud sales man, Henry Crumb, doing his best to get inside to sell the old man some insurance. The weather outside is aggressive and unforgiving. Ben O’Toole who plays Henry Crumb burst through the door when given access with an aggression right off the bat that was hostile and on edge. O’Toole remained at this level through out his entire performance. It didn’t take me long to feel alienated by his high blood pressured attempts at expressing his inner turmoil. I felt I was watching one beat of intense action that spread out over two hours. I found myself concerned for this performers health more than finding it an interesting directing or performance choice. It was linear and brash displaying no layers that made this character seem near close to resembling a real person. After 30 minutes of O’Toole continuing to push aggression as his main action I shut off completely, my care for his character non existant. I desperately needed to discover this character but instead I was forced to endure one choice which quickly put O’Toole in a corner he could not get out of. O’Toole, no doubt gave a passionate performance but it had no constraint and no resistance which made me wonder if much time had been allocated to exploring other possibilites between director and actor. If they did, the process was not enough.

Marshall Napier, on the other hand had a clear grasp on the mental state of his character, revealing a man who has quite clearly lost touch with reality. The lonley, harmless man we were faced with at the beginning of the play was clearly nothing of the sort as events began to unfold. Napier gave a strong performance as an actor, his experience and commitment was evident. My concern though quickly turned to the fact that he had written and directed this piece as well as starred in it. It is very rare I have seen a performance with this trinity combination and seen a balanced production. This production did not get the directing attention that it required to generated the type of terror and intensity that was required for this genre of theatre. Napiers’ writing, though skillfully written was too informative leaving very little as an audience member for discovery, there were too many moments assumption were pushed forward instead of suggestions. Ideas were preached instead of positioned in a way that the audience could become apart of the narrative by asking questions. It was clear Napier had drawn from a mirad of influences, the film ‘Misery’ quickly came to mind. The execution in ‘Freak Winds’ fell short of this production being a masterpiece like ‘Misery’ is, regardless of the difference of medium. I strongly believe Napier would have a much better production if he let go of that director hat and handed it to someone who would had a subjective view of the piece as a whole. The fact that Napier starred and directed this piece made his performance, though strong, insulated and for the other actors their performances were thin.

Anna Bamford, who appears as disabled character Myra too performed a very unexplored character. Her motivations were extremely unclear and her objectives were not clear from a viewer’s perspective. Bamford, showed confidence and glimmers of humour but very little else could be said of why Myra was who she was. Her character almost seemed pointless. Again, directing has failed her here. Where was the exploration, the depth? There just wasn’t any.

I appreciate what Marshall Napier was trying to execute by writing a thriller, but it is a very hard sell to an audience. This is a style that must be impeccable in every aspect, performance and depth of character, clarity of objective, and most important the stakes for each character. I had no idea (bar Henry not wanting to die) what the root issues and stakes were. I found myself frustrated, alienated and by the last scene felt like I was in a cheap Halloween show, which I am sure is NOT Napier’s key goal. Again the set production, lighting design and sound out shone the show, which is never a good sign.

‘Freak Winds’ is not a terrible show, it has all the elements to be something quite gripping and superb. Unfortunately it is an unbalanced show that needs some writing and directing adjustments.

Photo credit: Tim Levy

QUEEN BETTE

Old 505 Theatre

Devised by Peter Mountford & Jeanette Cronin

Starring: Jeanette Cronin

25th Feb-15th March

Review: It was a stormy, windy, dramatic night to go out and watch the theatre. Never has the weather made such a statement that was so poignant to the written text and a metaphorical reflection of the character we all know so well, Bette Davis. Jeanette Cronin, who never fails to perform to her audience with tremendous generosity and flare described in character Davis’ birth, “Born on a stormy night in between the crack of lightning and the sound of thunder!” It was too surreal for words as we sat there with the howling weather a walls depth away from us. Bette Davis is without a doubt a role Cronin was born to play, her embodiment of the golden era Hollywood starlet from entry to the stage to her exit was a welcome intrusion to the senses, like wind slamming closed a door, attention was demanded. Bette Davis was alive and well! She was going to tell you the story of her life and you were damn well going to listen! Listen we did. Cronin expressed the charm of Davis, and her pain it was the passionate strong-willed head strong side of Davis whom trumpet over all her womanly cards. The audience was dealt a pack full of red-blooded queen of hearts, nothing less nothing more.

Cronin and Mountford have devised a piece of theatre that possesses guts, structure, narrative and at times giggle worthy comedy. Clarity of time and place sometimes though were a little blurry, this I feel is due to the structure of the beats which at times could have slowed down somewhat. The play is full of frenzy 85% of the time, which was joyous to witness by a professional such as Cronin, and from what we know true to Davis’ nature. But even so, it made you wish for stillness to relish in from time to time. This could be executed easily by adjusting the musicality of the piece slightly, to give those moments so fervently expressed by Cronin a further lacquering of depth for the audience to indulge in the bittersweet nature of Davis’ lonely reflections.

The sound scape, lightning and set were all supportive elements of the text. Cronin’s costuming was cleverly used becoming part of a very intricate storytelling process. Cronin’s ability to transform context of story with costume and props was efficiently and effectively mesmerizing making this show ingratiating to watch.

Queen Bette is a show not to be missed by any lover of both Bette Davis and Jeanette Cronin. If you haven’t much knowledge of either of them I suggest you get out from under that rock and treat yourself to being introduced to great performer past and great performer present!