186,000 – MKA Theatre of New Writing

06-17 Dec at The Richmond Theatrette, Church St, Richmond

With & By Kerith Manderson-Galvin

also with

Performer
SHAMITA SIVABALAN

Performer
TRELAWNEY EDGAR

Performer
HARVEY ZIELINSKI

About

These are queer times, and when haven’t they been? Invisibility, erasure, hollywood stars, child welfare, 500mg’d, memory foam pillows, and an airplane to New York City all take place in the blink of an eye. MKA’s queer-femme theatre maker Kerith Manderson-Galvin, and a dynamic and fiercely talented team of performers of diverse sexualities and genders, follow the calculations of astronomer Olaus Roemer, to find the liminal space/hotel/desert of the real, where even the sand is itself, queer. MKA’s 186,000 takes Roemer’s calculation of the speed of light (in miles per second), and asks what we miss before it gets to us. Not that anyone measures anything in Miles anymore anyway, unless you’re hurtling down a highway in a red corvette in a Sam Shepard film. Memories, stories and mathematics are all on show, and it’s totally unsettling. As academic J. Jack Halberstam, says “To tell a ghost story means being willing to be haunted.”

Review:

MKA’s 186,000 is easy to review. Kerith Manderson-Galvin just like MKA as a company have produced a progressive, relevant don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss a bunch of shooting stars work. When witnessing this authentic piece of theatrical mastery you invest into the spirit of the piece which left me in a haze of euphoria I didn’t want to exit from. Strongly performance art by nature 186,000 has verbatim text delivered via performers, soundscape and Youtube which struck more than one personal chord, due to the honesty the verbatim text and imagery delivers. Tapping into the social relevance, climate and voice of the queer community this is theatre that will move mountains in you. It is impossible not to engage with the authentic spirit that floats on the ceiling as it oozes out of Kerith and her stunning ensemble. Normalisation of queer people and culture is quickly on the rise (not fast enough as far as I’m concerned) but watching this valuable production filled me with hope that the once voiceless many are making themselves heard. It made me prouder than I already am to be a part of this rich, beautiful vibrant LGBTQI community.

186,000 is a rich exploration that is dream like in style, production value and scenery. Filled with considered movement and choreography that holds the human condition with vulnerability, joy, and strength of expression that plays out truthfully and gloriously. It is such a personal message which made it feel mine too. This show is FRESH like a frozen box of tic-tacs.

Go, for god’s sake go.

 

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OUR FATHER WHO (NEARLY) ART IN HEAVEN 

Sydney Fringe Festival – Reginald Theatre Seymour Centre

Play by N. Gregory Finger

Directed by Stuart Owen

15-19 September

Cast: Chris Heaslip, Catherine Davies, Stuart Owen, Michelle Millgate, Kate Parker-Frost, Richard Clark, Douglas Kent, Daniel Hunter

Synopsis – No one in the Longhorn family has seen each other for six years, but when family patriarch, Hubert, has a massive heart attack the estranged relatives are re-united. Hubert is a renown media personality and reportedly worth millions. As it turns out, everyone in the family is strapped for cash and secretly hoping he won’t pull through. Of course, he does; but his brush with death acts as the catalyst he needed to finally put his affairs in order. Who exactly stands to inherit the substantial estate is now up in the air, and everyone wants a slice of the action.

Review – It’s fringe season in Sydney, the opportunity for all levels of theatre practitioners to put on a show and give it a red hot go at developing/presenting both established and new productions on an independent budget and stage. Playwright Nathan Finger certainly has done that by writing a farce in his production of Our Father Who (Nearly) Art in Heaven. It is an immensely tricky genre to be writing; it takes tremendous skill and observation of human behaviour to develop characters who both project the absurd nature of humanity as well as the truthful aspects of character, personality and given circumstance. Considering this, Mr. Finger has done a clever job, with promising rhythm and tempo with in the piece which does not lack in pace or momentum. New plays are always faced with challenges, with their strengths and their weaknesses exposed and tender with the inevitable re-writes that are sure to happen over the course of a plays kick starting period or even life span. The strength within Fingers writing lies within his confidence with his stories driving force and the absurdist character embellishments that are consistent throughout the piece. Finger has some popping one liners, especially out of the mouth of character Auntie Violet that are well placed and written, he has a firm grasp on dry humour and an ability to easily make his audience laugh. In this respect the production proved successful with an audience responding and engaging to the comedy with vigour and at times applause. The weaknesses in this piece I feel lies in that the plot is built on very thin exposition, with a very heavy cast of nine. This would be considered a large cast for professional shows, for the fringe it’s huge. With so many characters to focus on through-out, there was very little depth that made these characters ring truthfully. Perhaps merging these ideas/characters into two or three bodies instead of nine could produce far more interesting and complex characters. Farce theatre is absurd, yes, but if truthfulness does not resound in the core of the character their absurdist nature produces an actor who uses the absurd as a crutch. It was all too heavy-handed making for performances that became bad parody’s of farce.

This production has great potential, but has been let down in direction by assuming that because this comedy is farce in nature it’s fine to play absurdly and animated without any risk of being over the top. Farce is much more interesting when played truthfully, this creates interesting conflict within the story making for a more enjoyable and engaging experience for the audience. The physicality presented in this production was enormously animated and jarring. My esteemed colleague likened it to monkeys with guns, which I had to agree. Every possible stereotypical expression was magnified by all performers. As a viewer I felt like someone had put my fingers into an electric socket. It was all too much, with no sense of comedy craftsmanship, just bad acting being posed as farce characterisation. You only have to reference shows such as Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce to witness performances such as that of the National Theatres production (not to compare, but surely a perfect place to find inspiration and clarity) of his work to see the brilliant seemingly oblivious naturalistic craft of physical story telling, the “between the lines” comedy which generates absurdity without force by playing the physical story of the work naturalistically. The Vicar of Dibley another fine example of farce done right.

It would have been in director Stuart Owens best interest to have explored this angle as Fingers writing was strong enough to uphold such potential towards this direction. Instead it was hammy sitcom instead of what the piece was designed to be, a farce comedy. It was very hard to establish Fingers more subtle intentions within his writing due to the guns blazing physical explosions that continually surged from the stage. It certainly didn’t serve the writing as strongly as it could have.

Reiterating my comments above, Our Father Who (Nearly) Art In Heaven, shows tremendous promise but has a long way to go in development and exploration both from playwright, director and cast to bring this to where it needs to be. There are question marks within the writing and within direction that are yet to be answered with clarity, but that is what Sydney Fringe Festival is all about.

RIDE & FOURPLAY

Darlinghurst Theatre Co/ Eternity Playhouse

4 Sep – 4 Oct

Plays by Jane Bodie

Directed By Anthony Skuse

Photo credit – Robert Catto

Performed by Tom O’Sullivan, Emma Palmer, Aaron Glenane, Gabrielle Scawthorn

Synopsis thoughts from the programmes Director’s Notes –

Both plays are concerned with how we negotiate relationships, how we use those relationships to garner a sense of identity. They are all striving to be the best versions of themselves as they dance around each other. Most of the time authenticity eludes them as they perform compromised versions of themselves.

Review –

You know the saying, ‘Save the best ’till last?’ it’s a common and well used phrase for a myriad of possible excitable notions towards the expectation of something delicious, fun, or just plain old school fantastic. When leaving the Eternity Playhouse, mentally and mind fully chewing on the rather unctuous amount of theatre I had witnessed in playwright Jane Bodie’s paired up play’s Ride & Fourplay. My first impulsive thoughts don’t often make the first paragraph in my final draft, but as I stepped out into the night air, my first thought stuck like super glue to skin and that is, ‘I can not leave the best till last.’ I have to talk about THAT straight way!’ I just can’t discuss these plays in chronological order of appearance, I have to start talking about Fourplay, Ride won’t get as high an acclaim for reasons I will explain later in my review. But for now, I just can’t wait to discuss the second part of this theatre experience. So here goes.

Renown English theatre director Peter Brook wrote in the opening lines of his book ‘The Empty Space’, regarding the definition of theatre. I quote, “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” This was the very first thing I thought when Fourplay began. The simplistic, raked stage now striped of all its set dressing and naturalism from Ride leaving essentially (with a stylistic twist) an empty space, with two women and two men walking from corner to corner, past one another with sparse physical contact whilst thoroughly engaging their audience, hello minimalism, hello performer focused art, hello my kind of theatre. When I review a show, I am hugely interested in audience actor dynamics, how the audience engage mentally and emotionally by closely observing their physical engagement to what occurs on stage. Hooked, is the word to best describe the audience during Fourplay, hooked I was also, thrilled in fact that director Anthony Skuse chose to run with Bodie’s stage suggestion that this play can be played non naturalistically. It makes her strict note that characters Alice and Jack are to be played naturalistically throughout the work all the more poignant and powerful. Bodie’s mindfulness in regards to structure, form and manipulation of time (as mentioned by Skuse in his director’s notes) makes Fourplay a structural intrigue to watch and I can only assume an intriguing directing opportunity. Fourplay is LIVING proof that great writing can carry an audience from A-Z and on the edge of their seats with out the need to set design show-off, which has exhausted me this year and unimpressed me greatly by some of our prominent theatre companies. This coupled with a director with sound judgement, clear objectives and actors whom have encapsulated their characters beautifully thanks to a specific structural method in style and writing by Bodie, makes for a refreshing, gorgeous approach to theatre making that is foundationally built on equal respect for the written word and trust in director, actors and the creative body as a whole. This play speaks beyond the naturalistic situations of relationships and provides a much more diverse ratio of meaning. Simply, the lack of physical contact, eye contact and typical architectural flesh responses that were forced to be individual made for a much deeper exploration of self as a viewer. This restriction too I feel assisted the actors to not knee jerk react physically in response to each other, but instead instilled focus and purpose in their movement which made for a richer experience as an audience member. The disconnection from naturalism made the intimate moments that were purposefully naturalistic physically poetic. What we would consider a generic intimate response felt brand new because we were deprived of it consistently throughout. As Bodie even mentions out of the mouth of her character Natasha, ‘ There is nothing interesting about a love story. It’s been done to death’ What is interesting about Bodie’s writing and Skuse’s direction is that it is approached from a quirky angle and cleverly so. There is absolutely nothing in Fourplay we haven’t all seen before. In fact it is a cliche super nova in content, but in style and execution it feels as if we are being exposed to something brand new. I dare say, but with conviction that Fourplay is reminiscent of Pop Art. It is the everyday basics on display, the object itself is so common it’s almost invisible but the technique and approach towards it makes it somehow, fascinating, like we are seeing it for the first time.

Aaron Glenane who played Jack in Fourplay seemed right at home in this production, his performance was a stand out for me. Glenane has a naturalistic ability to physically express his character with no sense of striving or strain. Glenane produced a character that was likeable, humorous and most of all genuine. Glenane formed a quick and potent connection with his audience, a very talented performer, a craftsman in his field, I loved his performance. Gabrielle Scawthorn, as Alice gave a performance with her characters heart plucked, in hand and bleeding for all to see, she ebbed and flowed between heart ache, sarcasm and humour with breeze, beautifully and believable. Tom O’Sullivan, as Tom, wove for us a tapestry of a character full of bewilderment, lust, selfishness, little boy straits and elements of boy trying to be man. O’Sullivan is clearly a committed actor, and his performance reflected the at times tongue in cheek aspects of an actors process discussed in the writing and ran with it well. His times of stillness with in this piece though I felt could have been more complimentary by providing his audience with less of the ‘I-am-man-contemplating-my-fate-in-silence’ stance that took so much of his focus it felt forced most of the time, it felt like acting. More of nothing would have been preferred, not trying to be stillness. Just being stillness. Considering his character responses to questions thrown at him by Scawthorns’s character Alice felt reminiscent of Tony Abbott interviews, careless, flippant and inconsiderate to circumstance. I doubt much fluid thought went through his characters mind in silence either. It was as if O’Sullivan was trying to bring some nobility or pride to his character which felt against his characters nature and maturity level.  O’Sullivan though performed with tremendous gusto in Fourplay. Emma Palmer, played the ‘sassy’ flirtatious, confident, controlling character Natasha. Palmer exudes her natural confidence on stage as a performer. She brought a lot of fun and charisma making for a desired shift of feeling from heartbreak to, I don’t give a fuck I’ll do what I want. We all find ourselves there at some point, and it was fun to see this character played in this manner. Even when she was observing her fellow actors in her moments of solitude or stillness she retained this manner that was consistent of her character. Her expressions were a dialogue all on their own. Palmer’s character on paper comes across as rather unbearable at times, but Palmer avoided any eye-roll by playing Natasha with a self-confidence and assurance as an audience member you couldn’t argue with. Her choices were nonchalant, and care-free which made me as an audience member not to feel malice toward the archetype being played but instead accepting her for her archetype and letting it be, which assisted in enjoying her character instead of despising or brushing her off as a pretentious tart. Fourplay was just wonderful, worth sitting through Ride to get to it.

Ride, I’m not going to dive into this Bodie play nearly as much as I have with Fourplay, as it did very little for me. Two straight people drunk, with memory loss and emotional baggage, naked in a bed, wake up with hang overs galore, attempt to decode the night before and perhaps each others secrets. The given circumstances didn’t thrill me, and characters Elizabeth and Joe and all the talk of Marrickville/Tempe, known clubs, pubs of Kings Cross and Sydney didn’t engage me either. Though both Palmer as Elizabeth, and O’Sullivan as Joe both performed fine, it felt like the context didn’t particularly motivate them to any kind of performance beyond comfort, it felt safe. All I wanted to see happen was Elizabeth to leave Joe’s room. I didn’t feel like it was played out or written in a way strong enough to keep her in that room for the possible 14-18 hours that took place from the start of the play to the end.

Fourplay, plays out with potential and with room to grow to explore the text and feels like it retains more possibilities as a play. Ride on the other hand is restricted, measured and limited. Bodie is an excellent playwright whom has a comfortable relationship with dialogue that transfers beautifully into characters who are down to earth, relatable and plausible. Ride & Fourplay are two very different plays to which some adjustment is required to enjoy them accordingly and in their respective genres.

GO BACK FOR MURDER

Genesian Theatre

22 August – 3 October

Play by Agatha Christie

Directed by Michael Hemming

Cast: Tamryn Liddell, David Hopkins, Paul Barbary, Dereck Cameron, John-Paul Santucci, Clancy Carraway, Dominique Purdue, Cassady Maddox, Louis Emerson-Chase & Denise Kitching

Synopsis

Carla’s mother went down for poisoning her philandering husband and died in jail, but a letter she left insists on her innocence. With the assistance of solicitor Justin Fogg, who followed the case closely, Carla aims to interrogate the five other people present when the crime was committed 20 years previously, and learn the truth… A brilliant edge of your seat Agatha Christie whodunnit!

Review

What an extraordinary experience it is to go to the Genesian Theatre and watch a show. I must admit that though I have heard much about this quaint and historical company and church-turned-theatre delight, I had not yet seen a production there. I was pleasantly faced with (but not surprised, the Genesian have a strong committed audience) to find a hoard of chatty patrons spilling out of the tiny foyer as I turned from George St into Kent. As I neared and veered my way up the steps and past mingling rosey faced patrons, I couldn’t have been happier with the organic natural feel and tone the space represents. That old church smell, the worn but lush theatre style red carpet and the tucked away wee box office had me nostalgically miss London and the tucked away West-End theatres that maintain a similar vibe. It was like a warm hug to which I hugged back with smiles to whom ever would take one from me. A few elderly patrons looked at me quite suspiciously as I floated around in my happy-place bubble looking at every nook and cranny of this Sydney diamond of a space. The Genesian feels like home, it’s like going to Grandma’s house for afternoon tea. Not many, actually not any other theatre that I have been to can match that respectful and natural warmth that the Genesian as an institution brings naturally. Making my way up to my seat in the quaint 4-5 row dress circle, feeling at home, and in my element I was ready for an Agatha Christie like no other!

So the production, a classic whodunnit, what’s not to like? Growing up watching re runs of Angela Lansbury’s ‘Murder She Wrote’ and the novel’s of Christie in abundance in every old book store I often find myself in, glossing this brilliant authors murder mystery collection with my finger tips. I found it a real thrill to get to see one of her productions. It’s not particularly fashionable to put on a classic old school detective murder mystery these days, so it makes my experience to see ‘Go Back For Murder’ a real treat.

Director Michael Hemming, did a fine job along with set designer Garry Bates in constructing a simple, versatile, uncomplicated design that functioned purposefully for this piece. The simplest adjustment of props, set and lighting gave us a clear view on time, place and setting. This play has several location changes, which could easily be grossly elaborate in era and style without need or overly thought through and confusing. Bates and Hemming gave careful consideration to the bare minimum requirements this production needed to ensure the story was clear and driven by performance and not fussy sets or props. Hemming had lighting states that gave the piece some light and shade during flashback dialogue for characters which assisted the shape of the piece quite nicely. A simple, unpretentious theatrical state which worked in their favour.

This production had a reasonable sized cast with a few actors doubling up on roles, and a few having smaller parts to play. I was particularly impressed by David Hopkins who played young lawyer Justin Fogg. Hopkins gave a tremendous performance in mannerisms and diction alike. I found his acting method beautifully naturalistic with a great sense of character embodiment. I continuously found myself observing his craft even when he was not the actor delivering at the time, keeping his character in check even when not in the spotlight. Hopkins holds a mature way about him in his physical language, his vast training has served him well. Hopkins held his English accent flawlessly which was certainly not the case for majority of his fellow cast members. He was a joy to watch, believable and captivating from start to finish. The other stand outs for the evening were Denise Kitching who played hilariously absurdist character Miss Williams, Kitching provided the audience with comedic relief throwing exaggeration into the theatrical wind, which swirled around the theatre tickling patrons pink as it boomeranged back to her with pizazz. Kitching is a charming performer who gave her character flare and cheekyness that made her presence on stage much liked and embraced. A fine performer in every sense of the word, a true delight to witness. Cassady Maddox, who played both the child and grown woman characters of Angela Warren, providing a fine, well structured performance giving her character mystery and likeability in her gesture and all round delivery of character. Super engaging to witness on stage.

In regards to casting as a whole some of Hemmings choices were spot on and others had me counting my fingers to calculate the age of these characters whose actors seemed far to young for the voices that came from them. I do think, the casting for majority of the characters was a stretch. Most certainly when it came to the friends of murder victim Amyas Crale. Though I understand that the second act consists of flash backs to 16 years prior, making for much younger characters, majority of the cast did not pull off the age brackets they were meant to be portraying making for often awkward displays of young people pretending to be older people. There was a lack of physical adjustment that could have been considered more thoughtfully to give the audience a stronger understanding of character, making their performances a bit naff and forced. There were actors who gave nod worthy delivery in dialogue such as Dereck Cameron as Southern jock Jeff Rodgers, but whose physical language was confusing and over the top, the same attributes unfortunately exuded from lead Tamrynn Liddell who was much more believable as Caroline Crale than Crales daughter Carla Le Marchant whose constant hand-on-hip posing throughout the production was an irritation almost unbearable. One too many Bette Davis movie influences perhaps, or directors notes, I am not to know, but a blocking choice none the less that did nothing for her or her character. Liddell’s performance as Crale was much more palatable, though costume changes in the second act were clearly an issue, Liddell held her own as Crale, but failed to captivate or create any empathy or immersive embodiment in the character of Le Marchant.

Overall this production was an enjoyable one that kept true to the classic feel and elements of a Christie production with I can imagine on a tight independent budget. A production with a good sized cast whom collectively gave a performance much loved by their audience that had the foyer buzzing post show. If you love a good murder mystery you are sure to enjoy your time at the Genesian for ‘Go Back For Murder’. 

METAFOUR

Glorious Thing Theatre Co/Ashfield Artist Xchange

at PACT theatre Erskinville

Playwright – Samuel Beckett

Director – Erica Brennan

Performers – Aslam Abdus-samad, Bodelle De Ronde, Victoria Greiner, Sophie Littler, Pollyanna Nowicki and Gideon Payten-Griffiths

30 July – 15th August

Four Samuel Beckett short plays – Quad, Rockaby, Come and Go, Catastrophe

Review-

Beckett, you can’t change a thing…his estate is severely strict on compliance with the playwrights written (or in the case of Quad being an un-printed TV play) work. This I feel for the Australian scene is both refreshing and a much-needed injection for our independent and professional stages. In director Erica Brennan’s directors letter in the programme she says, I quote ‘In a contemporary context that values innovation, recreation, reinvention, adaptation and the newest/sexiest creative vision, these restrictions on creative licence are abominations. Aren’t they?’ I sense this comment is said with a bit of tongue-in-cheek and jest at anyone who would consider licence restrictions to be an abomination, (correct me if I am wrong Ms.Brennan). From what I know of Brennan as an artist she has solid training and has a clear focus on the kind of theatre she wishes to practice, favourable strengths in her advantage. The challenge of a Beckett work is for an artist who has the capacity to take another’s vision and do it with full respect, vigour and humility. There is a lot of “artists” in Sydney who are focusing on the contemporary approach to theatre practice with visual aspects an eyeful feast but with great cost to the art of the actor, especially physically which is a dire state of events to witness 90% of the time. Our professional stages especially under certain directors visions sadly display it at its worst. Style has taken over, and the actor…more so than not is left to their own physical devices. This makes me wonder/wish these folk focus perhaps on becoming installation or visual artists instead of theatre practitioners if that is what interests them the most. Brennan and cast refreshingly do not fall into this sad case of repetitive events. Every now and then you get a glimpse of gold like what occurs in Metafour, the restrictions are in their favour.

Erica Brennan has taken on a mighty challenge with Beckett’s short works, and has done so as mentioned in the programme with the methods of Tadashi Suzuki in focus. Just reading that on the website made my soul go a flutter! Again, theatre practitioners don’t seem to utilise or take in to consideration the powerful ways methods such as Suzuki’s can make an actors performance more profound than any fancy set or script could do alone. The lack of consideration into these foundational methods which prove over and over again to give the actor a physical quality to character, beyond themselves and from themselves produces a depth of quality that can be not be measured in value when it comes to performance. Other methods that commit to this quality are Meyerhold, Grotowski, Brecht and my personal favourite Artaud… we NEED MORE of this in Sydney. It was an absolute pleasure to witness this level of dedication in Metafours’ actors, who have clearly invested a vast amount of time into their physicality into these genius (and indeed) performance art pieces of Beckett theatre. The observation of stillness, the use of silence and the almost chronic licensing states that must be taken in to consideration in rehearsals must at times been gruelling but no doubt a rewarding result. As an audience member we had to work, work to observe what we don’t understand, take a moment to observe how we respond to these pieces and to work at focusing on what we are witnessing. It is such a shame that we generally are so eager or used to being entertained we have forgotten the responsibility of being an audience. With our jaded concepts or meaning of the word ‘art’, ‘entertainment’ or perhaps what theatre should BE to us, or how it is FOR us. I firmly believe the best theatre should challenge us somehow, make us think in someway and make us react in some form. I had to shhh an audience member who clearly had no concept of Beckett or the patience to evaluate his boredom or discontent as a part of an experience. Instead he took his boredom as a face value permission to shut down his senses. It’s a real shame, border line depressing actually. I’ll be the first to admit that I have to put myself into a certain frame of mind, an open-frame of mind to engage with Beckett’s work. It is NOT an easy task nor often a night of laughs or hopeful outcomes, but that is the brilliance of the mind inside the man. It is frustrating that a lot of society are turning into goldfish. Microsoft recently put out a survey on the human attention span…the result for 2015? We are one point away from the attention span of a goldfish due to our access to content via smart technology. Tech. is making us smarter and stupider all at once, with beautiful work like Beckett’s suffering on stage because its audience struggles to value it in its full capacity as they wonder how their social platforms are trending or treading. This in mind clearly prior the performance with crew asking all audience members to remove time faces both digital and analog from view and remain in a timeless space before the performance began a poignant way to engage our minds and prepare the audience mentally for what they are to witness.

Brennan and cast did justice to Beckett, honouring his code of creative conducts. The physical story telling was full of exploration and carefully executed. The start of the production using the PACT space to its full advantage by using the foyer too as a stage, time ticking on the wall and the doors opened with the greeting of cast who suggested subtly us to enter and take our seats. This was a fantastic interlude into the space to which had been transformed to a Beckett T. Kudos for taking the risk Erica Brennan and bravo to being one who went out to create the art-in-its-state and not just art-for-fuck-sake.

Awesome running time of an hour! If you love Beckett you are in for a treat. If you don’t know who he is, you are in for a shock and if you aren’t into Beckett I suggest don’t go, or else open up your mind and grow a little culture. Growth isn’t comfortable and if nothing else Beckett’s work causes that in a person, it certainly did me when I first watched Endgame. Do yourself a favour, grow! It’s worth it, I promise. Genius is vastly misunderstood, Metafour was indeed a glorious thing to witness.

DETROIT

Darlinghurst Theatre Co/ Eternity Playhouse

22 July – 16 August

Playwright – Lisa D’Amour

Director – Ross McGregor

Cast – Lisa Chappell, Ronald Falk, Claire Lovering, James O’Connell, Ed Wightman

Synopsis – Ben and Mary live in a decaying suburb hard hit by economic downturn. He’s lost his job and she’s discovered alcohol. They fire up the barbecue to welcome the arrival of new neighbours; a couple broke and fresh out of rehab. As the night wears on confessions are shared, inhibitions are shed and Bacchanalia ensues.

Review – In director Ross McGregor’s note in the programme he brings up several points of interest for himself on why he loves this play and the questions it raises. He also goes on to mention the asking of textural questions during rehearsal and the finding of the right answers within the play. I left this production with a lot of questions myself and they weren’t the kind you wish your audience to leave with. My questions were, ‘What was that about?’ ‘Why is it on this stage?’ and ‘Why did director and theatre company see the relevance of this story to their audience?’ Detroit is so clearly a story for an AMERICAN audience whose understanding of the history and plight for this city and their recession hardships is an integral part of, their, personal national pain and struggles, with Detroit itself having a long history of personal disintegration. Playwright Lias D’Amour has written a comedy sitcom style play full of sentimentality that is a heart to heart story about a part of her “American family”. This play is not universal and is limited by its context and its content which keeps it relevant only within its borders. I can not see why Darlinghurst Theatre company chose this production. Out of the wealth of material that is available I just do not see its merit for an Australian audience or stage.

I have made it customary to do my best to find the plays I review and read them before seeing them, I feel this gives me a stronger understanding of how the play is written in its format, rhythm on the page and the playwrights intentions within the text both in dialogue and stage directions. It also allows me to best give, I feel,  a more solid and accurate review on a directors interpretation of the work. Reading what I was able to find online, I got a good sense of what kind of play this was and my stomach sunk slightly. Darlinghurst Theatre Company seem to heavily favour American work, which is fine if that is their true mandate, but the negatives of choosing vastly American literature is the risk of choosing work that falls completely flat on an Australian stage. With actors who more than often (especially when the work is sitcom comedy) develop character work that is way over the top, hammy, obnoxious and linear. We all know American’s are loud personalities but the depth of personhood must not be sacrificed by being grossly over the top in dramatisation, there must be room for light and shade, the subtle notions live in all people. In this case with the characters of Detroit, I just did not get any true sense of who these characters REALLY were…which made me question what the story was essentially about, and ending with me wondering why I should care. There seemed to be a lack of exploration of what is NOT being said, which was troublesome and probably was the cause of clunky, awkward line delivery.

Act one provided plenty of laughs with one liners and physical banter that was impossible not to giggle at. The tempo of the comedy I observed started a little nervously and thought perhaps it would become more comfortable as the play progressed. Though the audience had plenty of moments where they indulged in the moment, the tempo overall felt off, with pauses that went on for too long, and actors who weren’t really sure how to deliver certain parts of dialogue. The text feeling rather racket balled from character to character and actor having a swing at it as hard and as fast as they could. Whatever questions were raised in rehearsals I’m not sure if they were really answered with full conviction; they didn’t translate well on stage at all, it was all rather awkward and unclear. Not being a fan of the play itself as it is on paper, it was a struggle to embrace it in its performance.

Act two of the production was flatter than the first with a long sentimentally detailed monologue delivered by Ronald Falk, which bored the audience and too appeared to bore the other actors listening on stage. There was nothing in Act one that set us up as an audience to give a care about what this character had to say, especially considering it’s the first time we knew this character to even exist, his stage time being a whole 15 minutes. A difficult task to do for any actor, to win over an audience with a monologue that paired as an introduction to himself that was full of his characters personal sentiments, memories and relations to other characters and to the city in question, Detroit. In my opinion this is a huge fault in the script which highlights poor use of exposition by D’Amour. The actions of both set of couples came across murky, dramatic tension was weakly milked which gave no room for the audience to grow sympathy for any of the characters. Most of all this play lacked any suspense that sparked the right questions for an audience or generated any curiosity or mystery within the comedy or the dramatic climaxes of the play.

Though all actors involved gave rather passionate performances, and the set by designer Tobhiyah Stone Feller was versatile and fulfilled the scripts requirements. This play lacked solid conviction, and understanding for the audience. You just really really needed to KNOW the context as an audience member to grasp its purpose for being…And though McGregor attempted to do this with a radio style sound scape as an interlude (as you will) it wasn’t enough to get the audience to a starting point of sensing the stakes or state of this place called ‘Detroit’ and the people who inhabit it. McGregor would have done best to take the advantage the playwright gives by placing this story in a town that an Australian audience, and his actors would have been able to grab hold of with much more conviction and understanding. Even better, chosen a different play entirely.

Photo credit: Helen White

GRACE

Pulse Group Theatre

7-26 July

Play by Craig Wright

Directed by Billy Millonis

Performed by Joseph Addabbo, Jeremy Shadlow, Dudley Hogarth and Nikki Waterhouse

Synopsis –

Christian sweet hearts since Bible Camp, and wide-eyed married couple, Steve and Sara, put their livelihood on the line when they move from Minnesota to Florida to pursue Steve’s dream of opening up his own chain of gospel themed motels.

But when Steve’s plan starts to head on a downwards path, and Sara finds herself captivated by their neighbour Sam, an ex NASA researcher whose past has left him both figuratively and physically wounded, their perfections and faith are put to the ultimate test of fate.

Review –

Grace is the Actors Pulse Studios first inaugural production, which is great for the independent circuit which now has one more potential space to produce their work. Though there was nervous energy in the air with a slightly late curtain up, the nerves in the corridors did not translate onto the quaint Pulse Studios space. A terrifically cast production by director Billy Millonis, it was refreshing to experience well embodied text that translated into this casts physicality wonderfully, there was a true sense of diligence to their characters physical language not just their dialogue, it felt real and utterly believable, and not lazy which seems to be a common ‘thing’ in a lot of theatre I have seen lately.

Joseph Addabbo, plays evangelical business man, ready to build a host of Christian chain motels, Steve. Addabbo’s character has a relentless tactless drive about him, his saving souls mission and will to extract finances from whoever comes his way to help his own road to success makes for an eyebrow raising kind of character. Addabbo made this sneaky character impressively funny. My only gripe with these evangelical characters (in general) that are written into plays; un certain if it is in the text or it is a director/actor choice, is that they are always portrayed with a real sense of hyper reality/twilight approach in mannerisms and delivery. It maybe the result of researching evangelical preachers online or Christian TV perhaps and maybe not ever having personal encounters with evangelical christians in reality that causes this kind of person to be portrayed to an audience as members of society who are living in a bubble and on another planet to everyone else. I don’t think I have ever seen a ‘Evangelical Christian’ portrayed with out cultish perspective. It doesn’t make for an interesting watch in that regards as audiences seem to automatically get told that THIS character isn’t ‘normal’ this character has a warped sense about themselves, the world and others. Which is probably true in essence perhaps but makes for a very one-sided linear person. It would be far more interesting to see this kind of character less animated and caricatured, it would also make for a more grounded performance making the dramatic peaks more unexpected, and relatable giving an audience means to decide for themselves this characters social standing and human right. In saying that Addabbos performance was passionate and enjoyable to watch, I just craved a different angle than the same old angle that is taken with these “hallelujah” characters that causes audiences to alienate or write off the character too quickly.

Nikki Waterhouse, played the ever lovely and obedient wife Sara with clarity and charm. Waterhouse was delightful to watch, her presence and subtle approaches to physicality were genuine and lovely. I highly enjoyed watching her portray this character, she was captivating with a wonderful grip on naturalism. Waterhouse was gentle with her character making the moments where she punched it up a notch in dramatic tension evermore emotionally tangible for her audience making her character easy to believe and easy to love regardless of her characters naivety and weakness. Waterhouse is a talented actor who I wish to see more of in the future.

Jeremy Shadlow as the suffering and scarred neighbour Sam gave a hugely heartfelt performance, a beautiful ying-yang of gentleness and anger within his emotional and physical portrayal of this broken character. Shadlow and Waterhouse had a great chemistry on stage that made for an intimate performance that was blush worthy and real. Shadlow gave a performance like a Bull in a fighting pit, a calculated and powerful performer.

Dudley Hogarth, who plays an elderly German pest exterminater showed both his comical and dramatic abilities, giving the audience the best of both worlds making them laugh and successfully taking each of us on a storytelling journey that reveals horrific circumstances that pulled at the heart-strings. Hogarth is a seasoned performer whose wealth of theatrical experience and capabilities as an actor made his character a favourite and a crowd pleaser.

  
Director Billy Millonis did a good job in a space that is quite restricting architecturally. His staging choices at the beginning were a little unclear, as the one space which is left unchanged throughout was used as two separate apartments with characters walking in the space, sitting next to each other and moving in the space together but not necessarily in the same apartment as such. It didn’t take long to figure out that there were times his direction indicated they were in separate spaces and not in the same apartment together, it took a little figuring out. Once this was established it was much easier to understand what was taking place, the subtlety of this could have been tweaked slightly with stronger lighting choices right from the get-go as it was a little foggy at the start. The only other part of the production that made it lose its impact and rhythm was the scene changes which went on for extended periods of time that were slightly unbearable and interrupted the audiences focus which had them chatting between scene changes…not an ideal or wanted situation.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Pulse Group Theatres first production in that space to the public. Grace is a well written play by Craig Wright with interesting characters and a gripping narrative. Strong casting by Millonis with strong believable performances from a gracious and committed cast. An enjoyable production all round.