Archive | July, 2022

Ugly Love

19 Jul

Writer director Lucy Matthews’ musical Ugly Love consists of a fine collection of songs, performed by a very tight band and some wonderful vocalists.

And it’s original. And it’s about sex.

But, for all its newness and sexiness, Ugly Love is deliberately grounded in middle-class ordinary. Jess is a teacher. Sam is a lawyer. They are married. They live in Newtown. They are not happy.

They decide to try an open relationship: an entirely rational option considering their exclusive relationship is based on bickering about who should put out the garbage. Intimacy has become him flossing in front of her – so looking elsewhere has an obvious appeal…..

… as long as it remains only physical – which raises the first of the play’s tantalising questions about sex.

What is the difference between physical involvement and emotional involvement? For many of us, the default assumption is that the two are different, and that it is possible to separate them – but then we’re not surprised, at all, if something that begins as only physical morphs into the emotional. This is what happens for Jess; she becomes emotionally involved with another woman. Why do we assume the categories physical and emotional are meaningful when the boundary between them is so very permeable? And what emotions do we expect to be excluded from encounters supposedly exclusively physical? Perhaps sex that is only physical is simply bad sex. And, if so, the persistence of the category suggests there’s a hell of a lot of bad sex out there.

(And before I’m drawn back inevitably to sex, I best talk about the cast and creatives. Performances are rich and satisfying. LJ Wilson and Lincoln Elliott present a poignant portrait of a conventional couple, simultaneously attracted and repelled by the world they’ve accepted. Cypriana Singh as Lola offers an invigorating vivacity, tempered by a sorrowful awareness that verve is not always enough. Likewise, Madelaine Osborn’s portrait of the wisecracking Maddi is movingly shaded with hints of darkness. The design by Kate Beere appears to effortlessly lift a black box theatre into an arena in which suburbia battles fantasia – what is versus what could be – and the lighting by James Wallis, in its contrast between the simple and the shimmering, magnificently evokes small lives imagining more.)

Now, that other question about sex. Is it possible, in the full knowledge of all concerned, to have sexual or romantic relationships with several people at the same time? (The corollary, of course, is why would you want to?) Though characters in the play attempt to have polyamorous relationships, no one is represented as doing this entirely happily. But that creative choice, far from dismissing the possibility of polyamory, represents the experience truthfully (warts and all: ugly love).

Which brings me back to ordinariness. At the heart of Matthews’ thought-provoking musical is a thrilling rejection of the ordinary, the predictable, the socially expected, the socially accepted. In making her characters inhabit a world so very ordinary, Matthews invites us to dream a world beyond.

Paul Gilchrist

Ugly Love by Lucy Matthews

Flight Path Theatre until July 23

Image by Katje Ford

Golden Blood

4 Jul

Plays like this make you want to shout that Australian theatre is finally growing up – and if such partisan, attention-seeking hyperbole belongs anywhere, surely it belongs in the writings of a drama critic.

Said more plainly, Golden Blood by Merlynn Tong, set in Singapore and presenting only Singaporean characters, is glorious Australian theatre.

She is orphaned at fourteen. Her estranged brother, seven years older and a petty criminal, becomes her guardian.

The developing relationship between the siblings is beautiful to watch; bewilderment and uncertainty vie with affection and a need to belong, creating scenes both comic and moving.

Director Tessa Leong elicits terrific performances from a super cast. Merlynn Tong takes innocence and intelligence and makes a lovable dreamer. Charles Wu takes amiability and bravado and makes a charming schemer. (And schemes and dreams might be as immiscible as oil and water – but out of such those roadside rainbows…..)

Tong has chosen her material well; obviously drama does conflict (do the two siblings want the same thing?) and obviously drama does duplicity (has the brother really reformed?) but, at its most humane, drama reminds us that conflict and duplicity exist, not only in relationships, but within individuals. Essentialists everywhere assert there is a real self, but Tong’s characterisation of the gangster brother is an empathy-evoking reminder that cynicism is far easier to criticise than to do. We tell stories to be believed, and one person, at least, is always listening: I say I’m doing this for your good, and I find myself very convincing.  

Such portraits of the human experience engender forgiveness – and we could all do with a little more of that.

Paul Gilchrist

Golden Blood by Merlynn Tong

SBW Stables Theatre until 30 July

Image by Brett Boardman