Archive | September, 2022

Chain Play

23 Sep

A chain play is created by a team of writers. Each writer drafts one scene, having read only the scene that directly precedes hers. Obviously, no-one expects the resultant script to be a paragon of textual integrity. Chain plays are a type of theatre game; and therein lies the key word – game.

This Chain Play by Slanted Theatre is a riotous celebration of Asian-Australian theatrical talent. The writing is sharp and funny, and the performances are mischievously exuberant.

Chain Play actually consists of two distinct works, each written according to the chain play methodology.

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way is written by Katrina Trinh, Mason Phoumirath, Julia Faragher, Niranjan Sriganeshwaran, Natasha Pontoh-Supit and Natania McLeod Roberts, and is directed by Katie Ord. It lands in the genre of sit-com, with plenty of great one liners and characters that are the Asian-Australian cousins of those in Commedia.

Susan Ling Young in Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

How Asian are You? written by Matt Bostock, Alan Fang, Grace Hu, Christina Kim, Eezu Tan and Simone Wang, and directed by Sammy Jing, is more conceptual.  Each scene digs into assumptions about Asian-Australian identity, and does so in ways that are both hilarious and poignant. (I’d like to see this type of digging continue in the Sydney theatre scene, digging deeper and deeper to see what we might find ……hopefully gold, and not just some gaping big hole.)

And, to conclude, a possibly utterly irrelevant philosophical digression: every play ever written is part of a chain play. We write informed by what is directly before us, sometimes only vaguely conscious of where we fit into the larger arc of history. And what we write then goes on to inform our near contemporaries, contributing to the intellectual and emotional environment to which they respond. Every playwright suffers from an inevitable myopia. Perhaps that’s no great tragedy; after all, if you can see too much further ahead than your audience, you’re not a prophet, you’re just irrelevant.

But a chain play, for all its playful nonsense, reminds us that we not only have to deal with the social environment in which we find ourselves, but we must also leave something for those who follow.   

Paul Gilchrist

Chain Play by Slanted Theatre

at Flight Path Theatre as part of the Sydney Fringe until Sept 24

Image by Aaron Cornelius

The Marriage Agency

22 Sep

The Marriage Agency by Saman Shad is joyfully funny.

Nasir believes in love, as expressed in the grand gesture. His hero is Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. So that others might come to share the miracle of love, Nasir establishes a marriage agency, here in Australia. After all, marriage is the most important decision in life. Passers-by assume it’s an Indian restaurant, and are disappointed there’s no butter chicken. Nasir’s wife, Tasnim, Indian in heritage but Australian born, doesn’t relate to the grand gesture. She’s more comfortable in the greys of life. (As someone not of Indian heritage I’m uncertain how to read pieces like this. Is a comment being made about the differences between cultures? Or between genders? Or are the differences specific to these characters? Is this reportage or fiction? But I’m comfortable in the uncertainty; it’s arguably this tension, present in all good dramatic pieces, that fuels post-show discussion.)

Director Kenneth Moraleda elicits wonderful comic performances from the entire cast. Both vocally and physically, Atharv Kolhatkar is absolutely brilliant as the dreamer Nasir. Caroline L George presents Tasnim as poised and professional, with an undercurrent of frustration which is deeply moving. Ashi Singh has a glorious stage presence as teenage daughter Salima, portraying a character of youthful, luminous intelligence that one can only hope is an image of imminent Australia. Lex Marinos as Bill, Nasir’s first customer, powerfully expresses the poignancy of grief balanced with the wish for future happiness. Kevin Batliwala plays a host of roles with aplomb, from obtuse butter chicken enthusiast, to a younger Nasir on his wedding day. These scenes (with Singh playing the younger Tasnim) are dreamt into being by the now struggling couple nearly two decades after the event and are theatrical magic.  

At the heart of this piece is the heart. What is love? Is it the unexpected breathtaking grand vista, or is it the million dogged, dutiful steps by which we might finally get to the top of that hill?

Paul Gilchrist

The Marriage Agency by Saman Shad

KXT until I Oct

Image by Phil Erbacher

110% Average

21 Sep

This production is audacious and gloriously silly (and plenty of people value audacity, especially of the I-can’t-believe-you’re-letting-yourself-look-like-such-a-dag-on-stage sort.)

Anita Lovell tells her “coming of average” story, outlining her discovery of enjoyment and security in not being especially good at a whole host of activities. The glorious silliness comes from the fact Lovell enacts the routines she performed in childhood – trampolining, roller skating, gymnastics, etc.

Lovell has great comic delivery and a joy inducing commitment to the physicality.

For me, at least, the show raises some rather big questions. I’m inclined to feel we should pursue excellence, but this production aligns more with the views of Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut was one of those great geniuses who never won the Nobel Prize, and his advice is famous: “Practice any art—music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage—no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.” In contrast, my view has more in common with that of the geniuses behind Fast and Furious 7 (inexplicably also denied the Nobel.) The soundtrack of their film features the lyrics  “Go hard or go home”.

The pursuit of excellence is inspiring, while the rejection of it, though hardly immoral, is of little relevance to anyone else… and to yourself might merely be a pastime.

But, assuming being average is not just a euphemism for being not very good at something, being average is a comparative statement. It’s about competition.

Plenty of human activities are not competitive. When you choose ones that are performative, you invite judgement. (I’m not suggesting you deserve it.)

So, in a way, the show is an exuberant assertion of independence, a mischievous reclamation of art from the tyranny of evaluation, and a teasing reminder, that in the rejection of some values, their residual will remain. (See my above comments about audacity.)

Paul Gilchrist

110% Average by Anita Lovell

Boom Boom Room as part of the Sydney Fringe (until 24 Sept)


15 Sep

Cherry is a whole lot of fun – a playful, joyful journey; one young woman’s passage into adulthood with Katy Perry as an inspiration. It’s an exuberant pop bildungsroman; a poignant study of how mass culture, despite its audience of millions, can deeply impact the individual. (And, creating a genuine dramatic tension, a question very consciously runs through it all: on our journey to authenticity, how reliant can we be on the mass produced?)

There are plenty of references to Perry and her music, which will both delight aficionados and welcome newcomers into the high-spirited world of the Katy Kats.

I suspect this story is not an anomaly; ever since radio, then TV, then the net, teenagers have been able to find a sense of community with others experiencing the same exciting, troubling stage of life. (Is “the teenager” a creation of mass media? I don’t mean this in a cynical way; simply, that for the first time in human history, poor souls struggling through that awkward, exhilarating age could know they were not alone.) And teenagers have benefited from strong voices like Perry’s advocating empowerment and acceptance.  

Both linguistically and physically, Sarah Carroll gives a terrific evocation of girlhood, its debilitating doubts and its passionate obsessions.

Musical director Marissa Saroca delivers a soundtrack of infectious energy.

The Fringe provides a perfect arena for a little bliss bomb like Cherry.

Paul Gilchrist

Cherry by Sarah Carroll

Emerging Artist Sharehouse – the Boom Boom Room until Sat 17 Sept

Photograph 51

13 Sep

Ensemble’s production of Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51, directed by Anna Ledwich, is utterly engaging theatre; intellectually stimulating and deeply moving.

It tells the story of Rosalind Franklin, one of the researchers who in the 1950’s uncovered the secrets of DNA.

Despite it’s reputation as a pure pursuit of knowledge, science is just another human activity, tainted by human failings.  

Rosalind is excluded from male enclaves and the attendant conversations in which ideas are casually shared. She’s assumed to be incapable of theoretical insight, and attempts are made to reduce her role to that of a technician. She’s portrayed by the male scientists as some sort of harridan simply for standing her ground. And she’s ultimately robbed of …. ah, but that’s a spoiler for those who don’t know her personal history. Let’s leave it this way: the conclusion is heartrending.

Yes, the play’s about science, but Ziegler’s extraordinary script is thoroughly captivating because it tells a very human story. Her Rosalind is a complete person, not a straw victim. She’s sublimely intelligent and gloriously independent, but we’re also asked to consider whether her flaws are inevitable responses to discrimination. Is Rosalind simply overly cautious? Does she really need to keep everyone at such a distance? Amber McMahon is absolutely magnificent in the role.

And the supporting cast do equally brilliant work. Garth Holcombe as Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind’s colleague at Kings College, is a superb portrait of a man threatened, one who would like to be noble, but who can’t quite manage it. His advice to PhD candidate Raymond Gosling (played with charm by Gareth Yuen) is to be kind to women; but the inadequacy of this advice – its patriarchal overtones – is beyond his comprehension. Ziegler employs a motif from The Winter’s Tale to underline this. Rosalind has seen Peter Brook’s production of the play starring John Gielgud as Leontes (but in a wonderful irony can’t recall the actor playing Hermione). Wilkins knows the work well, and the two might bond over this shared interest, except for their very different readings of the play’s finale. Does Hermione really survive? It’s a beautiful playwright’s trick, a gorgeous encapsulation of the issues at stake, and a sophisticated embrace of the openness of the dramatic form.    

Robert Jago as Francis Crick and Toby Blome as James Watson powerfully embody another very human flaw that mars the supposedly noble pursuit that is science: competition. The goal of discovering the truth of the DNA molecule is reduced to a “race” and, when an understanding is finally achieved, Crick asks grandly do you know what this means – only to offer a staggeringly uninspiring answer: wealth, status, women….

Emma Vine’s beautiful set, ostensibly a laboratory, evokes a chapel. It’s a poignant touch.  Are Science and Religion at odds? Rosalind says they are. But, at their best, both embody a humble desire for truth. At their worst, both are tragically beholden to the machinations of power.  

Paul Gilchrist

Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler

Ensemble Theatre until Oct 8

Photo Credit Teniola Komolafe