Archive | March, 2023

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

23 Mar

Reincarnation is an alluring belief, and may even be true.

The depth of our emotions, especially for others, can lead us to feel that one life is not enough. Perhaps, somehow, there will be other lives in which our love can continue.

The problem – for those of us with a modern sensibility – is proof.

But none is needed. A belief (or faith or hope) in reincarnation requires no verification; its value is expressive. One might as well ask for proof that my favourite colour is blue.

In Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane’s musical, Dr Mark Bruckner hypnotises Daisy Gamble, in an attempt to understand her apparent Extra Sensory Perception. Exploring her memories, he discovers Melinda Wells, an English woman who passed over a century ago.

Perhaps my philosophical pretensions make the subject matter sound heavy, or just plain weird, but it’s not – it’s light, breezy, and beautiful; a glorious expression of our dearest desires.

The play has a history of revisions, and Jay James-Moody (who also directs and performs) has adapted and updated the original story. In this version, following a 2011 Broadway revision, Daisy is a gay man, David, and as Mark falls for Melinda, he must ask what are his feelings for the man in whom she resides. It’s all about…. fluidity.

James-Moody’s production is visually delightful, musically superb, and very funny. As David, James-Moody is both movingly vulnerable and deliciously comic. His timing is spot on. Melinda is played by Madeleine Jones with a mesmerizing pizazz. Blake Bowden’s Mark wonderfully captures both the psychologist’s obsessive drive for knowledge and the man’s desperate need for love.

The vocal performances are terrific, with highlights including “When we are 65” sung by James Haxby and James-Moody, “Don’t Tamper With My Sister” sung by Jones, “Come Back to Me” sung by Bowden, and the title song, performed by James-Moody, Jones and the company. Natalya Aynsley’s orchestra is brilliant. Choreography by Leslie Bell is cheeky and playful, perfectly suiting the gorgeously non-conventional relationships portrayed, and the cast perform it with aplomb.

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever is an exuberant reminder to look beyond the mundane and be open to the surprise of joy.

Paul Gilchrist

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, revised and adapted by Jay James-Moody

presented by Squabbalogic and Seymour Centre

until 15 April

seymourcentre.com

Image by David Hooley

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica

16 Mar

It’s natural to assume, that as a theatre reviewer, I’d relate to a story about failed artists.

David Williamson’s Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica, directed by Mark Kilmurry, is a light two-hander, a gleeful rom-com, performed with comic expertise by Georgie Parker and Glenn Hazeldine.

It’s a simple tale of the need to be open-minded. (If you’re thinking No, not that again; I’ve had it up to here with that I salute your obtusity.)

Monica can no longer perform with the Sydney Symphony; tendonitis has robbed her of the ability to play the violin.

Her life is one of rage and renovations; rage at the injustice of a career cut short and renovations ….well, just renovations. She’s getting her kitchen done.

Gary does kitchens. He used to play country. Think Golden Guitar. And there’s nothing that makes you appreciate country music’s perpetual paean to loss more than installing kitchens when you were meant to be playing Tamworth.

Does this make them a pair of failed artists? Sort of. The true failure lies elsewhere. Apart from kitchen quibbles, their source of tension is the refusal to accept the other’s taste in music. She loves Mahler and Shostakovich; he loves Cline and Parton. In comic shorthand, she’s a snob, he’s a philistine. Narrow mindedness, of both types, has long been a source of laughter, and with it Williamson and these two wonderful actors make hay. Not that I’m suggesting with my rural reference that the play favours the unsophisticated – but it certainly makes a space for the sort of thing it is itself: unashamedly simple fun.

Before getting back to that failure thing, I’ll mention one scene in particular. The pair are out together for the first time. They’re at a pub in Glebe. Is it a date? Confronted by the possibilities the evening offers, Monica has drunk too much before Gary has even arrived. Is this a door opening or closing? It’s brilliant comic work from both Parker and Hazeldine, a spotlight on human ambiguity, an acknowledgement of multiplicities (which belies my earlier assertion about the play’s simplicity.)

And what is artistic failure – and we’re all artists – but the failure to say Maybe this too?

Paul Gilchrist

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica by David Williamson

Ensemble Theatre until 29 April

ensemble.com.au

Image by Prudence Upton

Gundog

13 Mar

Time’s a funny thing. Read this review and you will have lost several minutes. But those few minutes would have slipped by anyway, regardless of how you had chosen to spend them.

Time is …. a great mystery. (Did you, for even a single moment, think a theatre critic would actually be able to explain it?)

Despite our belief in progress, or perhaps because of it, our culture is particularly bewildered by time. On several occasions in Simon Longman’s gloriously rich Gundog, individuals look at the difficulties they face, the challenges of eking out a living on a small British farm, and demand what time, what year, is this? How could these problems be happening now?

Time takes things from us. Mum is gone. Dad is going. Grandad, played with both delightful humour and affecting pathos by Mark Langham, is also on his way out. His crazy repeated stories are unconscious attempts to halt time. Anna, the matriarch by default, has a more conscious way of dealing with loss; she repeats the mantra it will be alright. But at every reiteration we wonder, and Jane Angharad portrays Anna with an utterly arresting tension between those two oh so closely related rivals, patience and despair. For her brother, Ben, despair appears the stronger, and James Smithers brilliantly captures the character’s anger and helplessness. LJ Wilson plays little sister Becky with the glorious dawn energy of youth, but red sky in the morning is a shepherd’s warning ……

Yes, they are shepherds, and for me the play evokes that grand tradition, present in British literature since the Romantics, of the shepherds’ life being particularly precarious. As in Wordsworth’s “Michael” and Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, the loss of the flock is both terrifying and imminent. Yet this particular life is all these people know: time may take everything from us, but it is time that makes us feel this everything was ours. (What the play does not evoke is the religious sensibility of Blake’s “The Lamb”. There is no God, no benevolent overseer – only the encroaching darkness. This gritty, dismal world is powerfully suggested by Travis Kecek’s lighting design and Smither’s set.)

Despite all, immigrant worker Guy is glad to have food and board. Saro Lepejian’s offers a magnificent portrayal of modest, steel-in-the-spine gratitude. The silence of the country disturbs Guy. It is not silence, he says, that will save us. It is stillness.

He is not alone in this insight. In moving poetic language, several characters express the desire to stop time –  just for long enough to gain a little courage.

But you have not stopped time by choosing to read this review. And you will not stop time by getting along to director Anthony Skuse’s production of Gundog.

Still (yes, still), it is a beautiful production of a wondrous play.

Paul Gilchrist

Gundog by Simon Longman

presented by Secret House

at Kings Cross Theatre until 18 March

www.secrethouse.com.au/gundog

Image by Clare Hawley

Comfort, Spin, Travel

3 Mar

They are in an Officeworks store. They’re trying out the different office wheely chairs, determining which is the most comfortable, which rotates the best, and which moves around the space most effectively. They’re not looking to purchase. They’re reliving a game they used to play with their much loved little sister.

Comfort, Spin, Travel (written by Lu Bradshaw and directed by Emma Burns) presents as a generous-spirited sharing of what it is to live as a trans person. Its focus is relationships – not romantic ones – but rather those had with strangers and acquaintances, friends and family. Clearly, all is not plain sailing. There are issues regarding the nature of allyship and solidarity, the use of pronouns and personal terms of address, the pressure to advocate, the right to body modification, the importance of safe spaces … and of basic acceptance.

Performer Hadrian Conyngham has an extraordinarily engaging stage presence. The moment of coming out (“I no longer identify as a girl”) is presented with an everyday gentleness, a domestic ordinariness, that underlines its poignancy. The tale of dealing with cisgendered female friends who feel they can crash Queer Night is both an amusing self-deprecating anecdote and a moving expression of anger.

Setting the story in a late night visit to a stationery store allows for some delightful cameos from the supposed staff. Rachel Seeto, on stage throughout, creates a deliciously comic character, capturing both the lethargic alienation of the young student forced to work in retail and the vibrant human soul beneath.

This piece makes some fascinating dramatic choices. I suggested it presented as a ‘sharing’, and the honest expression of the difficulties experienced by a trans person suggests it is non-fiction, but the Officeworks scenario and the repeated reminders that the narrator might be unreliable evoke the opposite. (The press release tells me the piece is a semi-autobiographical creation of the writer.)  

Another intriguing choice is the playful conceit of the trying of the different chairs, a conceit which invites comparison with the serious story, the one about identity. Is it a trivialisation? No, it’s a theatrical artifice that forefronts the tension between choosing and being. From the outside, the chair a person ultimately chooses appears subjective; from the inside, it is an expression of the individual’s objective reality.

Which leads me to the other musing this piece launched me on. I’m not really riffing on the LGBTQIA+ moniker, but it is true that we are often tempted to view our identity as though it were like a letter in an alphabet. Who we are, is who we are. ‘B’ is not defined by ‘A’, or ‘C’, or ‘D’. They are just other letters, separate and distinct. But the phenomena of identity is perhaps more like numbers. The number ‘2’ is defined by the number ‘1’. The number ‘15’ is in a fundamental relationship with ‘14’. (For fun, or something approximating it, Google the meaning of ‘15’. Go on.) Despite the desperate weirdness of my analogy, I think it encapsulates the situation. Our identity is a deeply personal, existential thing, but it is – at least partly – dependent on society. We can identify any way we want, but if this identity is not accepted by others, we are troubled, or tortured or erased… Even the concept of pride is reactionary: an assertion that I am valuable despite any negativity from you. That the experience of identity is both personal and social is one of the great unresolvable tensions in the human condition. I imagine no-one would endure this tension if they could transcend it (but that might be more indicative of the limits of my imagination than the actual variety of lived lives.)

My self-indulgent philosophical ramblings aside, Comfort, Spin, Travel is a beautiful, vital little piece of theatre.

Paul Gilchrist

Comfort, Spin, Travel by Lu Bradshaw

presented by Fruit Box Theatre

at Meraki Arts Bar until 11 March

www.fruitboxtheatre.com.au/comfort-spin-travel

Image by Matthew Miceli Photography