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Crimes of the Heart

22 Mar

This is a heart-warming comedy.

Though, I do declare, it took me some time to pick the tone. Which is sort of weird, since I usually find any play in which the actors speak in an accent other than their own rather funny. (Maybe I’m just a country hick.)

Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley is set in the South of the USA. It was first produced in 1979 and it won the Pulitzer in 1981.

It’s the story of three sisters facing one hell of a bad day.

CRIMES OF THE HEART (c) Rupert Reid

Photo by Rupert Reid

Director Janine Watson’s production has class. The set by Jonathan Hindmarsh looks terrific. The cast are great fun to watch, creating kooky, vivacious, engaging characters.

Some would call these characters Larger-than-Life, but I find the phrase rather parochial; Life is plenty big enough to fit all we can ever throw at it.

The phrase a ‘bad day’ is also problematic, but in this case because it’s a vast understatement. On this particular day, Babe (Renae Small) has just shot her husband and faces prison. Her glamorous sister Meg (Amanda McGregor) returns home at the news and is forced to admit her show biz pretensions are a fraud. And Lenny (Laura Pike), plain, simple, strong Lenny, who’s stayed at home to care for their ailing grandfather, has just turned 30, and no one’s noticed. And hovering behind all this is the dreadful knowledge that their mother took her own life in this very house – because of a ‘bad day’.

Yes, it is a comedy; funny, feel good, and like all of the best comedy, with a vision of Life not to be laughed at.

For what’s the solution to bad days? Just keep having more of them, and acknowledge you’re not alone in it.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley

at Old Fitz til 8 April

Info and tix  here

Consensual

21 Mar

This show is about sex.

Tix available here

New-Theatre-Consensual-photo-by-Bob-Seary

Photo by Bob Seary

No, seriously, it is about sex. Yucky sex; not the joyful type, the type that’s like spring and sunshine and sausages (as in ‘democracy sausages’- the ones that make you feel we’re all in this together.)

No, it’s about icky sex; the type whose mythology is that sex is wild and dangerous and so, so, so ‘rock and roll’ (in the sense that it’s shallow, repetitive and, on the rare occasions when it is actually good, over far too quickly. Just like the participants.)

Consensual is set in a school environment. The students are obsessed with sex. One boy seeks…..something, and finds it (oh so briefly) with a staff member.

The play throws up issues like these (or, at least, I felt I was thrown up on):

What exactly is consent?

Should there be an age of consent?

What harm is done when the current laws are broken?

In what situations might these laws be broken?

Is our society simply too sexualized?

First performed in London in 2015, Evan Placey’s play is sharply written, at times funny and at times moving, and guaranteed to lead to lengthy conversation in the bar afterwards.

Director Johann Walraven’s production is top quality. The cast are eminently watchable, making challenging characters come alive. Paul Whiddon, as the boy, gives a fascinating performance, provocatively balancing anger, manipulation and vulnerability. Lauren Richardson as the staff member gives a similarly riveting portrait, presenting a woman whose naivety plays hide and seek with her duplicity.

For me, one of the most engrossing aspects of the play is the second act.  It’s a neat dramatist’s trick, but due to the ‘no spoiler rule’, I can only tease and titillate. I’ll say this much: the second act is an extraordinary commitment to what I’ll call (no doubt unhelpfully) platonic naturalism – the belief that theatre can present what is hidden but what is real.  This can happen, the dramatist says, even though what I am presenting is fiction.  Of course, Placey is not the only writer to play this card (it’s part of our grand tradition) but because of the issues at hand, it’s particularly intriguing.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Consensual by Evan Placey

at New Theatre ti 15 April

Tix and info here

 

The Laden Table

21 Mar

Does talk solve anything? It’s often said that the belief that it does is the great liberal myth. But it’s a belief shared by the axial age religions, that great movement that mysteriously flowered between about 600 BCE and 700 CE, and birthed (among other things) Buddhism, bhakti Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. What made this flowering so extraordinary, and seemingly different from what came before, was the new-found emphasis on compassion and empathy.

The Laden Table is a piece that’s had a long development.  Six women (Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan and Ruth Kliman) have been coming together for the last nine years to talk and share stories from their diverse backgrounds.

The resultant play is built on a simple conceit: two families, one Islamic and one Jewish, each meets to celebrate a festival. These two families don’t interact with each other (well, they do, but that’s spoiler territory) – their separate evening meals are presented simultaneously on stage, and the impact is to suggest that the different families are really not so different after all.

Both know love. Both know suffering. And both know how to argue among themselves.

THE LADEN TABLE photo credit Natasha Narula

Photo by Natasha Narula

A large ornate table stands centre stage, and lit by Benjamin Brockman and designed by Courtney Westbrook, it’s a visual feast, and a powerful symbol of both the possibility of communion and the weight of tradition. Director Suzanne Millar has put together a strong ensemble, and she and her team work the space well, effectively juxtaposing the imposing presence of the table with the creation of vibrant, passionate, living characters. There are some standout performances, including Jessica Paterson as a young Australian Jewish doctor who’s witnessed the horrific consequences of political violence, and Sarah Meacham, who plays a young Australian Islamic woman navigating family expectations.

And back to those arguing families: The play’s main aim is to take on prejudice, and one of its major sources, ignorance. After all, evil does evil, but not half as well as stupid.

Where does bigoted thinking come from?

We teach children it’s immoral, but that’s only the half of it. It’s also the result of intellectual error. All Jews are…. All Palestinians are…. These sorts of statements fail to convince, unless pain and grief skew our thinking, and simplicity appears as a solution, rather than what it is – a great denial of Life, in all its glorious complexity.

Perhaps ironically, considering its origins, the play doesn’t present talk as leading to a resolution. The playwrights are sensibly modest in this regard. How could such huge problems be solved so quickly, so easily?

But, of course, it’s the conversation with the audience that ultimately matters. The Laden Table is vital, exciting, invigorating theatre.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Laden Table by Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan and Ruth Kliman

Produced by bAKEHOUSE

at Kings Cross Theatre til March 25

tix and info here

 

 

 

 

Are We Awake?

6 Mar

This is part of the New Fitz program; the idea being that the Old Fitz will commission Australian dramatists to write responses to each of their main stage works. Are We Awake? is notionally a response to David Hare’s The Judas Kiss. Having missed opening, I haven’t been able to get along to Hare’s play, and since it’s been 18 years since I’ve seen it, I have little sense of what dialogue might be going on between the two pieces. I doubt it matters.

Are We Awake? by Charles O’Grady is a beautiful stand-alone new work. I congratulate Redline and PlayWriting Australia for making it happen.

It’s the story of two lovers, directed with a powerful simplicity by Sean Hawkins and played magnificently by Daniel Monks and Aleks Mikic. The lovers face a test that is common, though not commonly staged: one of them is disabled and in poor health.

are-we-awake

The play is built on the question of What is Love?
Is it sharing or is it caring?
Is love the sharing with a partner of Life’s most joyous moments? Or is it the caring that becomes necessary when your partner faces Life’s challenges? (Or is that just a false dichotomy, the collapse of which heralds the arrival of real love?)

Are We Awake? is a small gem, a tender exploration of some awfully big questions.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Are We Awake? by Charles O’Grady

At the Old Fitz til 11 March

Tix and info here

Member

28 Feb

Member, written and performed by Ben Noble, is a powerful indictment of gay hate crimes.

If you’re privileged and naive, like me, it can sometimes be hard to imagine they actually occur. What motivates them? Of course, it should be no surprise: our inability to allow same sex marriage is indicative of a deep seated homophobia. Assaults and deaths happen, in shocking numbers. This production focuses on the epidemic of violence that occurred in Sydney in the 70’s through to the 90’s, in which up to 80 people were murdered. The show’s impact is to draw attention to this awful and ongoing failing in our society.

ben-noble-photo-credit-deryk-mcalpin

Photo by Deryk McAlpin

Noble’s performance is compelling and passionate. He presents a range of characters, but the focus is on Corey, father to a man who now lies hospital, a victim of a bashing. As the story unfolds, it’s revealed that Corey himself has been a perpetrator of violence, and continues to struggle with his confusion and guilt.

That the sins of the fathers will be visited on the sons might seem a dramatic convenience, but it is sociologically truthful. The society we live in is one of our own creation. If we are cold and uncaring, cowardly and violent, what world do we think we will make for ourselves?

Member has its origin in a multi-playwright project, and this still sometimes shows in its complexity. But the kernel of the piece is incredibly moving. A lost child falls in with the wrong crowd and commits a terrible evil. He seeks guidance from the one adult he trusts…… and gets nothing. It is the way things are, he’s told, as inarguable as the movement of the sea.

But we know it’s not. This piece is a timely reminder that equality is something we make, and that we must.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Member by Ben Noble

Blood Moon Theatre til March 4

Info and tix here

Big Crow

27 Feb

Congratulations again to Brave New Word. They’re a company dedicated to new work. Our culture needs it.

Big Crow by Mark Langham is a provocative confection. Set in 1930’s rural New South Wales, it’s concocted from elements of sitcom, black humour and Australian Gothic. This is challenging for performers but fascinating for audience members.

big-crow-3

Photo by David Hooley

The play’s concern is the oppressed: exploited workers, mistreated women and the dispossessed, original inhabitants of this land.

Like much Australian Gothic, there’s an overarching sense of dread, a sense that crimes committed are yet to be fully acknowledged. Something’s not right with the world.

Langham’s recurring motif is the crow. Ominous and evoking death, they perpetually scratch at the roof above us. They’ll have our eyes out, I fear, if we don’t learn to see our failings.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Big Crow by Mark Langham

til 4 March at The Actor’s Pulse, 103 Regents St, Redfern

Info and tix here

The Trouble With Harry

23 Feb

An Australian play! And by a living writer! Thank you Siren. Thank you Seymour.

But The Trouble With Harry is set in the past. Designers Alice Morgan, Matt Cox and Nate Edmondson effectively create a forlorn, sepia, early twentieth century Sydney.

The trouble with Harry is one of identity. Lachlan Philpott’s play is rich in motif: Little boys wanting to leave short trousers behind. Roosters called Lena. Bearded ladies at freak shows. Returned soldiers, in uniform still, but no longer whole. And the ceaseless suburban drone of ‘decency’.

“You think I chose this?” asks Harry, in a rare moment of vulnerability.

Elsewhere, “We’re doing fine,” he tells his wife.

“You act like a man,” she replies. “Do you also have to think like one?”*

harry

Photo by Ben Rushton

With a fine cast, director Kate Gaul creates a captivating night of theatre. As always, her visual imagery is extraordinary.

Philpott’s script is both beautifully poetic and powerfully narrative driven. It’s a thought-provoking mix of direct address to the audience and firm-fourth-wall naturalism. Jodie Le Vesconte and Jane Phegan create the couple at the heart of the story, and present a moving portrayal of genuine affection under threat. Jonas Thomson and Bobbie-Jean Henning play their children, and it is in them we see the contrast between innocence and the pain of knowledge.  Niki Owen and Thomas Campbell linger and lurk, giving voice to the gossipy neighbour, the constant observer, the perpetual gaze. They are the hegemonic narrative, and their performance is suitably unsettling.

The great tension in the concept of identity is this: Identity is our own, but it must be lived socially. (You can have your own private language, but it’s difficult to remain fluent, and only too easy to slip into a soulless silence.) Identity is both personal and political. This fault line is the cause of much pain.

A play set in the past always provokes. It asks are we doing any better.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Trouble With Harry by Lachlan Philpott

Produced by Siren Theatre Company

Seymour Centre til 3 March

Tix and info here

* Apologies to Lachlan Philpott if I have misquoted his beautiful words.

The Little Dog Laughed

17 Feb

The Little Dog Laughed, by Douglas Carter Beane, was first performed in the US in 2006.

It’s a satire on the entertainment business, and hence – by virtue of the economic imperative – on wider society as well. It’s an attack on the inability to accept a world view beyond the hegemonically heterosexual.

I have little time for satires that target only those who are absent.  I feel a real satire, one with teeth, has to take on its audience. One might think that an American play with a showbiz focus might not pass my stringent test. However, when you play to an audience of responsible citizens of a country that has yet to grant marriage equality, you pass with flying colours.

Excluding its thematic concerns, Beane’s play is in the grand tradition of American mainstream comedy. It’s close kin to sitcom. It even has entirely random throwaway one-liners (such as “Talking to you is like sewing a button on cottage cheese”) which evoke the style of some of the most popular Broadway comedies of the 50’s and 60’s.

tldl-11

Photo by Bob Seary

Alice Livingstone’s production is great fun and her cast plays the humour beautifully. Sarah Aubrey as the cynical agent is terrific. Brett Rogers and Charles Upton play the two lovers with real charm. Madeline Beukers creates a lovable, laughable, lost soul.

This is a play that values giggles over depth, but it’s not a thought-free zone. Mitchell (Rogers) is uncertain about his sexuality, uncertain whether he wishes to own what he feels. “Homosexual is an adjective,” he tells himself.

Coming Out is one of the great tension points in our society. And I don’t mean simply that it’s a difficult thing to do. Coming Out implies integrity. The problem is, that in a post-modern world, we’re sometimes uncertain whether integrity is a virtue after all. Perhaps it’s just an oversimplification, an attempt to label the ineffable. Diane (Aubrey) gives an almost convincing argument about the meaninglessness of integrity. “You want my word? That’s like asking a whore for her cherry!”

Perhaps the way to grow through both the beauty and challenge of identity politics is this:

Label yourself as you wish, label others as they wish, and remember that all labels are like buttons sewn on cottage cheese.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane

New Theatre til March 4

Info and tix here.

 

Blink

15 Feb

Blink, by Phil Porter, was first produced in the UK in 2012.

It’s a generous-spirited meditation on the nature of love.

We’re inclined to believe love is all about communication. But connection can be made in ways other than words.

In this love story, the two characters Jonah and Sophie talk more to us than to each other. Their relationship is based on attention.

She wants to be watched. He wants to watch.

Stories Like These presents Blink

Photo by Robert Catto

That our life is worthy of attention is, of course, greatly comforting. Until the advent of Jonah, Sophie had begun to feel she was invisible.

Jonah was raised on a Christian commune. Perhaps it was in this overly vigilant community that he learnt the power of watching.

(When faced with the criticism that their God is too judgmental, some Christians answer that the belief that someone is paying attention, and cares what they do, is exactly what they find so attractive.)

This production by Luke Rogers is very funny, utterly charming and deeply thought provoking. Charlotte Hazard as Sophie and James Raggatt as Jonah give beautifully pitched performances. They gently draw out what is laughable about these quirky characters, but also find the truthfulness that makes them deeply lovable.

I don’t want to give the impression this is some sort of religious play. It’s not. But it does explore themes that have drawn many of the great mystics, of all traditions.

Talking to the one we love maybe important, but the silent acceptance of their presence and the simple acknowledgement of their otherness is where love begins, and where it finds fulfillment.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Blink by Phil Porter

Kings Cross Theatre til March 4

Tix and info here

 

Hero and Companion

3 Feb

Yes, I’m a fan of new work. And of writer-directors.

Some might find my tastes a little unusual. After all, theatre is one of those strange art forms where the norm seems to be that you do other people’s work, preferably once it’s already been done by someone else. (Of course, there are reasons for this: many understandable, few admirable.)

Hero and Companion is new work by writer-director Erica J. Brennan. It’s exciting and experimental, full of beautiful imagery, both visual and linguistic.

The two pieces are explorations of fear and anger.

hero

Photo by Reef Gahaa

The Hero Leaves a Tooth is a comedy of manners, set in a world where women have grown forbidding teeth in their vaginas. It’s a type of revenge fantasy. Set in a dining room amongst friends, it suggests that the potential for violence and fear that underscores sex, especially for women, is found not only in extreme circumstances but in the everyday.

Companion Piece tells of a woman who visits a watch shop for a repair, but it’s she herself who needs mending. If Hero suggests anger, this suggests that anger needs extraction.

These pieces value imagery, risk taking and a seductive resistance to clarity. They brim with metaphor, but rather than ponderously signifying, these metaphors invite reflection. Rather than snapping shut, like a set of teeth, the world opens up.

Brennan has surrounded herself with a quality team. Jake Nielsen and Matthew Predny have written two cracking opening numbers, which effectively introduce the vibrant theatre to follow. The design team (Camilla Turnbull, Ester Karuso-Thurn and Liam O’Keefe) do work that is attractive and effective.

Performances are generally good, especially the pitch perfect energy of Cat Martin and Victoria Greiner in Companion. Each piece has a show stopping monologue, each performed brilliantly – by Pollyanna Nowicki in Hero and Shauntelle Benjamin in Companion. It is in these set pieces that Brennan’s writing most shines.

Hero and Companion is presented as part of the Old 505 Freshworks season. The Old 505 should be congratulated for this, and for their ongoing commitment to new work.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Hero and Companion by Erica J. Brennan

Old 505 Theatre til 5 Feb

Tix and info here