Tag Archives: Flight Path Theatre

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

https://sydneyfringe.com/events/chain-play/

Image by Aaron Cornelius

Labyrinth

23 Aug

This production is inspiring for its sheer energy and effort.

Beth Steel’s play, first produced in 2016, is set in the 1980’s. It’s the story of a crash: the over lending by American banks to Latin American countries, and the dreadful consequences.

It’s tempting to say this particular production is about finance and furniture removal; this epic play has many scenes, many locations and, as a result, changeovers make up a significant part of the action. Director Margaret Thanos, movement director Diana Paolo Alvarado, and a spirited cast handle these with aplomb. It all becomes a magnificent spectacle – which is thrilling to the degree to which one classes oneself as a spectator or as an audience member. But the time that must have gone into building and rehearsing these changeovers is mind blowing, and throws the gauntlet out to other theatre makers.

The tile is odd. Is it ironic? Few plays would be more obvious in their meaning: greed is bad. Some may feel it’s a story that doesn’t especially need to be heard (and judging by the soundscape that played through some of the scenes this might be a view shared by the creative team.)

Performances are truly exuberant, and generally effective. Matt Abotomey as the protagonist, John, is eminently watchable, embodying with bold physicality and emotional power the literary trope of the man seduced by power. Angus Evans and Brendan Miles both evoke the frightening obtusity of the privileged. Camila Ponte Alvarez’s Grace, a journalist who flags the wanton irresponsibility of the American lenders, is a wonderful portrait of intelligence and sanity in a small, crazy world. Tasha O’Brien and Rachael Colquhoun-Fairweather produce some comic magic.

I implied earlier that the story was an obvious one. Perhaps that’s a criticism. Or perhaps it’s not. That injustice is as familiar as dirt, as dust, simply urges on us fresh ways to shake off our complacency.

And both play and production give it a good hard shake.

Paul Gilchrist

Labyrinth by Beth Steel

Flight Path Theatre until Sept 3

www.flightpaththeatre.org

Image by Clare Hawley

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

https://www.flightpaththeatre.org/

Image by Katje Ford

The Sweet Science of Bruising

23 Jun

I’m a huge fan of historical work. It transports you to the exotic, to another time and place. This facilitates big, bold story telling.

But the very fact you’re in a time and place other than your own inevitably forces a question: “What relevance does this have to my world?” (It’s all a neat way of eliciting a personal response from an audience without being too personal.)

First produced in 2018, Joy Wilkinson’s The Sweet Science of Bruising tells the story of female boxers in nineteenth century London. Because it’s about fighting, it’s the perfect parable for the ongoing struggle for equality. And it raises two salient questions: 1. Do women have to become like men to win? (The play asks this explicitly) and 2. Will the fight require women to fight each other? (The play obviously does ask this, but chooses not to make it the dramatic nub, settling rather for a broader promotion of sisterhood. In regard to this issue, I wish it had taken the gloves off, instead of just loosening the laces a little. But the most pointless theatre criticism of all is of the if-I-had-written-this-play variety. And, anyway, see my final comments.)

The story presents four equal protagonists, each a woman who takes to boxing for her own reasons. This makes for a longer show than average – two and a half hours of stage time – but a very engaging two and a half hours it is.

Period plays lay traps for actors; it’s easy to be blinded by our progressive prejudice and assume the past was not peopled with….well, people, but types. For the main, this production avoids this trap. The four leads (Sonya Kerr, Kian Pitman, Kitty Simpson and Esther Williams) are wonderful, creating rich, utterly captivating portraits of transgressive women. Cormac Costello as Professor Charlie Sharp, the arranger and promoter of the fights, gives a performance that crackles with gleeful possibility. The scenes between boxer Polly (Williams) and he are heart-warming magic.    

Period plays (especially the big and bold) also posit challenges for directors: How should I costume? What is my set? How real to make the physicality? Carly Fischer, with the help of a great design team, turns these challenges into fun opportunities.

Historical fiction poses one more question: how much is history and how much is fiction? (And, yes, there was female boxing in the nineteenth century.) Pedants love finding anachronisms, getting great delight out of pointing out that gramophones (say) weren’t invented until XXXX, or characters in XXXX were unlikely to express values not common until XXXX. In contrast, grownups appreciate the nature of fiction; you don’t find the truth in a tale by stepping on it, but by letting it wag. It’s in the joy it expresses, in its gift of hope; not in what it asserts about the past, but what it suggests for the future – and this play is a gift.

Paul Gilchrist

The Sweet Science of Bruising by Joy Wilkinson

Flight Path Theatre until July 2

https://www.flightpaththeatre.org/whats-on/sweet-science-of-bruising

Image by Becky Matthews 

A Hundred Words For Snow

19 May

This is a brilliant presentation of a brilliant play.

In Tatty Hennessy’s beautifully rich monologue, Rory has just lost her father. Before an untimely accident, he’d been planning to take her to the North Pole…..so teenage Rory decides the next best thing is to take his ashes there.

Her journey of discovery – into a lonely world of ice and cold, and unexpected beauty – is a gloriously gentle, deeply moving metaphor for grief.

Both Rory’s father and her younger self were enamoured by tales of the early polar explorers, men desperate to reach the Pole before modern technology reduced the ordeal to a difficult, but ultimately doable, tourist jaunt. These men who dared the unknown, the vast blank spaces on the map, showed extraordinary resilience, extraordinary hubris, and many died horribly. Rory is suitably fascinated by both their strength and their stupidity.

For all their hardship, much of the blank space they aimed to conquer had been traversed before. Perhaps if they’d spoken to the Inuit people, instead of dismissing them as savages, their journeys might have been easier.

But first times will be experienced as such.

Much of life consists of experiencing for the first time what’s in actuality being experienced for the billionth time. We walk the road alone, but the road is well trodden. (It’s a phenomena Rory herself acknowledges, not about her grief, but about her first serious sexual encounter; for all its uniqueness for her, it’s been experienced by all who came before.)

Eddie Pattison is magnificent as Rory, capturing her sadness, her fear, her humour, and her wonder, and creating a character so complete it feels less like a performance than an embodiment. Director Gavin Roach’s touch is light and wise, allowing this piece to achieve the dramatic miracle: the realisation of the individual that intimates the universal.    

Paul Gilchrist

A Hundred Words For Snow by Tatty Hennessy

Flight Path Theatre until 28 May

https://www.flightpaththeatre.org/whats-on/a-hundred-words-for-snow

Images: Cameron Grant (Parenthesy)

a body is all that remains

12 May

A single performer stands on a bare, dimly lit stage. He speaks to us in a soft, gentle voice. There is a soundscape of lapping water.

This is Lungol Wekina, an indigenous Papua New Guinean storyteller. He shares with us the brutal impact of colonisation on his people and his desire for connection with his ancestors.

Is it possible to be guilty of writing a spoiler in discussing a show such us this? You might think not, but you might be wrong.

Wekina speaks of his people drowning. Or, more precisely, of being made to feel they have always been drowning.

The culprit? “The Project”.

It’s an interesting choice of phrase. It’s colonialism. It’s capitalism. And it suggests deliberate intention.

There’s beautiful poetry in Wekina’s telling – sparse language, but rich, with seemingly simple figurative language that gradually blossoms into glorious fullness.

Initially, the monologue is thick with the abstract language of cultural studies, the terminology of post-colonial theory. This is a tendency that’s become almost conventional in contemporary theatre – but Wekina does something wonderful with it. His sharing is short on specifics, on the concrete – and that’s his point: it’s gone. All gone. Taken from him.

He suggests the colonisers burnt down his people’s library, destroying their cultural heritage. But he acknowledges this is a metaphor, just a metaphor, and one he has built from the language of the oppressor. That is their power.

So he builds another metaphor, this time of the dancer. In her movements, and in her voice, the dancer encapsulates Wekina’s cultural heritage, his connection with his ancestors. He tells us, that after the shocking violence of first contact between indigenous people and the colonisers, the Project became more insidious, slipping gently on stage with the dancer, and slowly replacing her steps, her voice, with its own.

The old world is lost. The dance is lost.

But the motif of the dancer facilitates another perspective. As Yeats observed (sort of) how can you tell the dance from the dancer?   

And by now the stage is no longer dimly lit. There is the performer, and only the performer, in full light. And, as he speaks in his gentle voice, he ever so subtly evokes the movement of the dance.

If I say more, I feel I will be guilty of a spoiler.

I say only this: the finale is poignant and sorrowful. But it’s also hopeful, a vision of connection … with ancestors … and with all humankind.  Because what do we share?

Paul Gilchrist

a body is all that remains

written and performed by Lungol Wekina

as part of the Everything but the Kitchen Sink Festival

Flight Path Theatre until Thurs 12 May ( the festival runs to Fri 13)

https://www.flightpaththeatre.org/whats-on/everything-but-the-kitchen-sink

Silenced

10 May

Linda Nicholls-Gidley’s Silenced explores how women have been robbed of voice and the necessity of permitting them to speak.

Silenced is verbatim theatre, constructed from the testament of women, and performed by an ensemble of six actors.

Director Carly Fisher elicits good performances from her entire cast – Nola Bartolo, Chanika Desilva, Mariama Whitton, Sonya Kerr, Deborah Faye Lee and Nicholls-Gidley – and in combination with a fascinatingly unconventional script, this is powerful, thought-provoking theatre.

At times, it feels as though an oddly undramatic choice predominates. A group of women share their stories of being silenced. There is no tension between these women. Their stories are not detailed anecdotes, but rather abstractions, generalisations, sometimes expressed in distancing theoretical language. It’s as though this avoidance of the specific is an enactment of one of the more pernicious ways in which dissent is silenced – by reducing it to an inarticulate rage. But this linguistic choice serves another purpose; the abstract language creates a hard, unforgiving surface, like ice over a frozen lake – and the moment a skate breaks through the emotional shock is palpable. Nicholls-Gidley beautifully performs two heartrending monologues, one on prejudices regarding body weight, and another on post-natal depression. With affecting poignancy, Kerr presents another on the need to plan a secret escape route from a threatening male. Desilva shares an exuberantly satirical assertion that the character she portrays will neither be defined by her ethnic heritage nor denied its riches.

The dominant stylistic choice is also disrupted in other ways. Comic skits revisit advertising of the past, holding up historical misogyny for gleeful inspection and asking us whether reports of its death are indeed overstated.  On another occasion, the script returns to conventional dramatic form, positing opposing voices as the women discuss the behaviour of a female work colleague – is she justly assertive or just aggressive? (Another tension the script posits is between different types of silence, that which is chosen, such as meditation, in contrast with that which is enforced. Indeed the theme of silence and speech is such a gloriously rich field that the play ensures lively post show discussion: Is being allowed to speak the equivalent of being heard? Is our purpose in speaking to share our stories, to represent our truth, or is speech more like a tool we employ to impact the world, closer kin to hammer than camera? And are there times when silence is actually a moral obligation? A piece of theatre that evokes these questions is a treasure.)

But perhaps, on the simplest level, a group of women sharing their stories with one another is an invaluable model of what our society desperately needs –  a commitment to listening.

Paul Gilchrist

Silenced by Linda Nicholls-Gidley

Flight Path Theatre until Fri May 13 (as part of the Everything But the Kitchen Sink Festival)

https://www.flightpaththeatre.org