Tag Archives: Kings Cross Theatre


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


Image by Clare Hawley

French Letters and Leather Cleaner

16 Feb

This is like a glass of bubbly; fun, light, effervescent – but with a kick.

Robbie runs a queer sex shop on Oxford Street. For many years it has proven a safe haven for the queer community. Kris, who now works there, was given shelter by Robbie, as was Santi, the drag queen.

But things have changed; developers want the site. Then one evening, Donkey Thursday (long story; at least 8 inches), a seemingly straight couple turn up at the store, and….

Laurent Auclair’s script has great one-liners, and some of the best go to Mat Oldaker as Santi and Dennis Clements as Robbie, who deliver them superbly. But the decision to present the story in real time creates challenges for both actors and audience; does change happen so fast? I assume the script has realism as its goal, but the characters’ occasional meta-theatrical awareness of the audience, and the choice to vary lighting states that in reality would be static, give my assumption a disconcerting shake.

But forget the shake, back to that kick I began with. It’s in some of the characters’ intriguing nostalgia for the past, when to be queer was to be, well… queer.

Every revolution has unintended consequences. The drive to equality can lead to homogeneity. Once accepted, do you simply blend in? Do you merely dissolve, like a sugar doll in a vast tepid ocean?

Successful revolutions always leave a smattering of revolutionaries struggling to find an identity in the new order. It’s a phenomena that invites us to question the concept of identity itself.

Self-definition by opposition is drearily binary and ultimately limiting. You risk being reduced to someone else’s shadow, if you allow your shape to be defined by their light. Or, to reverse the analogy, definition by opposition assumes a monolithic opposition, and maintaining that assumption is a whole lot easier if you don’t point your light too closely at what darkness leaves in convenient simplicity.

We live in the age of identity, where the question “Who am I?” takes precedence over the question “What is to be done?” But, I suspect, identity is one of those things that the fortunate individual ultimately freely chooses to relinquish. But that is a suspicion; what I know is that what is taken from us does untold damage. French Letters and Leather Cleaner is a valuable assertion of the queer community’s continuing need for safe spaces. The revolution ain’t over. (Are they ever?)

You gotta love a piece of theatre that invites such speculation.

Paul Gilchrist

French Letters and Leather Cleaner by Laurent Auclair

Presented by Fruit Box Theatre in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company

At Kings Cross Theatre until 24 Feb


Image by Matthew Miceli Photography

Big Screen, Small Queen

14 Feb

(Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School)

Etcetera Etcetera has an extraordinary stage presence. Big Screen, Small Queen is a sharing of how the performer discovered the artform of drag – when they were supposed to be studying film. (Hence the show’s subtitle.) It’s a humorous and heart-warming tale of self-discovery and self-expression.

In the time honoured tradition of drag, most of the musical numbers are lip-synched, but they are visually spectacular. Performed by Etcetera, Jack Williams and Carter Rickard, and choreographed by Rickard, the dancing is electric. And then there’s the frocks; designed by Erin Caroll and worn beautifully by Etcetera, they’re truly fabulous. Add to this Aron Murray’s magical lighting and the result is a delightful, life-affirming confection.

Etcetera does perform live Peggy Lee’s hit song “Is That All There Is?” It’s a moving and amusing expression of disappointment. For Etcetera, film school was meant to open a doorway to glamour. (Is ‘disappointment’ the correct word? Or is it ‘decadence’? I’m not making a moral point; I don’t mean ‘decadence’ as in excessive indulgence, but rather as the need for more and more stimulation. It’s one of life’s great mysteries that some people can stare rapt at a mere rock pool for hours while others soon tire of the ocean – and so dream a fanta-sea.)

But there’s an absolutely fascinating paradox in drag; it is utterly performative, but in being so performative, so artificial, the performer reveals their true self. Etcetera says early in the show words something like: I can’t trust anyone who hasn’t torn down their identity and rebuilt it from scratch; I can’t trust anyone who hasn’t performed drag.

This show is designed to highlight drag’s glorious paradox. All costume changes (wigs and all) happen in full view. And the whole time there’s a full length mirror on stage and a camera capable of projecting Etcetera’s performance on a screen. The sheer artifice of it all is made apparent. Drag is an archetypal example of what’s termed philosophical irony: none of us are in the position to make God-like pronouncements of ultimate Truth, we’re all just making it up as we go along – and so artificiality is our reality. Our ability to perform is who we are.

It’s a remarkably grand and liberating vision of life (as vast and deep as any ocean, seen or dreamed.)

Paul Gilchrist

Big Screen, Small Queen by Etcetera Etcetera

Presented by Fruit Box Theatre in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company

At Kings Cross Theatre until 23 Feb


Image by Matthew Miceli Photography

The Wasp

9 Dec

I don’t warm to the idea of granting stars to productions. (You know the stars I mean: “This Sydney Festival production of Hamlet by Swahili speaking puppets – Five Stars!!!”) As a writer about theatre I want what I’ve written to be read, and I know if my response to a production is abbreviated to a rating out of five then there goes my audience. (Unless, of course, I give a One Star rating, in which case a whole bunch of goblins pretending to be people will devour every word I’ve written with cold-hearted glee.)

But I don’t like star ratings for other reasons. They imply that productions are being compared and ranked according to some known and accepted criteria.  And they’re always so parsimonious:  Five Stars is hardly generous considering how many stars there actually are in the universe. And, finally (you’re thinking), ratings seem rather counter-intuitive: everything I enjoy eating from Woolies has a pitifully low rating compared to those life denying products that get full marks.

But, having said all that, some productions seem to beg a rating – because anything else I write about them gets dreadfully close to spoiler territory, and that wouldn’t be kind.

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcom is one of these productions. To discuss the themes of this production (which is what I like to do with every production, and why I attend theatre) is fraught with danger. As a play, The Wasp values twists and turns of plot. And what it values, it does extremely well. It’s an intense ride.

This particular production, presented by Akimbo & Co and directed by Becks Blake, is tight and brilliantly performed.  It’s a two hander (though even that feels like a spoiler.) Heather and Carla meet up years after school. They were very different people then, and things haven’t changed. Helen is awfully middle class and Cara Whitehouse’s portrayal is marvelous, and deeply discomforting. Carla is lower working class (or am I using a middle class euphemism for criminal class?) Jessica Bell as Carla is fantastic, capturing the casual brutality of a woman who’s done it hard. Lloyd Malcom’s script gives the characters a wonderful arc, and these two actors make it work superbly. The initial humour (and there’s a lot of it) is extraordinarily good, and when things get more…well less humorous, we find ourselves in very close company with the fractured and frightened.

Yes, I know, what a vague review. If I was to hazard a spoiler-free observation about the meaning of the play I would suggest it’s about the relationship between kindness and cruelty. We tend to think of these qualities as sort of binary opposites, that is defined by their opposition to each other (like “positive” and “negative” or “on” and “off”). But the play reminds us that the relationship between the two qualities is complex. I don’t mean the cliché that you have to be cruel to be kind. I mean that one of those two qualities can be so overwhelming that even when the other appears, or seems to do so, it’s reduced to a façade, a brittle shell that barely conceals its nemesis.  (And, usually, only one person is deceived….)

So, that star rating I was talking about? The one I was going to give because I’m kind?

Even theatre reviews can have twists.

Paul Gilchrist

The Wasp by Morgan Lloyd Malcom

KXT until 17 December


Image by Clare Hawley

Tongue Tied

17 Nov

“The fox knows many things, the hedgehog one big thing” Archilochus*

Drama achieves greatness when it offers its audience the vision of the fox; the vision that life is multifarious. However, in an age of overt politicization such as our own, drama often aspires to the vision of the hedgehog. A work about sexual violence, like this play, will often simply and correctly assert that such violence is an abomination. But the fox sees further; in addition to condemnation there is more – premonitions, seeming digressions, warnings – because in the long shadow thrown by suffering, further evils breed.

Tongue Tied by Clare Hennessy is a true fox of a play; funny, insightful and very powerful.

It begins in the sharp sunlight of satire but, as focus moves to the victim and the perpetrator, we find ourselves in a much darker place.

The play does not ask us to consider the alleged perpetrator’s innocence or guilt – the accused is guilty – the play asks us to consider what is done after the wrong. Is a crime purely a matter for individuals, one in which the victim should be free to find whatever peace she can, using whatever methods are available? Or is a crime indicative of wider societal failure, and so is the victim therefore beholden to us, since by bearing witness to her pain she plays a crucial part in fixing what otherwise remains broken? In a nutshell, is private suffering public property?

If the answer is yes, then your suffering can be used by others. For good and for bad.

Director Sarah Hadley has assembled a magnificent cast, and wisely gives them a simple playing space, allowing them to bring alive the subtleties of this work.

Eloise Snape as Mia, a journalist chasing the “blockbuster” sexual assault story of the year, brilliantly portrays the tensions between the pursuits of public good and private gain. Kieran Clancy-Lowe plays her main sparring partner, Parker, the PR man for the company whose CEO is guilty of the assault. Snape and Clancy-Lowe work Hennessy’s clever satire expertly (and in the chemistry between the two characters, in this play about assault, both writer and actors offer a rich reminder that sex can be, as well as sinister, stupid.)

Di Adams, as Mia’s editor is delightfully droll, and Michael C Howlett as the perpetrator delivers a performance that encapsulates the cold menace of privilege.

With illness striking the cast, two actors stood in with scripts, but were still extraordinarily effective. Clementine Anderson as Sarah, the woman abused, compelling portrays a character of both understandable trepidation and unremitting dignity. Madelaine Osbourne’s Holly, the woman who now has Sarah’s job, is well-meaning and instinctively confident, leaving us transfixed between awe and horror, uncertain whether this is strength or gullibility. The scene in which these two women finally meet is the moment compassion meets bewilderment – they care, but they don’t know how to care – glorious theatre. (True fox theatre.)

And the final image of the play, evocative of the long shadow of the violent act we’ve been blessedly spared, is absolutely haunting.     

Paul Gilchrist

Tongue Tied by Clare Hennessy

KXT until Nov 26


*I have stolen this reference from Isiah Berlin

One Hour No Oil

30 Oct

One hundred minutes no intermission. Now, that’s a trigger warning. It triggered me – but my fears were misplaced. This play by Kenneth Moraleda and Jordan Shea is easy viewing.

It did, however, lead to much lengthier post-show musings. But more of that later.

John Gomez Goodway plays Bhing, a Filipino migrant working as a masseur in a town near the Western Australian mining fields. He has magic hands. He has a gift which verges on the supernatural; he can see physical pain in others. He is an inheritor of a grand tradition. Bhing has a new client, Scott, played by Shaw Cameron, a “skip”, a boiler maker from one of the mines. Scott is a “caveman”, desperate to ease the pain in his damaged shoulder, but uncertain about such close physical contact with a man, especially an Asian man.

We witness their massage sessions. Moraleda and Shea’s decision to privilege physicality is unexpectedly intellectually stimulating, and an exciting theatrical invitation. Director Moraleda and movement director Lauren Nalty effectively stylise the massage sessions – there’s no lying face down on a table – there’s a smooth flowing beauty.

Sometimes Bhing and Scott speak to each other, but often they express their thoughts and feelings in a stream of consciousness that’s sometimes directed at us, and sometimes not. Their relationship gradually changes. The marketing implies the transcending of hate…. but that’s marketing; the play offers something darker than that.

The performances are captivating, bravely participating in the creation of two rather unlikeable characters. (After beginning the show with the longest and most combative acknowledgement of country I’ve heard for a while, we were presented with two non-indigenous characters clearly living off the proceeds of that country. Similarly, there’s a moment when one of the characters – vagueness due to spoiler rule – has a clear duty of care but is conflicted about fulfilling it because he really wants to attend an interview with a bureaucracy so he can prove he has read their documentation about duty of care.) But don’t get the impression we’re being asked to watch two entitled bores; the writers provide plenty of moments of humour and charm which the performers play wonderfully.

The two actors share the space with musician Alec Steedman, who creates fun sound effects, and also performs two amusing cameos.

Two handers are notoriously difficult. How do you get the balance right between the characters? Do you try for balance at all? In this play, Bhing is assumed to be vastly superior to Scott. So what responsibilities, if any, might this incur?  Any answer to that is dependent on the answer to this: How does a relationship between two specific individuals – and there’s a lot of stage time to make them quite specific – evoke something wider to an audience?

The spoiler rule makes my point difficult to make, but it is tempting to read this play as a type of parable, or maybe even fable. If so, it’s moral is this: New comers owe you nothing. It’s just a “business arrangement”. They don’t like you, and maybe you should just die, so they can leave their past behind in the inevitability of their rise to middle class status. But don’t blame them, because you’ve done it yourself, to those who came before.

It’s an easy evening of theatre, written and performed with a gentle warmth that belies a deeper darkness. You’ve got to be happy with that.

Paul Gilchrist

One Hour No Oil by Kenneth Moraleda and Jordan Shea

Kings Cross Theatre until 5 Nov


Image by Clare Hawley

For the Grace of You Go I

13 Oct

For The Grace of You Go I by Alan Harris is very funny and very clever.

On the simplest level, the play is an indictment of our treatment of the mentally ill, of how programs purportedly designed to help them are, in fact, self-seeking.

But I don’t think the play is really about mental illness, or only is in so far as many mental illnesses are suffered by almost everyone. (I don’t in any way mean the play uses mental illness or is without sympathy for those who suffer.) What I mean is that the mental illness portrayed by the protagonist is a hyperbolic example of what most people experience. (But doesn’t the hyperbole make it an illness? No, it makes it drama.)

Jim believes he is both directing a movie and is its major character. I would argue, that in modernity, this is a common human experience. We do imagine our lives as films that are watched. Life as artefact. (If not the examined life, then the viewed life.) As theatre goers, it might be difficult to see how there could be a different way of thinking about it; after all, when you watch a play, a supposed representation of life, you are seeing life from the outside. But, outside the theatre (and inside it too) you are actually just in life. The watchable parts are an extraordinarily small part of being alive. It could be put this way: there’s doing, there’s being and there is. They’re not the same, and they’re not equal. (They’re in ascending order.)

Another philosophical invitation from the play comes when Jim says he can sometimes see the little man who sits at the control board just behind his skull, directing all his movements. It’s the homunculus fallacy; the idea that to explain vision, or indeed consciousness at all, there must be a little person inside us who is watching the movie we see play on our retina, or who is directing all our movements. Like a man inside a giant puppet suit.  He directs the suit. But who directs him? Another smaller person inside him, who sees him as the giant puppet suit? And inside that person? And on, ad infinitum…..

I’m not forgetting that Jim says he can see the little person at the control board. Most of us just imagine that person exists.

None of this is to suggest that the play is heavy. It’s very funny, deeply intriguing, and eminently watchable. (I’m the one being philosophically pretentious.)

On the night I saw the show there were technical problems, but still the performances were wonderful. The cast play the humour brilliantly, and director Lucy Clements works well the script’s truly unnerving tensions. One such is the contrast between James Smithers’ Jim and Shan-Ree Tan’s Mark.  Jim’s moving dedication to truth (despite, or because of, his dissociation) smacks up against Mark’s duplicity. Mark is the type of person who says something quite threatening, only to then claim it was all a joke. Tan navigates beautifully Mark’s piteous, painful habit of backtracking. Jane Angharad plays Irina with a genuine poignancy, the character exhibiting the naivety of the I-can-help-you-and-it-will-benefit-me-too sort. As is often the case with such characters, it’s as though she is suddenly confronted with a swim across the English Channel when she thought she was to loll in a plunge pool.

Paul Gilchrist

For The Grace of You Go I by Alan Harris

KXT until 15 Oct


Image by Clare Hawley

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

Daddy Developed a Pill

16 Jun

I have to admit, this one defeated me.

If theatre is a delivery system for meaning (albeit often a meaning built from irreconcilable tensions, and so a meaning only expressible in the dramatic form) then I have to admit I’m not sure what this one means.

(And, no, I didn’t read the program post-show; that’s the equivalent of reading Wikipedia’s article on orgasm after being left unsatisfied in the bedroom.)

Daddy has developed a pill – but Cynthia, his daughter, has developed another one. I don’t know whether these pills and their effects were literal or metaphorical. The difference between the two pills was ……. but then it was gone, and I’m not sure it was repeated. The play then became Cynthia hosting a party with myriad mad-capped guests, some of whom had clearly ingested very literal drugs.

As a writer about theatre you have to avoid the temptation of behaving like a nineteenth century amateur anthropologist, the type of supercilious old gent who dismisses other cultures as primitive because their values don’t align with his.

But the least interesting aspect of any production is whether it interests me.

This production by director LJ Wilson values energy, exuberance, audacity and speed.

Performances are dynamic, larger than life and consistently crazy. Sarah Greenwood as Cynthia anchors the play with an intriguing combination of swaggering dominance and childlike doubt. Clay Crighton and Jack Francis West play everybody else, with an inspiring, frenetic vitality.

Cassie Hamilton’s script is bouncy and cheeky, like a rivulet bubbling inexorably through the jungle (for a thick 95 minutes), cascading towards some enormous cataract, some frightening drop. I’m just not sure what that drop was – but it was deliciously dizzying.

Paul Gilchrist

Daddy Developed a Pill by Cassie Hamilton

KXT until June 18th   www.kingsxtheatre.com/daddy

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