Tag Archives: Kings Cross Theatre

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

www.kingsxtheatre.com/

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

www.kingsxtheatre.com/tongue-tied

*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

kingsxtheatre.com

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

kingsxtheatre.com

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

http://www.kingsxtheatre.com/

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

 

 

 

 

Osama the Hero

27 Jan

This is a foreign play, played in accent and set in a UK housing estate.

Theatre has always sought street cred. Though it’s gloriously fun, there’s something childish about pretending to be someone else. To compensate, we choose stories that are confronting and characters that are dangerous.

This production values bold vocal performances, a furious energy, and the exploration of the socially gritty.

Director Richard Hilliar and his cast give it their all. It’s not pretty (and not meant to be) but it is fiery and thought-provoking.

osama-the-hero

Dennis Kelly’s script is about aspiration: wanting someone to look up to, wanting to do better, wanting safety.

Joshua McElroy plays Gary, a bewildered and isolated high school student, and finds both the humour and pathos in the character’s unsophisticated truth telling. Gary is asked to give a speech about ‘crimes against humanity’ and chooses to discuss Hello magazine, citing its celebrity nonsense and trashy materialism. Unsurprisingly, he’s not understood by his peers. This is exacerbated by his next speech, about Osama bin Laden. Gary admires bin Laden because (supposedly) he fought for what he believed – really fought, as against merely sent others to fight while eating in fancy restaurants.

This theme is taken up later, in a different key, by another teenager, Mandy (played intriguingly by Poppy Lynch as a tension between idiot child and sage.) Mandy once thought that somewhere there were some grownups in charge of everything, but she’s realized that no such abrogation of responsibility is possible.

In the meantime, the adults are exercising their authority in the only manner they know: violence. Gary has been tortured. His crime against humanity?  Allegedly blowing up a garage.

The residents of the estate are all damaged souls. Louise has a father who’s in prison for assaulting a pedophile, purportedly for her protection. Nicole Wineberg plays Louise with a fascinating mix of fire and vulnerability, allowing her to oscillate wildly between certainty and doubt; not so much a candle in the wind, as a blow torch in a hurricane. Louise’s brother, Francis, has been forced into acts of extreme cruelty, but has also had intimations of an alternative. Tel Benjamin plays him with power and insight. Recent arrival at the estate, Mark (Lynden Jones), is accused of being a pedophile himself. Jones nails cowardly and simpering (and considering the roles I’ve had the pleasure to see him in, including Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s a tribute to his versatility as a performer.)

Yes, Osama the Hero is a violent play. But it’s also a play about the sources of violence: culture, environment and, most of all, fear.

I began by suggesting this is a foreign play, but fear, that so urges us to erect borders, knows none itself.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Osama the Hero by Dennis Kelly

Kings Cross Theatre til 4 Feb

Tix and info here

 

Tiny Remarkable Bramble

21 Nov

I’m going to pretend I understood this one. Not that understanding is crucial for theatre. Or enjoyment. Or life.

Our protagonist, Alice, seems to need help in order to face the world.  At hand are a kooky collection of characters, played with appropriately high energy by Cathy Hunt’s cast. (I’ve been a fan of Hunt since I saw her Judith at the Bondi Pav a few years back.) Thomas Campbell plays a terrific toy soldier. Lucy Suze Taylor is a delightful vamp. Michael Whalley is a gorgeously awkward geek. Contessa Treffone is a charming innocent, bright-eyed and bubble-wrapped. (Yes, she actually is.) Catherine Terracini is the slogan-speaking motivator, engaging to us, maddening to Alice. Geraldine Viswanathan plays Alice with an intriguing mix of cynicism and vulnerability.  She’s in a sort of Wonderland, and soon it becomes apparent that these crazy kids are in as much need of help as she is. They’re hiding from the outside.

trb-1

Photo by Clare Hawley

Someone smart, someone like Picasso, said something like “I don’t paint what a tree looks like. I paint how it makes me feel.”

So, as Jessica Tuckwell’s Tiny Remarkable Bramble is clearly not a piece of naturalism, what aspect of human experience does it explore?

Perhaps it’s a riff on how the world can feel overwhelming, and on the potential for the mind to transcend this feeling. The script is jam packed with snappy dialogue, half-gag, half-nonsense (or perhaps all-gag if you’re in the likely position of being smarter than me.)

The characters are preparing for a talent quest. “It’s all a talent quest out there.” It’s a stimulating metaphor, though not one that especially resonates with me. (Life, for me, is that ocean swim where you don’t know which way is land. Or it’s a bunch of us on a raft, rationing the resources, and trying to get on.) But Life as a stupid compulsory competition probably seems a good description for a lot of people.

Paul Gilchrist

Tiny Remarkable Bramble by Jessica Tuckwell

Kings Cross Theatre as part of Invisible Circus

Tuesday 22nd November, Friday 25th November

Full program and tix here

The Angelica Complex

16 Nov

Early in this production the character says words to the effect: “As a woman, you can be either strong or vulnerable. You can’t be both.”

And then we’re gifted a performance that is both strong and vulnerable: strong in that Kym Vercoe is an extraordinary actor whose vocal and physical work is of the highest quality; vulnerable in that we’re given a heartbreaking insight into the challenges facing a woman who has newly become a mother.

angelica-5

Kym Vercoe, photo by Phil Erbacher

 

Part of Invisible Circus, a festival of work by female theatre practitioners currently at KXT, Sunny Grace’s The Angelica Complex is one of the voices we need if our theatrical culture can claim to be truly diverse. (Though the fact I can use the word ‘diverse’ to label a work that explores such fundamentals of human existence as birth and breastfeeding suggests we might have a way to go. I blame society, not myself; in polite company, that’s always best.)

This is a powerful tale presented with both humour and pathos. Director Priscilla Jackman uses the traverse stage to full effect. Sometimes it’s a theatrical space for an individual woman’s intimate sharing of her joys and desperate challenges. At other times it becomes a symbol of a social space offering no escape from the gaze that sees only the role and never the person. Lucia May’s live video feed effectively captures the tension of a particular woman put on the spot, while Naomi Livingston’s vocals beautifully evoke the forces that tug at the boundaries of individuality.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Angelica Complex

Priscilla Jackman (Co-creator & director)
Sunny Grace (Co-creator & writer)

Kings Cross Theatre

Saturday 12th November, Tuesday 15th November,Friday 18th November, Thursday 24th November and Sunday 27th November

As part of Invisible Circus. Full program and tix here