Tag Archives: Riverside

Girl Band

21 May

Directed by Lucy Clements, Girl Band by Katy Warner is a wonderful satire on the music industry and pop culture – but it’s also a poignant exploration of power.

It’s 1994 and The Sensation Girls are on the cusp. Orchestrated by the ever unseen Darren and Craig, they’re a line up to inspire young women (and to make a heap of money, though not for the Girls themselves.) In one song, each of the group introduces themselves: “I’m smart! I’m sexy! I’m strong! I’m smiley! I’m sassy!” For young women, it’s no doubt an invaluable lesson in self-esteem (and stereotyping, and alliteration.)

With composition by Zoe Rinkel and lyrics by Warner, the production also beautifully skewers the music produced by manufactured groups.  “Boy Crazy” not only doesn’t pass the Bechdel test; its inane repetition ensures it can’t pass the Goldfish test. “I’m boy crazy. Boy crazy. I’m boy….” You know the rest.  Wisely, we’re not asked to listen to the entire song.

Similarly, the choreography by Amy Hack captures brilliantly the double standards of this musical genre. The lyrics of “Maybe” suggest a sweet uncertainty about the singer’s romantic interest, but the hilarious pseudo-sexy choreography leaves little doubt.

The play is set in the rehearsal room as the five group members prepare for a big industry showcase. Chaya Ocampo as Jade gives a terrific comic performance as a show business character whose “I’m smart!” is deliciously and unconsciously ironic. Jade Fuda and Meg Clarke as lovers capture the tensions created by management’s homophobic insistence on secrecy. LJ Wilson as MJ sings “I’m smiley!” while being delightfully not. MJ’s smarting because previous lead Didi has left and the vacated role has gone to new girl, Kiki. Of course, that’s not her real name, just another imposition from above. Kiki or Kathleen (played with magical exuberance by Madeline Marie Dona) is going to shake things up. Why can’t the girls have more creative control?

And so it comes down to power. Becky is the group’s choreographer, and Hack is magnificent in the role. While very funny, it’s simultaneously a deliberately disturbing portrait of complicity. Becky is reluctant to make waves, and there’s much more to management’s malevolence than just a cynical commitment to inauthenticity.

And that’s where the play’s exploration of power becomes particularly provocative. Our workplace can create misery in many ways, but are all those ways related? The slippery slope argument will always appear most convincing to those who have known real fear.

Paul Gilchrist

Girl Band by Katy Warner

at Riverside until 27 May


Image by Phil Erbacher


16 May

In one of my favourite cartoons, two dogs walk down the street and one complains to the other “It’s always ‘good dog’, never ‘great dog’.”

I was reminded of this comment on parsimony and praise as I watched Relativity by Mark St. Germain.

Not surprisingly, the play’s about Albert Einstein, though the title might be more than just a reference to his most famous theory.

The play explicitly asks “To be a great man, do you have to be a good one?” In the context of the story – Einstein receiving a surprise visitor to whom he is intimately and somewhat awkwardly related – the positing of this question so openly tells us that psychological veracity is not what’s being valued here.

So it’s a play of ideas? Well, the play’s fundamental question is an odd one. “To be a great man, do you have to be a good one?” ‘Great’? What does that actually mean? Does it mean ‘exceptionally good’? But that would beg the question. Or does ‘greatness’ simply mean to be held in high-esteem for reasons other than ethics? In which case, why connect greatness and goodness at all?

Discussions of greatness are often mere valorisations of celebrity. But, if instead, the fundamental question being asked is about the nature of goodness, then the play deals with this enormously complex issue rather obliquely. (This Einstein says Hitler was evil while an adulterer is not – a distinction you don’t need to be Einstein to make.)

What if I let go my philosophical pretensions, and see the play as just a historical portrait? This means I’m being asked to care if the actual Einstein was a good man or not, and that still presupposes a fascination with celebrity (and it’s not going to make any difference to the physics.) And another thing; since what’s portrayed is a private and presumably imagined conversation, can it be taken as an accurate representation of the man? In this play, Einstein says that thirty years of an average person’s life is not as valuable as a great work of art. Did the real man say anything like that?

Clearly, the play is thought-provoking.

It’s a three hander and director Johann Walraven elicits utterly watchable performances from his cast.  Nicholas Papademetriou as Einstein is a beautiful mixture of gentle-hearted humour and a laser sharp intellect. Nisrine Amine as his surprise visitor wonderfully tempers bewilderment at Einstein’s complexity and a cold anger at his self-absorption. Alison Chambers as Einstein’s housekeeper, and lover, is delightfully amusing when she’s manipulating him, and deeply poignant when the power relations are less clear.

Paul Gilchrist

Relativity by Mark St. Germain

at Riverside Parramatta from 10 – 13 May


Image by Iain Cox

Ulster American

10 Jun

Some productions are so good that any written response bubbles into the evanescence of superlatives. This is one such production. Director Shane Anthony, Riverside and Outhouse Theatre are all deserve dousing in sparkling froth.

An actor, director and writer meet the night before rehearsals begin. They discuss art and its importance. David Ireland’s script is intelligent, bold, and brilliant fun. There are more one liners than dog turds in an leash-free zone, and the characters are so beautifully drawn that sketch cartoon blooms into full blown animation.

Jeremy Water’s Jay is an Oscar winning actor, self-important and ignorant. Brian Meegan’s Leigh is a director in the time honoured tradition: excessively polite, in the manner of an attendant in a lunatic asylum; the type you ultimately realise is no attendant at all, but rather one more deluded inmate. Harriet Gordon-Anderson as Ruth the writer has that steely (self)determination that makes writers the most unwanted people in theatre. All three performances are absolutely superb.

This is a play about Thought and Honesty in theatre, and so, of course, Truth. And when Jay finally pulls out his Truth for all to see (no, it’s not THAT, but it may well as be) the triviality of that truth becomes apparent.

What do we think is important in art? Stanislavsky’s famous warning was right.

But be also warned: this is a comedy of gasps. If opera is the artform in which things too silly to say are sung, this is the artform in which things too taboo to say out loud are …. well, said out loud. Violence, sexual assault, those sort of misterdemeanours (yes, I made that word up… I think). It’s difficult to imagine a living culture without an artform that serves this purpose. If we are to set boundaries, if we’re to think boundaries are necessary at all, we must be aware of what lies on their far side. If we don’t, our boundaries are not shared decisions, but rather merely the victory of fear, or worse, the stratagems of power.

So this very funny play is important.

We need comedies this dark to let the light in.

Veronica Kaye

Ulster American by David Ireland

at Riverside until 11 June riversideparramatta.com.au

then Seymour Centre until 18 June seymourcentre.com

Image by Richard Farland

The Age of Bones

28 Mar

And your taxes are paying for it.

An Indonesian man points directly at the audience.

His comment is simple and powerful; at least 60 Indonesian minors have been jailed in Australia for working on asylum seeker boats.

This injustice is the focus of Sandra Thibodeaux’s play. It tells the story of fifteen-year-old Ikan (Imam Setia Hagi) who finds himself imprisoned here, a foreign country. The Australian authorities seemingly make little attempt to contact his family, and his parents (Imas Sobariah and Budi Laksana) are grief stricken at his disappearance.

Age of Bones

The lost boy, of course, is Down Under, and this allows for a brilliant conceit: Ikan doesn’t languish in a cell, rather we see him beneath the ocean, surrounded by an array of bewildering sea creatures, brought to life by extraordinary puppetry (I Made Gunanta and I Wayan Sira) and performance (including Kadek Hobman as a very Aussie hammerhead, loutish yet not incapable of kindness.) This world beneath the sea suggests both the greatest fears of a fishing-based culture, and the absolute absurdity of Ikan’s predicament.

Created through collaboration between artists from the two countries, The Age of Bones is a thrilling mix of English and Indonesian (with the latter translated in surtitles.) Projection, puppetry, and set that’s a wonderful evocation of a sailing boat, make for a visually stunning production.

Working with Thibodeaux’s beautiful play, directors Iswadi Pratama and Alex Galeazzi have created a piece that is amusing, engaging and challenging.

Great theatre confronts its audience, asking crucial questions. The Age of Bones asks have we lost our way?

Paul Gilchrist


The Age of Bones by Sandra Thibodeaux

Riverside Theatre, Parramatta

Produced by Performing Lines / Satu Bulan / Teater Satu

This production has closed in Parramatta, but plays in Darwin 30 March to 9 April.

Tix and info here

Waiting for Godot

4 Mar

Waiting for Godot is a seminal theatrical text for many reasons, not the least being that it has inspired two of my favourite critical quips:

“a play in which nothing happens, twice” wrote Vivian Mercer.

And, from a critic I haven’t been able to trace, “Waiting for Godot is a play that would be vastly improved by the addition, on page 2, of the stage direction Enter Godot.

It could be suggested that the play does not so much assert that Life is dull and meaningless as against actively make it so.

Photo by Petros Ktenas

Photo by Petros Ktenas

Because precious little happens in the play, critics have often searched overly long for meaning.

I think it’s just a mood piece. Perhaps that mood could be described as a type of playful pessimism.

And such a mood clearly speaks to many, many people. Directly in front of me in the audience was a young woman wearing a Year 12 jersey. The caption printed on the back?  ‘Bored’ – with the ‘o’ replaced by a smiley face.

And this production by the Riverside Lyric Ensemble is certainly good fun. With a quality cast, director Cameron Malcher presents an entertaining show. Errol Henderson and David Attrill play Estragon and Vladimir with humour and just the right touch of poignancy. Pozzo (Erica Brennan) and Lucky (Clive Hobson) are utterly engaging. Brennan has great fun with Pozzo’s imperious nature. And Hobson makes Lucky’s monologue the show stealer it’s meant to be.

The staging is simple and beautiful. The play has powerful imagery (the tree, the boots, Pozzo’s rope – or is it Lucky’s?) and this imagery is allowed to do its magic.

When first produced, Waiting for Godot was seen as something very new, and for this reason it’s been considered ground breaking. And, theatrically, it is.

But in many ways, it’s one of the final gasps of a dying world view. The play’s sense that Life is depressingly without meaning is strangely quaint, based on the assumption that Life should come with its purpose pre-packaged.

Old gods die hard. 🙂

Veronica Kaye

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Riverside Parramatta until 7 March