Thursday, August 17, 2017

Theatre: Sista Girl (★★★★)


By Elena Carapetis and Alexis West
Yirra Yaakin and State Theatre Company of South Australia
Directed by Kyle J Morrison
Designed by Miranda Hampton
Composer/sound design by Andrew Howard
Lighting design by Rick Worringham
Performed by Sharni McDermott and Nadia Rossi
Subiaco Theatre Centre
 
Sharni McDermott and Nadia Rossi (pic: Kate Pardey)
It’s hard to find something to criticise about Sista Girl, but I have; it’s not long enough, and it stops short of the rip-roaring, “Sistas are Doing It for Themselves” climax it was beautifully poised to deliver.
Not that it fails to make its point. Not that it fails to be a satisfying – more than satisfying – story of connection across ethnic, economic and emotional divides.
It’s morning. Georgie Morelli (Nadia Rossi) and Nakisha Grey (Sharni McDermott) are both caught in the same bloody awful Australia Day holiday traffic jam, and are both heading for a shit of a day.
And that, though they don’t know it at the time, isn’t all they’ve got in common.
Nakisha has an aboriginal mother and a white father; Georgie an Italian migrant mother and a white father. Nakisha is affluent (although an Aboriginal girl in a BMW gets hassled just the same), Georgie is skint, but she’s still having a good time bogan-watching on the bus.
Both of them get a call. Their dads have collapsed, and have been rushed to hospital. Before they arrive, the news is even worse. Their dads have died.
Alone together in the waiting room, the two girls make a shocking discovery – their dads are the same man.
It’s a delicious set-up, and the writers Elena Carapetis and Alexis West are marvellously sure-footed as they play it out. Naturally, the circumstances (one family abandoned, the other imperilled, the collision of white, migrant and indigenous ethnicities) are pregnant with issues current and deep-rooted. The play does canvass them, but without weighing it down.
What is really important is reconciliation of a ground-level, intensely personal kind, and that’s the journey Sista Girl takes Georgie, Nakisha and us on.
Rossi and McDermott are great company on the trip. Rossi is feisty and appealing, giving her embattled Georgie a terrific rough-diamond appeal, and McDermott deserves high praise for her success in a very tricky assignment. For Nakisha to work, she has to first lose our sympathy to gain it back, and McDermott does both in a performance of great quality.
Sista Girl is an efficient, no-nonsense play, from its tidy writing to Miranda Hampton’s merry-go-round set and Kyle J Morrison’s adept, unobtrusive direction. That in no way, however, diminishes its quality or importance.
And my complaint? Give those girls another 10 minutes and they could re-draw the contract their dad had mucked up, blown their potential partners away with a hot-shot presentation and both driven off in Beemers.
Laughing their heads off and singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” no doubt.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Theatre: 1984 (★★★)

The novel by George Orwell
Adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
Associate Director (Australia) Corey McMahon
Designer Chloe Lamford
Lighting Designer Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer Tom Gibbons
Video Designer Tim Reid
With Molly Barwick, Paul Blackwell, Tom Conroy, Terence Crawford, Coco Jack Gillies, Ursula Mills, Renato Musolino, Guy O’Grady, Yalin Ozucelik, Fiona Press
His Majesty’s Theatre August 8, 2017

Those mavens of modern manners and mores, Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb, have been trolling the swamps of dystopia on their Chat 10 Looks 3 podcast lately. Inevitably the conversation turned to the two current celebrities of that grim genre, The Handmaid’s Tale (SBS On Demand) and 1984 (Sydney Theatre Company at His Majesty’s Theatre).
As it turns out, I was eight episodes into the riveting trials and tribulations of Elizabeth Moss’s Offred, so tearing myself away to the theatre took some doing (a subject Sales and Crabb also ponder).
George Orwell’s 1984 occupies a signal place in our consciousness – or at least, that of my generation and education. Along with Orwell’s other portent, Animal Farm, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, it lurked about our consciousness with its grim messages of the cold evil of the state and our powerlessness against it.
It’s also a chilling and memorable read. And it takes us where, perhaps, only books can go, into the heart and mind of its subject.
And that’s the problem with this staging of 1984.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Theatre: Coma Land (★★★★)

Black Swan State Theatre Company and Performing Lines WA
Written and directed by Will O’Mahony
Set designer Patrick James Howe
Sound designer Rachael Dease
Lighting designer Chris Donnelly
Performed by Humphrey Bower, Kirsty Marillier, Amy Mathews, Morgan Owen and Ben Sutton

In Will O’Mahony’s carefully delineated and finely performed drama, coma is a place.
By logical necessity, it can only be “about” one character – a startling young girl named Boon (Kirsty Marillier) – but O’Mahony’s achievement in Coma Land is to people the strange place she is in with figments of her imagination that have their own stories, memories and ambitions.
There’s a chirpy girl of Boon’s age, Penguin (Morgan Owen), who is trying to fly according to Malcolm Gladwell’s tendentious 10,000 Hour Rule (practice something for 10,000 hours and you will become expert in it). There’s Penguin’s dad (Humphrey Bower) who might be working towards their escape but keeps a dark secret. There’s the chummy party planner Jinny (Amy Mathews) and a panda named Cola (Ben Sutton) who pretends to be a man.
This place, and these people, are treacherous dramatic territory, but O’Mahony (who also directs) has shown that he’s up to the challenge before, most notably in his 2013 indie hit Great White and in last year’s The Mars Project.
His great talent is controlled incongruity, and much of the humour – and there is plenty in Coma Land – springs from it. There’s no earthly reason why Cola would suddenly ask what our favourite font is (his, he says, is the obnoxious Comic Sans), but, then, there’s no reason why a panda would be in Boon’s coma. And so on.
Coma Land isn’t about all this, or coma, at all. It’s about success and failure, dependence and independence, families and their fault lines, and these themes weave around, and progress through, the metaphor of coma to a powerful conclusion.
For this to be an entertainment, though, or to work on any of its levels, you mast have performance of high quality, energy and control, and all five actors rise to the challenge.
Humphrey Bower is a master of the unlovely, and he conveys a kind of careworn peril that gives the play a taut thread throughout, while Mathews and Sutton expertly deliver much of its absurdity and comedy.
Owen is chirrupy and magnetic as Penguin (you’re allowed to be reminded of Jane Horrocks’s Bubble in Absolutely Fabulous, but smarter), and Marillier makes the play her own in a wise and feisty leading performance that leaves plenty of room for those around her to shine.
The show looks and sounds great; Patrick James Howe’s set of dark distances around a square riser of brown shag pile gives it both mystery and focus, as does Chris Donnelly’s exposed, meticulous lighting design. The remarkable Rachael Dease brings music of great simplicity and beauty to the play.
Coma Land is another milestone in O’Mahony’s steadily developing career, and another success in Black Swan’s impressive 2017 season.

This review appeared in The West Australian 25.7.17 


 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Theatre/Dance: Good Little Soldier (★★★★★)

Ochre Contemporary Dance Company and The Farm
Devised and directed by Mark Howett
Devised and dramaturgy by Phil Thompson
Devised and performed by Gavin Webber, Grayson Millwood, Raewyn Hill, Ian Wilkes, Otto Kosok
Music by Mathew de la Hunty and Dale Couper
Designed by Bryan Woltjen
Sound design by Laurie Sinagra
Lighting design by Mark Howett
Subiaco Arts Centre
Until July 30

Gavin Webber and Raewyn Hill (pic Peter Tea)
The purpose of theatre is to say something, and its challenge is to find the best way to say it.  Good Little Soldier succeeds completely in both.
Mark Howett’s story of a man and his family swamped by the devastating effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder needs telling, and this mighty production uses every creative asset that can be brought to the stage, delivered with a skill and commitment of the rarest kind.
It is free of any convention, and refuses to stay on any path. I understand the piece began its life as a regular text, but, over its evolution, words were replaced by movement or audio/visual effects whenever those alternatives more effectively told the story or conveyed the emotion.
This organic process delivers a work of immense sensory and cogitative power, and one with extraordinary narrative and dramatic clarity. It’s a revolutionary achievement.
Frank (Gavin Webber), a Vietnam veteran, lives with his wife Trish (Raewyn Hill) and teenage son Josh (Otto Kosok). But he is only partly, tenuously with them.
He constantly conjures up the ghosts of his army mates, Max (Grayson Millwood) and Mike (Ian Wilkes), both killed in Vietnam, who delight and torment him, and march him away to a broken interior landscape of guilt, pride, irresponsibility and disdain.
(Whether they are real or symbolic and whether Frank needs to feel responsible for their deaths are not explained and don’t need to be. A brief interlude when Max and Mike talk directly with the audience about the rights and wrongs of war and the long resistance of Aboriginal people to the invasion of their land is tangential to the story, but appropriate in its own right.)
Max and Mike’s intrusions are brilliantly realised, but even more powerful is the bewildered terror of Trish and Josh who cannot see what Frank is seeing. The representation of this double reality, these parallel worlds, is completely convincing and often genuinely frightening.
One grim, violent dance, caught in a claustrophobic circle of light, throws the characters, living and dead, against each other like sumo wrestlers – but while Frank, Trish and Josh, grapple and pivot, the ghosts just plough through, inexorable and unforgiving.
There is great ferocity in the choreography throughout the show, from Frank’s early manhandling of his son that threatens to break the boy’s neck to Frank and Trish’s fractured dance in its final scene that starts as reconciliation and ends in smashing catastrophe.
That violence is captured and amplified by Hewett’s shrapnel-shredded lighting design, Laurie Sinagra’s tearing, rumbling sound bed and the jarring music composed and played live by Matthew de la Hunty and Dale Couper.
I’m not sure I can recall a cast better fixed in their characters. Millwood and Wilkes are demon barbers, bush lawyers and bushrangers, sinister and magnetic as Chopper Read.
Co3’s artistic director Raewyn Hill returns to the stage for the first time in a decade, and she gives Trish a battered warrior spirit, her words only terrified mumbled thoughts, her body all determination and courage.
Webber captures all the swirling contradiction of Frank; manly and un-manned, tender, brutal and truly helpless, uncompassed, lost in place and time.
And the seventeen-year-old Kosok is extraordinary as Josh, the boy who will inherit the deep, horrible truth of his parents’ lives. At the end, he spins, skipping rope whipping, sending everyone and everything around him crashing down.
And that’s what Good Little Soldier has to say. When it all comes down to dust, we will all reap the whirlwind.

Ochre have taken a brave calculated gamble extending the season over three weeks. This means there is still time – until the 30th July – for you to see this thrilling, important and utterly unmissable show.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Theatre: Saltbush (★★★★★)

By Compagnia TPO and Insite Arts
Directed by Davide Venturini and Jason Cross
Lyricist/musician Lou Bennett
Designed by Elwyn Mannix
Sound Design by Spartaco Cortese
Digital design by Elsa Mersi
Preformed by Sharni McDermott, Caleena Sandsbury and Sani Townson
Studio Underground
12 - 14 July

 In the hands of committed and skilled creative and technical artists, theatre for children, and especially very young children, can be a thrilling and engrossing experience.
Never more so than with Compagnia TPO and Insite Arts’ Saltbush, a faultless, fantastically inventive introduction to Aboriginal art and philosophy, and much more beside.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising. Theatre for the very young works in pure realms of the senses and imagination, and, with the aid of digital technology, previously unimaginable sights and sounds can envelop and entrance like never before.

Saltbush is a wonderful experience for adults too. Its technical achievement is gaspingly powerful, the stagecraft (directed by David Venturini and Jason Cross) precise, the skill of its three performers wonderful.
I simply can’t think of anyone who shouldn’t see this mighty, perfect show.


Read the complete review in The West Australian

Theatre: Biryani (★★★½)

Directed by Jay Emmanuel
Performed by Kali Srinivasan
Music by Tao Issaro
Upper Burt Hall
Until July 15

Bread is the staff of life, music is the food of life, and food, and the cooking of it, loves the stage.
Whether it’s Amanda Muggleton knocking egg & chips together in Shirley Valentine, Georgia King baking cakes in Scent Tales or, tastiest of all, the cast of The Gabriels preparing three family meals during that marathon, wonderful trilogy, there’s something about the experience of cooking that dovetails with the experience of theatre.
Never more so than in Biryani, a delicious little show about Indian lives and life choices that revolves around the preparation, cooking and – happily – consumption of the food of that great culinary nation.

Theatre: The Eisteddfod


By Lally Katz
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Set and costume designer Tyler Hill
Lighting designer Lucy Birkenshaw
Sound designer Brett Smith
Until July 9

Lally Katz’s The Eisteddfod takes us down into a tale of sound and fury.
It’s a disturbing experience, though undoubtedly a gripping one. It left me feeling a little sullied, considerably impressed, but with many more questions than answers.
I’m sure (as sure as I can be) that it signifies something. What that is, though, remains frustratingly elusive.