Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Theatre: Medusa

Renegade Productions and Bow and Dagger
Written by Finn O’Branagáin
Directed and sound design by Joe Lui
Set and costume design by Ish Marrington
Lighting design by Kristie Smith
AV design by Clare Testoni
Performed by Moana Lutton, Jacinta Larcombe, Jess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes, Michelle Aitken, Andrew Sutherland and Sandy McKendrick
Blue Room Theatre
Until 3 November

The greatest compliment you can pay Medusa – or, certainly, the one its writer Finn O’Branagáin and director Joe Lui would most appreciate, I suspect – is that it is “splitting people”.
That’s at least what a friend texted me as I donned running shoes and easy-to-wash clothes for 75 minutes of self-proclaimed uncomfortable (you get to stand through the performance), loud and messy theatre.
My friend meant that people were either loving or hating it – I’m firmly in the latter camp – but, perhaps unconsciously, she expressed a deeper truth about the show; it splits you.
Its physical discomfort is paralleled by a psychic one; the action, a raging female blood-haka, is a sensory assault; Lui’s choreography and Clare Testoni’s audio visual work, while tight as a drum, are disconcertingly out of synch; the actors, semi-naked, daubed in paint and blood, are pungent and self-aware, the noise, woman-made or recorded, is percussive and intrusive.
Medusa is quite deliberately, a sensory overload.
O’Branagáin, Lui and Testoni are all fascinated by mythology, and their body of work is shot through with it. Medusa, the snake-haired Gorgon monster of Greek mythology whose gaze turned men to stone is an almost inevitable metaphor of female oppression and rage for them.
She represents the quintessence of woman-as-monstrous and woman-as-deadly, the touchstone of misogyny and revulsion, the physical and psychological anathema to the orderly patriarchal world view.
Of rape, and murder.
(There were times when I couldn’t help thinking of Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop preening in front of the “Ditch the Bitch” caricature of Julia Gillard – it’s a wonder they didn’t put snakes in her hair.)
The ensemble of young women (Moana Lutton, Jacinta Larcombe, Jess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes and Michelle Aitken), one androgynous man (Andrew Sutherland), and an older, homeless woman (Sandy McKendrick) beat on drums, floors and punching bags, chant, rage about the stage while Testoni’s images charge around them.
It’s a remorseless and exciting barrage, often seemingly formless and without narrative, but its messages get into your head like drumbeats.
Especially effective is the interplay between McKendrick’s monologues, filmed live from an adjoining room (you can wander over to watch her “live”) by Sutherland and projected scratchily and unstable on the walls of Ish Marrington’s scribbled set.
When McKendrick enters the main room, perched on a gopher like a dilapidated queen, wounded by life and defiant to the end, while the names of victims of the Medusa-myth flash up around her, the purpose of this ramshackle, rumbustious, divisive piece is delivered, whole and unmistakable.    

Friday, October 26, 2018

Theatre: In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play

by Sarah Ruhl
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Set and costume designer Alicia Clements
Lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw
Vision designer Mia Holton
Composer and sound designer Ash Gibson Greig
Performed by Rebecca Davis, Stuart Halusz, Kingsley Judd, Tariri Mavondo, Jo Morris, Tom Stokes and Alison van Reeken
Heath Ledger Theatre until November 4
Jo Morris, Stuart Halusz and Rebecca Davis
 There’s A Hit – A Palpable Hit – In The Next Room
It’s an entertaining (if likely apocryphal) historical factoid that the first appliance of the age of electricity was the venerable and handy vibrator; it was certainly in wide use in doctors’ rooms as a copacetic for female hysteria – in other words, to cure that which ails you by the bringing on of orgasm – quite soon after those ACs and DCs started running through Edison’s wires.
The American playwright Sarah Ruhl has bounced off all this with In the Next Room, a witty, playful peek into domesticity and its pitfalls, the role of women in marriage and society, and quite a bit more besides.
Along the way she neatly avoids all of the traps of prurience and earnestness lying in wait for her, and the result is a wildly entertaining and intelligent piece of popular theatre.
It would be anyway, just on the strength of the text, but this production is lifted to its very considerable heights by the skill and talent of its creative team and cast.
Jeffrey Jay Fowler, the director, has accurately assessed Ruhl’s play for what it is; a modern take on Restoration Comedy, almost a bedroom – well consulting room – farce, and he plays it elegantly through the covers. He’s much assisted by his designer Alicia Clements, whose cutaway two-way-mirror set is wholly successful – quite inspired in fact –and allows the action to move from room to room seamlessly and often hilariously. Her costumes, which are removed, replaced and got inside with great regularity, are authentic and sumptuous.
Ash Gibson Greig has composed music that perfectly fits both the play’s acoustic era and electrical subject, and Lucy Birkinshaw’s lighting is subtly effective throughout, even when dealing with the tricky task of switching set lighting on and off like an electric lamp.
A cast this well provisioned, led, dressed and lit has a great opportunity, and they go to town on it. There are terrific supporting turns by Tom Stokes as the ardent but diffidently amorous artist Leo Irving (who gets a different, and squirm-in-the-seat, kind of vibration), Tariro Mavondo as the African-American wet nurse Elizabeth who introduces a suite of issues as relevant today as they were in postbellum America, and Kingsley Judd as the straight-laced but sympathetic husband of one of the patients of the New Machine.
Alison van Reeken, who stepped into the cast at late notice (as she is often asked to do), is glorious (as she always is) as Annie, a Ma Clampett nurse who gets swept up in all this tomfoolery.
The story revolves around the practice of the good doctor Givings, and Stuart Halusz gives a perfectly pitched performance as the medical technocrat oblivious to the torrents and torments of those around him. He’s in pretty good shape, too.
The play belongs to its leading women, and Rebecca Davis, as Catherine Givings, and Jo Morris as her husband’s patient Sabrina Daldry, both give career performances.
Morris is electric (sorry) as Sabrina, and she makes her I’ll-have-what-she’s-having scenes ­– she develops quite a hankering for her little buzzing friend – a tour-de-force.
Davis rarely gets the opportunity to show her range, but she does here, and her ability to slip easily from farce to genuine emotion is the touchstone for the production’s stance, and its success.
There’s much talk around about the sparse opportunities for seasoned professional actors in the current Perth theatre. There are reasons for it, and I don’t intend to argue the whys and wherefores in a review of one show.
This one, though, reminds us that the talent is here, and in spades. You can help by the easy act of seeing it when you get a chance as enjoyable as this is.