Saturday, March 23, 2019

Theatre: You Know We Belong Together

Julia Hales
by Julia Hales with Finn O’Branagáin and Clare Watson
Black Swan Theatre Company
Directed by Clare Watson
Set and costume designer Tyler Hill
Lighting designer Joe Lui
Composer and sound designer Rachael Dease
Performed by Julia Hales, Joshua Bott, Patrick Carter, Tina Fielding, Mark Junor, Melissa Junor, Lauren Marchbank and Hermione Merry
Heath Ledger Theatre until March 31  

There is wonderful warmth about You Know We Belong Together. It envelops the audience, creating a shared, joyous experience of the rarest kind in theatre.
Its lead artist Julia Hales has Down Syndrome, as do her co-performers Joshua Bott, Patrick Carter, Lauren Marchbank, Tina Fielding, Melissa and Mark Junor.
Hales’s research into love and belonging for people with DS blossomed with the contributions of the writer Finn O’Branagáin and director Clare Watson into a genuinely impressive piece of verbatim theatre about life, family, hopes, desire, dreams and the part DS plays in all of them.
Much of the show consists of pre-recorded interviews with the performers about these life matters. (It’s important to realize that life expectancy for people with DS has gone from 25 years as recently as the 1980s to over 60 today, bringing with it a whole host of new challenges and opportunities.)
But let me dispel any suspicion that this is a dry, worthy, didactic piece – far from it. It overflows with happiness and real charm as these lovely and loving people tell us their stories. Some of them – the gorgeous romance of the Junors from Augusta is an outstanding example – are deeply moving; others are funny, sexy and sad.
It’s simply and shrewdly designed by Tyler Hill and lit by Joe Lui. Rachael Dease has composed an effective, unobtrusive soundtrack for the show. 
These are stories of people who are as whole and emotionally alive as any of us.
Hales’ obsession with the eternally-running TV soap Home and Away locates and drives the show. Her real friends meet in the Summer Bay café of her imagination; its beach and the real one near her family’s Eagle Bay holiday house fold together in her mind. Her own tragedies and the melodramatic happenings in the fictional lives of H & A reflect each other, and the final scene (I won’t spoil the surprise and sheer euphoria of it) wraps and ties a ribbon around this little gift of a play.
This season is an extended encore of the show's premiere at the 2018 Perth Festival. It's success there has also earned it a relocation to the mainstage Heath Ledger Theatre.

 It was a a delightful and touching show on its first outing (this review is essentially the same as it was then), and has lost nothing this time around.     

Friday, March 1, 2019

Theatre: RE-MEMBER ME ★★★★

Dickie Beau
Studio Underground until March 3

Lip Sync. That imitation of live we associate with Milli Vanilli and dreadful drag acts approximating what the mouth does when singing, oh, you know, Total Eclipse of the Heart. If you can’t sing it, sync it.
It’s not something that should be seen on polite stages.
Until there was Dickie Beau.
Mr Beau has made lip sync an art form, and he brings his extraordinary felicity with it to a riveting remembrance of Hamlets past that is, at once, a fascinating quiz show (whose was that voice?), a forensic deconstruction of actors and their most prized role and, ultimately, a sad, loving eulogy for a glorious talent lost to the scourge of AIDS.
He has interviewed actors, agents, directors and critics (I’m pleased he gives more recognition to the significance of our beleaguered occupation in the ecosystem of the theatre than is customary!) and plays their responses back lip-synced, with uncanny verisimilitude, every half-cough, glottal stop and stammer captured exactly. His recreation extends from the lips to the eyebrows, the tilt of the head, the gestures of hand and body to create an almost spooky facsimile of the original. The result is mime of a unique and daring kind.
It’s a great entertainment, of course, excruciatingly funny and camp, but it somehow transcends fun and games and, ironically, gives both authority and ephemerality to what is said and those who say it.
Two long sequences of Beau filmed as different people projected in a row (There’s Gielgud – the only voice Beau didn’t record himself – and McKellan, the agent John Wood, Daniel Day-Lewis’s dresser Stephen Ashby and the directors Richard Eyre and John Wood) speaking about the stage, and Hamlet particularly, reminded me of the wry and touching Nothing Like a Dame, with Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith reminiscing to camera, occasionally to each other, about life in the theatre.
For Beau to elicit his subject’s often raw responses, then capture them so precisely, is a singular achievement (even if the filmed segments occupy a little too much of the show’s hour).
When their conversation turned to Ian Charleson, the Scottish actor who became a star in Chariots of Fire and played Hamlet, memorably, twice before succumbing to AIDS in 1989 at 40, the show shifts into a lower, more sombre, gear.
Beau wanders the stage, fitfully trying to reconstruct figures from body parts scattered around it, while a figure of Andrewes lies on his hospital deathbed behind him. Beau is saying a lot here – about the transitory nature of life and beauty, about gay culture, about what’s real and what’s illusion.
If you’re not ready for it, it’s unsettling and indigestible, but Beau’s thesis, drawn from the character of Hamlet and that of those who play him – or lip sync those who do –is far more ambitious than first meets the eye.
I was startled, and thrilled, by the conclusion of RE-MEMBER ME; the great lines, not from Shakespeare, but from T.S. Eliot (who, as Beau reminds us in the programme, was no fan of Hamlet): 

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
Dickie Beau will never be Prince Hamlet, but his peculiar talent, and the use to which he puts it in RE-MEMBER ME, shows that he is no fool.