Archive | May, 2015

Zeroville

15 May

Zeroville is fascinating theatre, presented in the Glass Pavilion, Justice Precinct as part of the Anywhere Festival Parramatta.

It’s a wonderfully engaging mix of genres – the hardboiled detective genre meets dystopian speculative fiction.

In many ways it’s a natural marriage.

Both genres have similar tropes. Both pit logic against some other element of human experience.

In the detective genre, the D uses logic, but not the scientific clarity of Sherlock Holmes. It’s logic tainted with world weariness and informed by pessimism.

In speculative fiction, scientific logic creates extraordinary worlds, but increasingly this genre suggests such brave new worlds are dystopian. And their flaws are due to logic itself. It’s logic that encourages faith in an all-encompassing-but-closed knowledge system, and it’s logic that creates the technology that can enforce control on a societal level.

Considering it’s written by the ensemble and director, Zeroville has an almost unbelievable coherence.

Director Michael Dean and designer Hugh O’Connor make brilliant use of the space. For all its simplicity, it’s a visual joy. And Benjamin Garrard and Jasper Garner Gore fill that space with an eerie evocative soundscape.

Photo by Sasha Cohen

Photo by Sasha Cohen

Amy Scott-Smith gives a tremendous performance as Godard, the tough talking detective who enters the mysterious Zeroville in search of Bacall, a lost colleague. Bacall is played by Katrina Rautenberg and it’s a perfect portrait of a woman fighting an ominous seduction. Will she and Godard eventually succumb and become like the smiling passionless zombies of Zeroville? These people-cum-automatons are played with delightfully disturbing humour by the rest of the company. They’re ranked by number and Godard is keen to meet 001. Instead she must endure frightening cat-and-mouse conversations with the deeply unsettling 002 (played beautifully by Danielle Baynes) And who, or what, exactly is the ubiquitous A.N.N.A? (played with sinister charm by Sinead Curry)

Genre work is always intriguing, because it raises two questions. The tropes being obvious, one is clearly being asked whether the assumptions underlining these tropes are valid.

Consider one example: In the world of our experience, do outside forces attempt to control our emotional lives?

The simple answer is yes: Corporations stimulate desire through advertising. Governments stimulate fear through targeting marginalized groups.

Of course, in dystopian fiction, this control is exaggerated.

Perhaps hyperbole is in the nature of all fiction, but the exaggeration can raise another question: is it indicative of a desire to believe we are being controlled?

What would be the appeal of such a belief?

The eternal tussles are not simply between good and evil, but also between aspects of good. Freedom and responsibility are two such aspects of good which battle it out in our culture. The belief that we’re in danger of being controlled supports the ascendancy of the first of these aspects.

Veronica Kaye

Zeroville by Lies, Lies and Propaganda

Glass Pavilion, Justice Precinct, Parramatta til 16 May

http://www.liesliesandpropaganda.com/lies-2

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The Shoe-Horn Sonata

8 May

The Truth will prevail.

Maybe.

Simone Weil (I think it was) put the kibosh on this liberal fantasy. She pointed out that violence can kill the Truth. If no one is left to tell stories, they’ve been effectively silenced.

The Truth does not tell itself. That’s our duty.

John Misto, in his classic play The Shoe-Horn Sonata, shares stories that might otherwise have been forgotten. Based on the testimonies of women who survived internment by the Japanese during WW2, Misto tells a story of suffering, of determination, and of loyalty.

Image (C) Phyllis Wong

Image (C) Phyllis Wong

These are stories that for a long time many people were happy to have silenced. It’s not Japan’s proudest moment, and both the British and Australian authorities were apparently quite reluctant to let the public know how they’d failed to protect their womenfolk.

And so, after the war, there were Australian women who returned to quiet suburban life nursing extraordinary memories.

Misto acknowledges their suffering, and their strength.

Director Ian Zammit’s production is very powerful. Annette Emerton and Diana Jeffrey give deeply moving performances, ably supported by Peter Maple.

In a year when much attention has been given to Australia’s involvement in foreign conflict, this production by Emu Heights Theatre Company – so humane in its vision – is an invaluable addition to the conversation.

And E.H.T.C. has been an invaluable addition to the arts scene in Western Sydney. Our stories have to be told.

Veronica Kaye

The Shoe-Horn Sonata by John Misto

Q Theatre, Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre

http://www.emuheightstheatre.com.au/

This production has already closed.

Grounded

7 May

Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em cry. Make ‘em wait. Which is what Grounded does. And it’s absolutely brilliant theatre.

Penned by George Brant, there’s not a single word wasted. The narrative is straight forward, but seemingly innocent phrases and events are revisited, and on each return take on a greater sense of foreboding. It’s magnificent writing. (And director Kirsten Von Bibra gives it the uncluttered simplicity it deserves.)

Grounded-02

Grounded is for a single actor. It tells the story of a female officer of the United States Air Force. After becoming pregnant, she’s no longer permitted to fly fighter jets. But she is retrained – and deployed in what is currently the most controversial field of combat. (As Simone Weil would say, it’s only imaginary good that’s simple. The real thing, out in the world, is so hard, and so very, very complex. The glory that is the gender revolution has given birth to a monster: women now share the privilege of being active perpetrators of the horrors of war.)

Grounded is a masterpiece of dramatic irony. She’s after the ‘bad guys’. Combing the deserts of the Middle East, she will find ‘the guilty’. We know she has a dreadful lesson to learn, that she’s painfully naïve, but we like her anyway.

Actor Kate Cole is extraordinary. She creates a character that is tough, almost a ladette, but it’s not all bravado. The character is grounded.  Like Macduff in Macbeth, her emotions aren’t the opposite of her strength; they derive from the very same source. It’s an incredibly moving performance.

I don’t think there’s a spoiler in anything I have written so far, but perhaps there is in what follows. I’m going to briefly discuss the final moments of the play.

After Cole’s character has been inevitably shattered, and we’re busy congratulating ourselves on both our moral superiority and our generosity of spirit for warming to her despite her faults, we’re in for a shock.  She rises from the ashes, more powerful than before, and delivers the most confronting of accusations. It’s not for the complacent. It’s life changing theatre.

Veronica Kaye

Grounded by George Brant

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre til 16 May

http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/grounded/

Animal/People

6 May

Directed by James Dalton, this is a deeply atmospheric piece. Two actors deliver dueling monologues, which only occasionally intersect. Initially the actors are in the tightest of pinpoint spots; the darkness is the third character. James Brown and Tom Hogan’s soundscape is ominous.

The world of the play is one of guilt; about sins of omission, about parental error. It’s also a world of unexplained violence and reckless impulses. A man leaves an injured woman at the side of the road. Another woman vacillates as she struggles with the rearing of a troubled child. Georgia Adamson and Martin Crewes give powerful performances, textured between fear and that learnt complacency we employ to reassure ourselves that all is, in fact, OK.

Animal-WEB

Writer Brooke Robinson engages her audience in two ways.

One is through quirky observations about human responses. Is my son better off in a wheelchair? Why did I think only of myself at the time of the accident? Why do we assume that the disabled are better people? (Do we? The age old stereotype is the opposite.) This sort of offbeat observation can be wonderfully stimulating, little electric shocks which either tickle or torment.

The other way the play engages is by withholding information. What has actually happened? What connection do these characters have?  Once again, this sort of slow drip can either be a torture or a delight. Whichever way you experience it, the technique very effectively creates an atmosphere of foreboding, a heightening of the senses, and a deep questioning: In our privileged suburban lives is all, in fact, OK?

Veronica Kaye

Animal/People by Brooke Robinson

Bondi Pavilion til 16 May

http://rocksurfers.org/

The School for Scandal

5 May

Changing sexual mores might lead us to think the concept of Reputation is old fashioned.

But, of course, it’s still going strong. Reputation, and its evil twin Scandal, have just moved on to aspects of Life other than what’s done between consenting adults.

In our fluid, supposedly-classless society, the disputed territory labeled Reputation now centres on our professional life. You only have to listen in a theatre foyer to sense the pleasure derived from destroying the good name of others.

Director David Burrowes’ take on Sheridan’s classic School for Scandal is a terrifically fun night of theatre.

The performances are brilliant. Sheridan is one of our greatest wits, and Burrowes allows that to shine. This is a night pleasing to the ear – and to the eye; Burrowes has assembled a cast of virtuoso physicality.

Eleanor Stankiewicz gives a tremendous performance as the gleefully manipulative Lady Sneerwell. She’s languid, confident and self assured. Jacob Warner as the conniving Joseph Surface is a delight to watch. As his plans unravel and his desperation mounts, even the smallest piece of furniture seems to get in his way. Sasha Dyer as Maria, despite being Sheridan’s designated ‘good girl’, gives a superb turn as the drunken teenager attempting to hide her intoxication. Her catching of a ‘dropped’ vase is worth the admission price alone. Marty O’Neill’s Sir Peter Teazle has made the mistake of marrying a woman thirty years his junior, and the physical dynamics between him and his wife, played by Madeleine Withington, are a master class in odd couple tensions and frustrations. Emma Harvie, as a servant girl, gives a brilliant comic portrayal of mechanical obsequiousness, layered ever so gently with a pathos that suggests a vast hidden emotional life.

(pic by Matthias  Engesser)

(pic by Matthias Engesser)

And the entire cast allows the very clever dialogue to crackle. Richard Cotter is marvelous as Sir Oliver Surface, negotiating his many disguises with joyous ease. Samantha Ward, as Ms Candour, is blithely verbose, delighting in the destruction of people’s reputations under the guise of friendly honesty. And Rhys Keir as Charles Surface, the supposed profligate, is charisma at its most agreeable.

Production designer Isabella Andronos gives us a simple white box, a chic minimalist aesthetic and costumes that are modern and very sexy. It’s beautifully done. It’s very easy on the eye, and it’s the perfect uncluttered space for the very talented cast to do their magic.

Sheridan’s play is satirical, and it only takes a little serious self-reflection to realise it’s still relevant. Why do we take such satisfaction in bringing others down?

But it’s worth noting that The School For Scandal is a traditional comedy with a traditional happy ending and (surely this is not a spoiler), the Truth being ultimately revealed, each character gets what they deserve. I used the word traditional – because the play can hardly be the final word on Reputation. The childish satisfaction we find in Scandal is something we obviously must grow beyond, but perhaps even the concept of Reputation, with its inherent conservatism, can be transcended……

Veronica Kaye

The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

at New Theatre til 30 May

http://newtheatre.org.au/

Blue Italian & Nil by Sea

4 May

Every boundary serves three purposes.

The first two purposes are obvious: to keep people out, to keep people in.

The third I’ll come to later.

Katie Pollock’s plays Blue Italian and Nil by Sea are powerful and poetic. They’re fascinating explorations of human movement.

Despite the nationalistic stories we tell ourselves, we’ve been on the move the entirety of human history. Advances in technology simply mean we’re faster now and so the habit has become more obvious, and more fraught.

Why do we do it? Currently, the movement tends to be out of Australia if you’re bored by privilege (this we call travel) or into Australia if you’d like the opportunity to be bored (this we call migration). For many Australians, travel has become a rite of passage. For many people outside Australia, migration is often a matter of life or death.

Directed by Rachel Chant, with set and lighting design by Benjamin Brockman and sound design by Tom Hogan, the two pieces are stunningly sensual. Leichhardt Town Hall is a big cavernous place, but it’s used beautifully. There’s a sea of barricades, complete with flashing lanterns, lit evocatively from the ground. There’s a striking moment when the high overhead fans take on a most ominous presence. And, of course, the town hall is directly below the flight path. Usually this would be an annoyance, but here it’s worked wonderfully into the pieces, the passing planes become suggestive of our drive to move.

Photo by Zorica Purlija

Photo by Zorica Purlija

The cast (Jennie Dibley, Nat Jobe, Alex Malone and Sarah Meacham) do terrific work, delivering textured performances of a host of characters, creating an image of a world in flux.

The first of the two pieces, Blue Italian, is an intriguing meditation on travel and migration.  The title refers to a design on a Royal Dalton dinner set. Amongst much broken crockery, the shattered image becomes a symbol of the refusal of the world to stand still or human society to remain stationary.

In the second of the two pieces, Nil by Sea, three neighbours stare at a stain on the roadway. Where did it come from? Its source is tragic; a desperate man attempting to overcome a boundary. Will the stain ever come off? Good question, and a damning indictment of our current policy on asylum seekers.

And so to the third purpose of boundaries: To define, through opposition.

This is me. That is you.

This is us. That is them.

These are boundaries we need to break down. And these two magnificently provocative pieces of theatre – anti-naturalistic, subversive, and fresh – are the sort of tools we need.

Veronica Kaye

Blue Italian & Nil by Sea by Katie Pollock

til May 17 at Leichhardt Town Hall