Tag Archives: Kings Cross Theatre

The Laden Table

21 Mar

Does talk solve anything? It’s often said that the belief that it does is the great liberal myth. But it’s a belief shared by the axial age religions, that great movement that mysteriously flowered between about 600 BCE and 700 CE, and birthed (among other things) Buddhism, bhakti Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. What made this flowering so extraordinary, and seemingly different from what came before, was the new-found emphasis on compassion and empathy.

The Laden Table is a piece that’s had a long development.  Six women (Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan and Ruth Kliman) have been coming together for the last nine years to talk and share stories from their diverse backgrounds.

The resultant play is built on a simple conceit: two families, one Islamic and one Jewish, each meets to celebrate a festival. These two families don’t interact with each other (well, they do, but that’s spoiler territory) – their separate evening meals are presented simultaneously on stage, and the impact is to suggest that the different families are really not so different after all.

Both know love. Both know suffering. And both know how to argue among themselves.

THE LADEN TABLE photo credit Natasha Narula

Photo by Natasha Narula

A large ornate table stands centre stage, and lit by Benjamin Brockman and designed by Courtney Westbrook, it’s a visual feast, and a powerful symbol of both the possibility of communion and the weight of tradition. Director Suzanne Millar has put together a strong ensemble, and she and her team work the space well, effectively juxtaposing the imposing presence of the table with the creation of vibrant, passionate, living characters. There are some standout performances, including Jessica Paterson as a young Australian Jewish doctor who’s witnessed the horrific consequences of political violence, and Sarah Meacham, who plays a young Australian Islamic woman navigating family expectations.

And back to those arguing families: The play’s main aim is to take on prejudice, and one of its major sources, ignorance. After all, evil does evil, but not half as well as stupid.

Where does bigoted thinking come from?

We teach children it’s immoral, but that’s only the half of it. It’s also the result of intellectual error. All Jews are…. All Palestinians are…. These sorts of statements fail to convince, unless pain and grief skew our thinking, and simplicity appears as a solution, rather than what it is – a great denial of Life, in all its glorious complexity.

Perhaps ironically, considering its origins, the play doesn’t present talk as leading to a resolution. The playwrights are sensibly modest in this regard. How could such huge problems be solved so quickly, so easily?

But, of course, it’s the conversation with the audience that ultimately matters. The Laden Table is vital, exciting, invigorating theatre.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Laden Table by Yvonne Perczuk, Nur Alam, Raya Gadir, Chris Hill, Marian Kernahan and Ruth Kliman

Produced by bAKEHOUSE

at Kings Cross Theatre til March 25

tix and info here

 

 

 

 

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Osama the Hero

27 Jan

This is a foreign play, played in accent and set in a UK housing estate.

Theatre has always sought street cred. Though it’s gloriously fun, there’s something childish about pretending to be someone else. To compensate, we choose stories that are confronting and characters that are dangerous.

This production values bold vocal performances, a furious energy, and the exploration of the socially gritty.

Director Richard Hilliar and his cast give it their all. It’s not pretty (and not meant to be) but it is fiery and thought-provoking.

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Dennis Kelly’s script is about aspiration: wanting someone to look up to, wanting to do better, wanting safety.

Joshua McElroy plays Gary, a bewildered and isolated high school student, and finds both the humour and pathos in the character’s unsophisticated truth telling. Gary is asked to give a speech about ‘crimes against humanity’ and chooses to discuss Hello magazine, citing its celebrity nonsense and trashy materialism. Unsurprisingly, he’s not understood by his peers. This is exacerbated by his next speech, about Osama bin Laden. Gary admires bin Laden because (supposedly) he fought for what he believed – really fought, as against merely sent others to fight while eating in fancy restaurants.

This theme is taken up later, in a different key, by another teenager, Mandy (played intriguingly by Poppy Lynch as a tension between idiot child and sage.) Mandy once thought that somewhere there were some grownups in charge of everything, but she’s realized that no such abrogation of responsibility is possible.

In the meantime, the adults are exercising their authority in the only manner they know: violence. Gary has been tortured. His crime against humanity?  Allegedly blowing up a garage.

The residents of the estate are all damaged souls. Louise has a father who’s in prison for assaulting a pedophile, purportedly for her protection. Nicole Wineberg plays Louise with a fascinating mix of fire and vulnerability, allowing her to oscillate wildly between certainty and doubt; not so much a candle in the wind, as a blow torch in a hurricane. Louise’s brother, Francis, has been forced into acts of extreme cruelty, but has also had intimations of an alternative. Tel Benjamin plays him with power and insight. Recent arrival at the estate, Mark (Lynden Jones), is accused of being a pedophile himself. Jones nails cowardly and simpering (and considering the roles I’ve had the pleasure to see him in, including Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s a tribute to his versatility as a performer.)

Yes, Osama the Hero is a violent play. But it’s also a play about the sources of violence: culture, environment and, most of all, fear.

I began by suggesting this is a foreign play, but fear, that so urges us to erect borders, knows none itself.

Paul Gilchrist

 

Osama the Hero by Dennis Kelly

Kings Cross Theatre til 4 Feb

Tix and info here

 

Tiny Remarkable Bramble

21 Nov

I’m going to pretend I understood this one. Not that understanding is crucial for theatre. Or enjoyment. Or life.

Our protagonist, Alice, seems to need help in order to face the world.  At hand are a kooky collection of characters, played with appropriately high energy by Cathy Hunt’s cast. (I’ve been a fan of Hunt since I saw her Judith at the Bondi Pav a few years back.) Thomas Campbell plays a terrific toy soldier. Lucy Suze Taylor is a delightful vamp. Michael Whalley is a gorgeously awkward geek. Contessa Treffone is a charming innocent, bright-eyed and bubble-wrapped. (Yes, she actually is.) Catherine Terracini is the slogan-speaking motivator, engaging to us, maddening to Alice. Geraldine Viswanathan plays Alice with an intriguing mix of cynicism and vulnerability.  She’s in a sort of Wonderland, and soon it becomes apparent that these crazy kids are in as much need of help as she is. They’re hiding from the outside.

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Photo by Clare Hawley

Someone smart, someone like Picasso, said something like “I don’t paint what a tree looks like. I paint how it makes me feel.”

So, as Jessica Tuckwell’s Tiny Remarkable Bramble is clearly not a piece of naturalism, what aspect of human experience does it explore?

Perhaps it’s a riff on how the world can feel overwhelming, and on the potential for the mind to transcend this feeling. The script is jam packed with snappy dialogue, half-gag, half-nonsense (or perhaps all-gag if you’re in the likely position of being smarter than me.)

The characters are preparing for a talent quest. “It’s all a talent quest out there.” It’s a stimulating metaphor, though not one that especially resonates with me. (Life, for me, is that ocean swim where you don’t know which way is land. Or it’s a bunch of us on a raft, rationing the resources, and trying to get on.) But Life as a stupid compulsory competition probably seems a good description for a lot of people.

Paul Gilchrist

Tiny Remarkable Bramble by Jessica Tuckwell

Kings Cross Theatre as part of Invisible Circus

Tuesday 22nd November, Friday 25th November

Full program and tix here

The Angelica Complex

16 Nov

Early in this production the character says words to the effect: “As a woman, you can be either strong or vulnerable. You can’t be both.”

And then we’re gifted a performance that is both strong and vulnerable: strong in that Kym Vercoe is an extraordinary actor whose vocal and physical work is of the highest quality; vulnerable in that we’re given a heartbreaking insight into the challenges facing a woman who has newly become a mother.

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Kym Vercoe, photo by Phil Erbacher

 

Part of Invisible Circus, a festival of work by female theatre practitioners currently at KXT, Sunny Grace’s The Angelica Complex is one of the voices we need if our theatrical culture can claim to be truly diverse. (Though the fact I can use the word ‘diverse’ to label a work that explores such fundamentals of human existence as birth and breastfeeding suggests we might have a way to go. I blame society, not myself; in polite company, that’s always best.)

This is a powerful tale presented with both humour and pathos. Director Priscilla Jackman uses the traverse stage to full effect. Sometimes it’s a theatrical space for an individual woman’s intimate sharing of her joys and desperate challenges. At other times it becomes a symbol of a social space offering no escape from the gaze that sees only the role and never the person. Lucia May’s live video feed effectively captures the tension of a particular woman put on the spot, while Naomi Livingston’s vocals beautifully evoke the forces that tug at the boundaries of individuality.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Angelica Complex

Priscilla Jackman (Co-creator & director)
Sunny Grace (Co-creator & writer)

Kings Cross Theatre

Saturday 12th November, Tuesday 15th November,Friday 18th November, Thursday 24th November and Sunday 27th November

As part of Invisible Circus. Full program and tix here

Roadkill Confidential

17 Nov

Cruelty’s a funny thing.

The great liberal project of the last 300 years has been to try to diminish it. And we’re making ground. For example, fewer children die in coalmines now, or at least in the nicer parts of the world.

But we’ve still got a way to go. And, like all political action, the job will never be done. We make the world every day.

“So, can Art help?” That’s what Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan got me thinking about. It’s a very clever, very funny black comedy presented with appropriate mischievous joy by Michael Dean of Lies, Lies and Propaganda.

Trevor (a very watchable, provoking bully played by Alison Bennett) is creating her new art installation. Made from roadkill, it will highlight the world’s brutality. But it’s not just small furry animals that keep dying, and so a government agent begins an undercover surveillance mission. Played with hilarious hyperbolic seriousness by Michael Drysdale, the agent’s a very amusing addition to crime fiction’s growing number of unreliable narrators: characters supposedly driven by morality, but whose sense of right and wrong is clearly wrong. “I’m a patriot”. Enough said.

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Photo by Emily Elise

As the agent attempts to solve the mystery, he monitors all the people in Trevor’s life. There’s William, her husband, an art critic for whom theory has replaced thought (played with appropriate soft-speaking pomposity by Jasper Garner Gore.) There’s her fame-obsessed teenage stepson, Randy (played explosively by Nathaniel Scotcher), perhaps a sharp pen-portrait of an entire generation. And there’s the bubbly, bumbling, socially awkward neighbor, Melanie (a comic gem created by Sinead Curry.) In this world, all of the characters are parasites who feed off Trevor, the artist. Like I said, it’s a comedy.

bAKEHOUSE’s new Kings Cross Theatre is a great place for performers to play, and set designer Catherine Steele keeps it simple and functional. The main feature is a large lit frame. It represents a TV screen offering daily horrors. It represents the screen of the agent’s hidden surveillance device. But it also evokes a picture frame. Perhaps surveillance and Art are close cousins? After all, watching and representing are both oddly passive, even creepy, actions. In a neat trick, Callaghan has Trevor realize she’s being watched. The result: she performs for the camera. This is not artist as great soul.

The question Callaghan’s play throws up for me is whether the artistic representation of cruelty and suffering awakens us or does it merely numb us? If we do build the world every day, how much do we need to look backwards?

Veronica Kaye

Roadkill Confidential by Sheila Callaghan

Kings Cross Theatre til 28 Nov

Info and tix here