Category: Theatre

Review: Suddenly Last Summer

Steamy portrayal of decadence and corruption 

By Leeor Adar

 

Tennessee Williams, the Mississippi native and master playwright had a knack for unearthing the steamy splendour of human decay. In Suddenly Last Summer, Williams’ choice of name evokes the sense of a thrilling and romantic episode in the most carefree of seasons, but instead delivers a quiet horror that lurks in the shadows of memory.

In a gorgeous cultivated New Orleans garden, Mrs Violet Venable (Jennifer Vuletic), an older dame with a cane, flourishes on stage to seduce Dr “Sugar” (Charles Purcell) to lobotomise a young relation who knows the dark secret behind the death of her son, the unseen and ever-present Sebastian.

The staging is swathed in falling gardens and mist, and one cannot help but be intoxicated by the allure of wealth and the power it carries. Violet exerts her power upon those around her, and yet it entraps her. Her character is perfectly juxtaposed with the equally seducing but refreshingly volatile Catharine Holly (Kate Cole), the last person to see Violet’s son alive. In an attempt to understand what has happened to Sebastian, Dr Sugar administers drugs in the veins of Catharine to render her loose-lipped. After a kiss from her lips, Catharine seals Sebastian’s mysterious fate to the captive audience, including her desperate mother (Zoe Boesen) and brother (Harvey Zielinski).

The daring Stephen Nicolazzo (Merciless Gods, Salome, Psycho Beach Party, sex.violence.blood.gore), manages to direct a subtle and intensely entrancing production of Suddenly Last Summer. The performance of Vuletic is an initial standout as the neurotic Violet. Her striking embodiment of old-world glamour and kookiness makes her a centrepiece for the play. Wheeled about on whim by her faithful servant Miss Foxhill (Chanella Macri), Violet lives between cocktails and memories. The sickening Oedipal elements of Violet’s relationship with Sebastian pervade the play, and it is no surprise that Sebastian in his one moment of freedom abroad loses all control of his life. The punishment for his companion Catharine, are the memories of a life touched by privilege and violence. Cole is wonderful as Catharine, showcasing the character’s incredible vitality and fragility. Her final recollection of events is so moving and realistic, that I am transfixed upon the powerful imagery she creates and the tears that roll down her face.

Suddenly Last Summer is an ode to marvellous storytelling; enriched with symbolism and elegance, Williams’ writing comes alive in this play. Sebastian sees God, and God in turn like the cloud of birds upon the shore, upends Sebastian’s good fortune in one fell swoop. The only force greater than nature and establishment appears to be truth, and Catharine delivers it even to the non-believers.


Suddenly Last Summer is being performed until 4 November at Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre. 
Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9533 8083.

Photograph: Jodie Hutchinson

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Review: Gruesome Playground Injuries

A dark and unbound comedy

By Owen James

For Doug and Kayleen, physical pain is the cornerstone of their fragmented but lifelong relationship, always bringing them together and pushing them apart. New York playwright Rajiv Joseph has deconstructed this powerful and torturous obsession in Gruesome Playground Injuries, a dark comedy that presents segmented and unordered glimpses of these characters’ relationship between the ages of seven and thirty-seven.

Director Jessica Dick has masterfully constructed each vignette, connecting the puzzle pieces of Joseph’s script with heart and affection. Dick has ensured that as we see this relationship evolve, our understanding of them as both individuals and as a shared entity deepens. Their meetings and injuries are sometimes coincidental and sometimes quite decisively premeditated, but they would be lost without each other.

Each sequence is connected with precisely choreographed movement as the characters drift between years and locations. These moments are beautifully designed and allow space for audience reflection on each scene before. Combined with stunning compositions from sound designer Joshua Bliss, each transition is treated to a Lynchian paradise that makes these shifts between age and tone interesting and engaging.

Both Christian Charisiou and Laura McIntosh are highly capable of presenting these two unbalanced and traumatised characters. They find great humour in each scene – especially when playing young children – and reflect truth in two characters that could quite easily be simple and comical. Charisiou (also the producer) has crafted a chilling character in hostile, self-destructive Doug. His presumptuous and cocky attitude is what ultimately perpetuates the narrative, demonstrating his strength and propulsive power as an actor.

Laura McIntosh’s defensive Kayleen struggles to comprehend anarchic Doug, but yet is fascinated and soothed by him. McIntosh delivers mesmerising monologues and embraces Kayleen’s turbulent journey with vigour and warmth. Together, McIntosh and Charisiou construct an unlikely though believable pair, delivering detailed performances that well and truly sustain this two-hander.

The transformative properties of the versatile Loft Theatre at Chapel Off Chapel never cease to amaze me. I’ve seen over a dozen shows in this space, with each production delivering a totally unique design, making you feel like you are in a different space each time. Production designer Ella Butler has created a unique and imaginative set that reminds me initially of an Operation game board, with dozens of resourceful and reusable props scattered throughout the space atop a flat white base.

Special effects by Courtney Clarke are startlingly realistic and highly effective, with macabre wounds and scars applied by the actors themselves onstage. Sound design by Joshua Bliss as mentioned earlier is extremely powerful, cinematic and reflective. Faint background noise in different scenes cements the constantly shifting location and creates realistic environments.

This nonlinear “jumbled chronology” of events leaves us to ponder destiny and coincidence: were these two fated to magnetise together even from the first scene of untainted childhood innocence? Did they resist a cosmic force or simply drift apart? By choice, or by chance?

As they are impaled on various objects, they are also impaled on each other’s psyches. Between firework mishaps, self-harm and romantic infection, the play draws us into this united lifetime of disaster and tells the story of how two people simply came to understand the other’s pain, and why they so deeply need it to survive. It’s a moving and extremely successful production that will stay with you long after it ends.

Gruesome Playground Injuries being performed 10 – 20 October at Chapel Off Chapel. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 8290 7000.

Photograph: Sanjeev Singh

Dance Hall: The Diva Carousel

Seductive and scintillating performance art 

By Leeor Adar

Moira Finucane and her troupe of alt-glitterati storm upon the Luna Park Speigeltent; it’s all shimmies and wild confidence, and I admit I’m excited to see what’s dished up.

Finucane & Smith (Finucane and partner Jackie Smith) are my favourite kind of art collectors – they find unique artists to celebrate and perform with, taking their shows across the globe and showcasing a daring kind of stage appeal not often seen in Australia. I was first enamoured with Finucane’s work in the acclaimed Carnival of Mysteries, which submerged its audience in an unworldly and exciting place.

Finucane has an enormous stage presence; admittedly it’s unfathomable to think of anyone like her. Her magnificent height and figure coupled with her tremendous voice command a room, and it is at this point she rapidly takes her disco-pumping show to socio-political territory. No stone is left unturned in Finucane’s summation of the week’s events. Whether you agree with her or not, it was an unexpected turn for a dance-hall inspired show. It’s not the first time a performer has turned up the heat in the age of live-streaming, but I was expecting Finucane to take a different approach.

Once we were sufficiently enlightened, I was completely sucked into the thumping beats in an ode to various styles of music and performance, particularly to James Welsby voguing out, or the Bollywood craze ignited by Paul Cordeiro. The evening took another turn with the epic voice of Willow Sizer sizzling us with her Berlin-cabaret flair, and Clare St Clare gliding on stage to provide us with her scintillating vocal breathiness.

Dance Hall establishes itself as a variety show of amazing and fearless talent, and as the second act rolled round, I was pleasantly surprised by the humour and brilliance of ideas on display. I marvelled at the wonderful Maude Davey as she spun us into a frenzy of laughs dressed as planet earth, and then serenaded the audience into a misty-eyed state with her ballads. Finucane returned to utterly own the stage in a seductive pie-splattering performance that will have me looking for alternative uses for tomato sauce hereafter. I was eventually thrown by Mama Alto into the depths of my emotions with a rendition of Des’ree’s Kissing You, a performance which absolutely nailed in its final moments the vocal gymnastics of the piece.

Overall, I walked out of the spiegeltent satisfied and a touch overwhelmed. I was seduced by its glamour, blushed at its candour, and sighed at its occasional poignancy.

Dance Hall: The Diva Carousel was performed 10 – 14 October at the St Kilda Spiegeltent in Luna Park. See See here for the latest updates of Finucane & Smith.

Photograph: supplied

Review: Song for a Weary Throat

Dark and majestic physical theatre

By Lois Maskiell

A woman scrambles up a slope on all fours, never reaching the top. Another woman walks around the stage desperately asking her fellow performers to “please dance with me”. A performer jumps as if in aerobics class lifting each leg until she cannot continue any more, finally she lets out a wild yell. These are but three samples of what is to be experienced in acclaimed ensemble Rawcus’ devastatingly beautiful, Song for a Weary Throat.

Without text, without a linear plot, without any assumed structure to rest your experience upon, the production encourages a reading that insists on surrendering to sensations and abstract responses, rather than reason and logical interpretations. Director Kate Sulan paints not with a brush but with a cast of fifteen with and without disability. The interplay Sulan strikes in each vignette between the physically rich performance, lighting and sound keeps the overall configuration constantly transforming and fluid.

Lighting morphs from brutal to gentle thanks to Rachel Burke’s design which opens with a startling sequence that shatters all expectations. After Nilgun Guven scratches an quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy on a chalkboard, it is safe to assume we will be entering a sort of darkness. Blindingly harsh lights illuminate the entire auditorium in concentrated flashes accompanied by Jethro Woodward thunderous sound effects. The setting – an abandoned gymnasium – has leaves strewn accross the floor and fraying chairs which provide endless opportunities for the performers to sit, pause and even throw.

Formations that single out individuals remain seamlessly positioned within a whole which rarely strays from overarching themes of isolation and despair. Despite sharing the stage, the performers often appear disconnected, though occasionally layers of connection are revealed. Their hollow expressions out number their warmer displays and it is this dominating misery that I found crushing and at times difficult to bear.

Gian Slater, Joshua Kyle and Louisa Rankin of the Invenio Singers flood the stage with unearthly sounds, even forming unusual harmonies with humming and breathing. When Joshua Kyle wails into the microphone while holding Clement Baade’s hand, his majestic vocals build endless tension in a highly charged and consuming moment.

Rawcus exchange for your ticket a lost world of suffering that draws spellbinding depth from a whirlwind of sound, light and movement.

Song for a Weary Throat is being performed at the Arts Centre until 14 October as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183. 

Photograph by Sarah Walker featuring Prue Stevenson and Joshua Lynzaat. 

Review: Trustees

Politically charged theatre as beautiful as it is crushing 

By Owen James

I can’t remember the last time I stood up so quickly when the lights came up for applause. Trustees is by far the most relevant, powerful and responsive piece of theatre I’ve seen in a long time, and any Australian concerned with the dumbfounding rates of racism, indigenous discrimination, refugee torture and sexism prevalent in our country will resonate with the honest and painful truths to which Trustees opens our eyes.

Yes, Trustees is highly socially and politically charged – but it’s a necessary and all-too-pertinent reminder of how we do have the power to overcome the “traditions, habits and stereotypes” that we silently ignore every day. After a fast-paced and technologically interactive opening (keep your phone on and web browser open!) where a new government policy has stripped the fictional Lone Pine Theatre Company of their funding, the trustees of Lone Pine meet to determine the route towards a secure economic future in our typical noncommittal Australian creative climate. From here, a turbulent ride through perspective, privilege, and uncertain, unreliable reconciliation makes for easily the most engaging and jaw-dropping evening at the theatre you will witness all year.

Co-directors and writers Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada (both political refugees) have created a very comfortable, creative space that both performers and audience feel mutually at ease in – you will laugh, you will cheer, and you will join in on the Mexican wave. With their refugee background greatly informing and influencing the work, the depiction of these actors’ stories has been handled with sensitivity and love, despite the raw and confronting nature of the material presented.

The warmth of all five performers (Daniel Schlusser, Tammy Anderson, Natasha Herbert, Niharika Senapati and Hazem Shammas) resonates throughout the room as these creatives tackle extremely personal issues with confronting and honest performances. This diverse cast of five share with us their “testimonies about the state of our society” from the perspective of their unique backgrounds and each new perspective presents a strand of our normalised and embarrassing history. It’s their own experiences with inequality and battles with society, prejudice and culture that they’re laying naked (sometimes literally) for us to understand, in many ways donating their personal life experiences to a larger cause, pushing for change.

The set design by Romanie Harper serves every unique corner of the text with chilling physicality, placing all the action atop a lush red carpet where only the privileged should walk. The core set piece is a gargantuan metal table that gradually uncovers its secrets across the ninety-minute runtime; I won’t give them away here, but its transformative properties are utter genius. Trustees gets messy with liquid, fire and dirt – so huge kudos to the stage management team (Adam Chesnutt and Adalaide Harney) who deal with the catastrophic aftermath nightly.

Amidst the constant, inescapable flow of #fakenews, Trustees teaches that our shameful history is embedded deep within our culture – and it will be a long and hard road to remove our racist, unbalanced and ignorant hivemind-mindset. Trustees desperately pleads for a reconciliation of fractured ideas of equality, and seeks to reclaim Australian multicultural pride and eliminate illogical nationalistic patriotism, uprooting our stoic and imbalanced sense of white male perfection.

Congratulations to Malthouse and Melbourne International Arts Festival for presenting this relevant piece of theatre Australia desperately needs, with genuine truth at its heart. Do not possibly miss this masterpiece.

 

Trustees is being performed at Malthouse Theatre until 21 October as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on  03 9685 5111.

Photograph:  Nicolai Khalezin

Review: Watt

Deadpan humour and storytelling in adaptation of Beckett’s Watt 

By Samuel Barson

It’s 1942, and France is occupied by Germany. Samuel Beckett is on the run from Nazis. Throughout this grim reality, Beckett wrote a novel titled Watt, describing the journey of the titular character to, and within, the house of Mr Knott. Renowned Irish actor Barry McGovern has adapted this novel for the stage, delivering a powerhouse one man show that pays the perfect homage to Beckett and one of his most fascinating characters.

McGovern is the ultimate storyteller. He manages to keep the audience drawn into the world of Watt for the entire hour, despite some parts being particularly dry and wordy. Credit must also, of course, be given to director Tom Creed for allowing McGovern to realise the beauty in such an absurd world.

McGovern’s deadpan approach to the absurdity of Watt’s experiences was the cause of immense (and regular) laughter. McGovern’s ability to allow the audience to feel empathy for characters he was not even playing was incredibly special, an ability rarely seen amongst most performers. This was a testament to McGovern’s own intelligence and experience as a theatre maker.

The set was simply, yet effectively realised by Sinéad Mckenna, a bare concrete wall in the foreground providing context to the drab and dreary existences Watt witnesses in Mr Knott’s house. A wooden chair and trolley are also on stage at the immediate and useful disposal of McGovern. An equally simple yet, effective lighting design was also implemented by Mckenna.

This is a show that could have very easily been boring and lost amongst audiences. There is a lot of dialogue, drawn out and confusing. There is not a lot of action to keep audiences entertained. Yet, McGovern and Creed have proved that the art of simple storytelling has not been lost. Watt is a stunning, entertaining piece that is a joy to experience.

Watt is being performed 4 – 13 October at the Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 1300 182 183.

Photograph: Pia Johnson

Fringe presents Ascent

Citizen Theatre’s optical illusions push senses to new extremes

By Owen James

 

Theatre is usually confined to only two of our senses, relying on sight and sound to entertain, create and delight. Ascent pushes our relationship with these two senses to a new extreme, challenging our eyes to unusual visual stimulants and gifting our ears to aural delight. Through these frames, Ascent explores expectation, change, acceptance, and most of all, identity.

This very tight and expertly polished ensemble of five (Marty Alix, Jordan Barr, Kala Gare, Jessica Vellucci, Willow Sizer) are dressed head-to-toe in black and expose different limbs in low lighting as to create shapes and represent zoomed-in parts of one body. While this might have been more effective with a black light or under UV lighting, the shapes this group creates throughout the piece are mesmerising and magical. We are transported to a world where anything is possible and where our lens can transform between microscopic and wide-angle with nothing more than bodies and creativity.

Director and writer Jayde Kirchert uses these “visual illusions” to meditate upon contemporary themes and pose questions we ponder long after the show is over: Why do we attempt to create a standardisation for beauty? Do we change for ourselves or for others? Is our obsession with modernisation blinding us from comfort? Kirchert’s unique world tackles these deep questions with zest and comedic flair, and gives us as an audience space to reflect and consider throughout the piece.

The original music composed by Imogen Cygler is breathtaking, reminding me of works by Philip Glass. Every piece of movement is influenced by the music and the music by it, clearly presenting a very solid working relationship between every member of this team. Every change of music and movement are precisely timed, and as each new musical motif is introduced, Ascent raises the stakes and physicalised obsession a step further. Cygler’s cyclic music is beautifully rich in emotion and thought. I would have purchased a CD in the foyer if one were available!

If you want something “fresh” where “less is more” Ascent is for you. This first foray into “experimental music theatre” has greatly excited me for the future of this company and where these experiments will lead them. This polished, collaborative piece runs until 30 September at Theatre Works in St Kilda as part of the Melbourne Fringe, but hopefully Ascent or its future sibling will return to a theatre before too long.


Ascent is being performed until 30 September at Theatre Works, St Kilda. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photograph: Stu Brown