Tag: Alison Whyte

REVIEW: Caryl Churchill’s LOVE AND INFORMATION

You’ve never seen anything like this

By Margaret Wieringa

The set gives the audience nothing to begin with– stark white, with white rectangular plinths arranged around the space. Then, as the audience are still settling in, a couple of people appear, the house lights drop suddenly and the rollercoaster is on.

Love and Information Photo Credit Pia Johnson

Every production of Love and Information will almost certainly be different to every other production ever staged because of the mysterious and challenging nature of the script. Caryl Churchill has written seventy-six scenes for the script, some of which are compulsory, some optional, and each production must have at least fifty-one of these scenes included. There is a set structure, yet within that structure there is flexibility both in the order of the scenes and the characters who speak the parts. Confused yet?

I love it when writers fool around with form – even should it not work, it is interesting to push what the audience expect and how messages can be delivered. But the unusual structure of Love and Information makes for a truly wonderful show.

The performance consists of a jigsaw of scenes of varying lengths and emotions. Some are long and drawn out, pulling the audience in; others are barely a thought, perhaps only a line or two. Between each, the performers run on and off stage, bringing along the props as required. It must be very organised chaos out the back with the number of props and costume changes that take place.

Initially, I thought that the loud music and extremely bright, colourful lighting that separated the scenes was going to get tedious pretty quickly. I learned pretty quickly to trust the work of director Kip Williams to create change within the similarities.

The cast are fabulous, so in tune with each other, tight on the changeovers and bringing a wide variety of characters. It is such a marvellous ensemble that each cast member is able to shine, though special mention must be made of Alison Whyte’s ability to stay extremely still in several scenes.

Love and Information is not a traditional story, but an exploration of emotion and relationships. It is hilarious, moving, beautiful, light, heavy and exciting. Go see it. Absolutely.

Venue: Malthouse Theatre, Sturt St Southbank
Dates: Jun 12 – Jul 4
Tickets: $35 – 60 via malthousetheatre.com.au/

Image by Pia Johnson

Review: MTC’s Australia Day

A valiant attempt to grapple comically with a complex topic

By Kim Edwards

Jonathan Biggins‘ new play sets out to explore an event that has noticeably increased in patriotic popularity in recent years while remaining fraught with issues about our sense of cultural identity.

Australia Day revolves around the comedic shenanigans and personal squabbles of a small country town committee organising festivities for January 26. Amidst the minor chaos from the months leading up to the big day itself, the committee members attempt to express contrary opinions on what being Australian might mean, and what the day should or should not be celebrating…

I wanted very much to like this play. Although described as satirical, the comedy comes across  more as farce: broad, obvious humour, self-aware characters cracking jokes, and the occasional slapstick moment. The opening night audience was particularly delighted with the regular topical jokes on politics and pop culture, although the laconic and understated delivery so beloved of Australian comedy was missing here in favour of a highly theatrical and rather forced style.

This performance decision was somewhat at odds with the wonderfully detailed and delightfully quotidian sets by Richard Roberts capturing so perfectly the servicable colour schemes, generic plastic furniture and mismatched detritus of a local school hall and  event marquee. In this space the characters were emphatically larger than life, and this lack of naturalism became a problem when the script wanted to address more serious concerns.

A hard-working cast wrestled valiantly with this, and with some extraordinary character revelations: Geoff Morrell and Alison Whyte gave polished performances as rival politicians, Peter Kowitz endeavoured to balance ocker comic relief with offensively cheerful racist, and Valerie Bader and Kaeng Chan soon settled into their more staid and thus more loveable  characters comfortably.

David James gave a strong appealing performance as hapless Robert, but at a climatic moment in the play it would have been wonderful to see this character rise above the recurring emotional outbursts and support an earlier claim ‘being ordinary’ was admirable instead of being forced into the melodrama.

Strangely, although script and characters feel like they are working very hard, and there is an earnest effort to temper the comedy with serious issues, all potentially poignant moments or ideas in Australia Day are actually stalemated. Meaningful questions or contentious debates about race, gender, identity, politics, parenting and social interaction are constantly sidetracked with comic interruptions or clunky deus-ex-machina plot developments, and the finale deliberately pours cold water on any potential answers or options arising from the issues raised.

Australia Day is pleasurably fun and enjoys the support of a dedicated cast and crew, and perhaps the relentless irresolution is meant to highlight ongoing concerns about our national identity, but in teetering between light-hearted laughs and high melodrama, there is still disappointment this evocatively-named play never quite manages to say anything important or memorable about us as Australians.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse
Dates: 21 April to 26 May 2012
Booking: MTC Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0800 or mtc.com.au; Arts Centre 1300 182 183 or artscentremelbourne.com.au

Review: MTC’s Production of CLYBOURNE PARK

A funny, confronting and fascinating look at life over the fence…

By Diana Tarr

MTC’s latest production Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer prize-winning play by Bruce Norris, is a frank and honest depiction of the racial tension in northern American cities in the 1950’s and raises the question of what, if anything, has changed in our attitudes in the subsequent years.

In 1959, in the affluent Chicago suburb of Clybourne Park, a white couple is forced to consider the impact that selling their home to a black family will have on the neighbours they are leaving behind.  Fast-forward fifty years, and a young white couple tries to go forward with their plans to demolish the same, though now sadly decrepit, house and rebuild – with considerable resistance from their soon-to-be (black) neighbours.

The set, designed by Christina Smith, included just the right details to send me straight back to the homes and neighbourhoods of my childhood in suburban Detroit: the built-in bookcases, the string dangling from the basement light, even the sound of footsteps on the carpeted stairs.

Each of the superb cast (including Patrick Brammall, Bert LaBonte, Zahra Newman, Luke Ryan and Alison Whyte). portrayed at least two unique characters, though Greg Stone and Laura Gordon produced the most convincing and dramatic transformations in mannerisms, voice and characterisations for the second act. As grieving father Russ and then forthright tradie Dan, Stone gave the stand-out performance of the night, inspiring incredulous belly laughs and shocked silences from an audience that was eating out of his hands from his first bite of Neapolitan ice cream.

There is so much of the familiar in Clybourne Park, which is at times comforting but also self-convicting: not only in acknowledging the awkward relationships and social niceties, but particularly in recognising the people with good intentions who either don’t realise or don’t want to acknowledge how much they misunderstand about the experiences of others.

By the end of the first act, I was mentally kicking myself for even considering that perhaps a few of the arguments for keeping the neighbourhood unchanged might just have a certain logic to them. By the end of the second, I was cringing by how much I recognised myself in the comments and ideals of the yuppie wife, Lindsey (Gordon). But although Clybourne Park acknowledges these feelings of confusion and guilt, it does not seem to try to invoke them – just poke fun at them.

And oh my, what fun it was!

 

Clybourne Park: The Black and White Picket Fence

17 September – 26 October

The MTC Theatre, Sumner

140 Southbank Blvd, Southbank

Tickets: $30 (29 & under); $86-$97 (full)