Tag: Janice Muller

Review: Australian Realness

Dreadfully funny disrupted by pure dystopia

By Leeor Adar

Drawn into the notes by Zoey Dawson for her play, Australian Realness, I was captured by the unspoken truth she was prepared to tackle. Do we love the larrikin or not? Modern educated Australia says no.

It’s a depressing state of affairs, classism, and the warfare that literally ensues as this play’s absurdity evolves into an ever-fantastical barren stage of mimes. Advertised as a joke, and at times dreadfully funny, Dawson manages to spear the arts world and the educated Fitzrovians (sorry, Fitzroy bourgeoise) right in their guts. While you may at first think you’re watching a Ray Lawler play, Dawson’s distinctive touch as a playwright is her ability to coax her audience into a sense of comfort and then disrupt it with pure dystopia.

The play opens at the Christmas gathering of a thoroughly modern Melbourne family, still tepidly dipping their toes into diversity. The daughter (Emily Goddard) is both wonderful and utterly annoying as she waddles her heavily pregnant privilege across the stage, whilst her tradie partner (Chanella Macri) must politely dodge the artfully barbed Moet-filled bullets of the daughter’s mother (Linda Cropper). Greg Stone’s enthusiasm in his role as the affable father perfectly contrasts with the shrill snobbery of the mother. Janice Muller competently directs the performances in Australian Realness, which are all stellar, particularly Cropper’s transformation. I was stumped for a little while there. Who was this other actress?

A laugh here and a laugh there, and we’re taken into the underbelly of every foul assumption concocted of the working class Australian. Transformed into the bogans in the shed out back, Cropper and Stone heave with clichés. Dawson’s writing is laying it on thick here, but it achieves what it needs to. The increasingly absurdist entries of the bogan family members on stage with laugh tracks is understood to be the audience having a laugh at the working class, sit-com style. The play is totally self-aware and challenges you not to see through its display of stereotypes. Between the banker son (André De Vanny) displaying his white short-shorts whilst talking money and ordering cocaine on his 80s flip phone, and the ill-behaved bogan son playing a Bennie Hill inspired sequence with his father, we get the drift.

Romaine Harper’s set design brilliantly shatters itself apart from the comforts of the Aussie living room, and thrusts Goddard’s character out of her proverbial bourgeoise womb and that of her baby. The camera work from here is temporarily jarring, and we are soon confronted by the banished – a migrant woman who was once the subject of the daughter’s art. The daughter, finally levelled out by the class warfare and on the streets, confronts her new reality and rebels against it, calling the banished woman names as she hears her baby cry under the rubble, unable to accept the even playing field of this new world. Try as her character might to be magnanimous to those less fortunate, once her bubble of a life is burst, she reviles the otherness of what she once accepted from her ivory tower.

Australian Realness force-feeds the fear of the working class down the throats of educated Australia. The working class ultimately takes a wrecking ball to the art, homes and privilege of the educated. It’s almost enjoyable to see how the patronising language used by the supposedly cultured against those they exert superiority over does little to save them from their ultimate fear.

Don’t let the bastards get you down.

Australian Realness is showing at the Malthouse Theatre until the 8 September 2019. For tickets, follow the link: https://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/australian-realness

Photography by Zan Wimberley

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Malthouse Theatre Presents REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN.

Tear down the wor(l)d

By Leeor Adar

Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. directed by Janice Muller is a perpetual play on words, and a play on what those words mean to us. It isn’t just a revolution within our society, but a collective ‘revolt’ at our own bodies, and at the male gaze for which women squirm under. Yes, it’s a raging, raging work. It probably needs to rage, because what Birch tells us is nothing new to a woman’s struggle within the constraints of her world, the sharp lines that fix her within it – whether that is her workplace, her lover’s place, her child’s place – or any place in which she exists.

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Birch’s text takes us to many dimensions of existence – at first it’s the constructed box that sits on the stage, vignettes of conversations that throw sex, marriage and work upon its head – women asking to be utterly present in the acts society inflicts upon them. Marg Horwell’s set design is effective here, the sound even strains within the ‘four’ walls created. Soon enough, this world revolts upon itself and a woman (Sophie Ross) climbs out of the four walls to really talk about the things we don’t talk about – about the damage women inflict upon our bodies, in a beautiful and hideous memorandum of all our physical evils – to be endlessly sexually available.

For all the seriousness of the work, the audience laughs with tears in their eyes at some scenes, and sometimes we flinched away – we couldn’t look upon what was before us. I sat behind male audience members who I confess I enjoyed watching too throughout the piece; in context, I admit I was morbidly fascinated at how they would react. Of course they laughed when it was appropriate, and sometimes when it was totally inappropriate, because on some level it was surely uncomfortable for male viewers to see a woman getting angry or opening her body up with Birch’s visceral words – but I can tell you that looking around the room at the women was an different story. Many moments of the play were a bitter reminder, unravelling us at the seams.

The cast is five-strong (Belinda McClory, Elizabeth Esguerra, Ming-Zhu Hii, Gareth Reeves, and Ross). Each actor delivered their parts with total abandonment and intensity – it is an absolutely demanding show to watch, but also to act. The words are hard, and they’re almost too funny and also too damn real. You know Birch is onto something good when you physically react to the words.

For all its power, the total breakdown of the world presented to us loses shape as characters throw costumes on, haphazardly run about, throw themselves on stage, shake, spit, shiver, deliver – it ceases to be a functional whole. Oddly enough, the work held its power until the final dimension and then disintegrated. Was it meant to show us how bad we really had it – apocalypse femme? I can’t say. But sometimes in an effort to rattle its audience, the hyper-modern piece loses us.

Did it change my outrage, or the message? No. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. remains a daring exercise to deconstruct everything that shapes womanhood in a violent world.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. will be performed at the Malthouse Theatre until 9 July. Performance dates, times and bookings available here: http://malthousetheatre.com.au/whats-on/revolt-she-said-revolt-again

Image by Pia Johnson

The Substation Presents THE TRIBE

A personal and beautiful story-telling experience

By Christine Young

The Tribe is perhaps what the world needs right now. At the very least, in a time of heightened Islamophobia, racism and bigoted politics, it’s what’s missing from public life: the voices and stories of Arab immigrant families.

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This reviewer jumped at the chance to attend the opening night of The Tribe which is based on Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s novel of the same name, and presented by The Substation theatre company and Urban Theatre Projects. The play is a series of monologues/memories told by an adult Bani but through the eyes of his child self at ages five, seven and eleven. It was adapted for the stage by author Ahmad and Janice Muller who also directed solo actor Hazem Shammas.

Bani belongs to the first generation of his big Lebanese family born in Australia with whom he lives on Caitlin Street in Lakemba. Lakemba is a suburb 15km south-west of Sydney’s CBD and well-known as a hub for Lebanese Muslim Australians. As Bani tells us, the Caitlin Street residents are overwhelmingly Muslim and living there carries a certain credibility. When the most rebellious kid in his class, Omar, finds out they live opposite each other, he decides they are best mates on the spot. Neither child knows anything about Omar being a Sunni Muslim and Bani being an Ahmadi Muslim which would have ruled out a friendship in Lebanon.

Bani’s stories from 1980s Lakemba centre on the family’s matriarch Taytar (grandmother). These stories also reach beyond Lakemba and back to a Lebanon that Bani has never known. Shammas renders beautiful the poignant and moving anecdotes from Bani’s childhood. Every time Bani utters ‘Taytar’, his voice changes and it’s said in a gentle tone of affection and respect.

Hazem Shammas is joined on stage by composer Oonagh Sherrard on cello which is aptly matched to the emotion and life of the storytelling. My seat was remarkably close to Sherrard which gave me a unique chance to watch the beauty and dexterity of cello-playing up close.

For the Melbourne season, The Substation in Newport has arranged for the play to be performed at homes in the area. The audience meets at The Substation and is taken, by foot, to the previously undisclosed location, and experiencing The Tribe is all the more special because it’s performed in the privacy and intimacy of a volunteer family’s backyard.

The Tribe was performed on March 30, 31 and April 1 2017 in Newport, Melbourne.