Tag: La Mama Theatre

La Mama Presents THE CHAIRS

Intelligent and effective production of Ionesco’s classic play

By Leeor Adar

Eugène Ionesco was a notable writer in the French avant-garde and absurdist theatre, and a theatre-maker that found art in considering the futility of man. Like many of his contemporaries, Ionesco was the product of a world of wars and ideas. The Chairs is one of Ionesco’s earliest major works, and perhaps the play that depicts humanity’s futility and absurdity at its finest.

THE-CHAIRS-photo-Jeff-Busby.jpg

The premise follows an old man and woman, currently isolated from the rest of society, preparing to entertain a hoard of guests for the old man’s message to the world. The sea surrounds the bored pair as they plod through their lives, reliving the excitement of stories already told and vistas already explored. The old woman serves as the vessel from which the man relays his moments of glory (or the moments of glory he could have had), while the old man unsteadily looks upon the world from his ladder, eyeing the boats that pass them in the distance – a promise of life elsewhere. The claustrophobia in Ionesco’s language is palpable – the pauses that linger and the poignant sense that these two characters live within one another and no where else.

Award-winning writer and artistic director Jenny Kemp directs this La Mama production, bringing to secluded life the void of the old man (Robert Meldrum) and the old woman (Jillian Murray). The performance space of the La Mama theatre enhances the stifling intimacy of the writing and characters, and the adroit lighting design (Rachel Burke) and sound design (Russell Goldsmith) heighten this intense experience further.

The quality of the acting is excellent here: Meldrum and Murray inject so much energy into this production, and we utterly believe their characters’ profound desperation and manic highs and lows. The language of Ionesco is handled with real care and attention to detail; Kemp’s vision is clear and we as an audience feel crowded in by the invisible audience the play brings onto stage, culminating in the greatest chair pile-up I expect La Mama has ever seen.

This production is quite exhausting for the audience, but this was necessary given the content of the play. What starts as hopeful energy becomes devoured by the exasperation of the characters trying to bring their message to life and be seen and valued in their world. The arrival of the Emperor – another invisible force – brings the turning point upon which lives of the old couple have reached completion. There are comic moments in this journey, and there are universal truths about our existence worth contemplating during the course of the play.

Kemp’s The Chairs is impressively successful in mastering what it wants on stage, but whether every audience can patiently journey with the characters of Ionesco’s play is another proverbial ladder to climb altogether.

The Chairs played at La Mama Theatre from 5-15 October, 2017. Visit http://lamama.com.au/ for information about upcoming productions.

Image by Jeff Busby

Advertisements

Midsumma Festival 2017: THE HAPPY PRINCE

Wilde’s famous fairytale beautifully reinvented

By Myron My

Oscar Wilde‘s short story, The Happy Prince, tells the tale of a golden statue of a prince that overlooks a city. Along with a flying swallow that he encounters, the Happy Prince sacrifices itself in vain in order to help the people who are suffering from poverty. As part of Midsumma Festival, queer theatre company Little Ones Theatre have taken Wilde’s tale and adapted it through a queer lens. The contemporary homo-erotic story now explores the desperation and futility that two women experience in order to remain with the one they love.

The Happy Prince.jpg

Dressed in a gold-sequinned dress with gold nail-polish and a smear of gold face-paint, Janine Watson wondrously captures the innocence (and ignorance) of the Happy Prince. As the sacrifices become bigger, her determination becomes more evident in bringing happiness and good to the people, regardless of how fleeting or thankful the act might be.

Catherine Davies brings a poignant level of cynicism to the Swallow but also a passion and yearning for a connection. With her hair quiffed up, wearing rollerskates and chewing gum, she is reminiscent of a defiant and impatient youth constantly on the go. The passion between the two performers is palpable from the very first moment they share the stage together and neither Watson or Davies let go of that for the entire show.

This short story doesn’t offer much in terms of length and plot development, whereupon director Stephen Nicolazzo has created erotically charged and deeply tender moments of no dialogue between the Happy Prince and the swallow, exploring their emotional state of mind on a deeper level. There is a sense of time standing still during the show and we are given the opportunity to take in everything that is being said and everything that is being performed without being rushed.

Katie Sfetkidis‘ intelligent combination of cold and warm lighting design throughout the show highlights the moments of passion and love and the ultimate demise of said love as does the sleek clean set design by Eugyeene Teh. The grey material that runs along the wall and floor of the stage allows the gold and sparkle of the Happy Prince’s costume to constantly attract our attention and admiration.

The Happy Prince is the poetically tragic tale of a love that cannot be. Through its queer retelling, Little Ones Theatre have expertly crafted a powerfully affecting and layered story of deep affection and sacrifice that will linger in your mind long after the final scene.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St, Carlton
Season: until 29 January | Wed 6.30pm, Thu – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

Image by Pia Johnson

La Mama Presents MADAME NIGHTSHADE’S POISON GARDEN

Fancy a drink?

By Myron My

When Madame Nightshade appears in her garden and welcomes the audience in her own unique style, you quickly realise that all bets are off and anything can happen in this absurdist clowning show and that, no matter where you sit, you are not safe. Performed as part of La Mama’s Explorations season for work in various stages of development, Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden is a show that will leave you stunned and flabbergasted with plenty of laughs.

Madame-Nightshades-Poison-Garden.jpg

Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden is like watching two shows. The first half has a twisted, macabre and imaginative whimsy to it. Vegetables are manipulated into hilarious firearms and grenades, and while there is a scene with liquids and test tubes that could cause some anxiety in audience members, there is a sadness and a disturbing sweetness to Madame Nightshade’s actions and behaviour. However, upon drinking her “poison” Madame Nightshade transforms into a creature that is difficult to describe, but one that closely resembles a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation.

Unfortunately, this is where the magic and charm of Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden begins to wane for me. The time and effort that was spent in creating the picturesque garden environment is no longer relevant as this new world is created, and the latter is less thoughtful and more crude and obvious. Now we are dealing with sight gags that so many American comedies seem to rely on, with stories that seems to come from nowhere with no real purpose, and literal toilet humour. While there are some entertaining parts in the second half, it is the first half I so desperately wanted to see more of.

The show is conceived, devised and performed by Anna Lehmann Thomson who clearly has a knack for clowning and finding humour in the small things. She thinks well on her feet throughout the show and even when props are not where they should be, her improvisation is fast and clever.

Independents artists are very fortunate to be given the opportunity to perform new ideas and shows to an audience with La Mama’s Explorations season. While there is definitely a place for Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden to exist in the theatre world, I feel Thomson needs to determine what kind of story and character Madame Nightshade is to be if it is to find an audience to stay with her for the whole adventure.

Madame Nightshade’s Poison Garden was performed between 19 – 21 November at La Mama Theatre.

Image by Mikey J White

La Mama Presents I SAT AND WAITED BUT YOU WERE GONE TOO LONG

Private words for personal grief

By Myron My

Presented as part of La Mama Theatre’s Explorations season presenting new works in various stages of development, I Sat And Waited But You Were Gone Too Long is a look at how you move on with your life when you are struggling to just get through the day. Written and directed by Olivia Satchell, it follows two women (played by Rosie Clynes and Emily Tomlins) who are unable to release themselves from the grief that has taken them over.

I Sat And Waited But You Were Gone Too Long.jpg

Tomlins in particular is captivating as the nameless woman still coping with her own personal grief. The heartbreak she feels is clearly shown beyond Satchell’s words, and through Tomlins’ posture, facial expressions and manner of speech. Clynes is also great to watch as the motherless girl, however I found her harder to relate to and sympathise with and this might be due more with the writing and sound difficulties than with the actual performance.

The individual stories created by Satchell are intriguing, however the interactions between the two women seem forced, with some awkward dialogue that takes away from the emotions being explored. Satchell’s direction however is a strength of this production, particularly the plays with silence that are used to further highlight the anguish that these women feel.

While acknowledging that this is the first time that I Sat And Waited is being staged, there were some severe technical difficulties with the sound that prevented me from being able not only to engage with the story but also to follow it. Each audience member is provided with wireless headphones through which to hear Russell Goldsmiths well-suited soundscape and the characters’ dialogue. Despite being advised of the sound issues before the show began, the constant static coming through made it difficult to hear the dialogue, and in the last fifteen minutes I gave up and had to take the headphones off so I could hear what was being said directly from the actors. I’m unsure as to Satchell’s intention in using this technology in this show, as the environment could just as simply and effectively have been set up without the wireless headphones.

There is promise with I Sat And Waited But You Were Gone Too Long, and I am eager to see how this work develops beyond its Explorations season at La Mama.

I Sat And Waited was performed between 23 – 25 October at La Mama Theatre.

REVIEW: Bette & Joan:Bitch. Slut. Liar. Whore.

Fresh and fun, with the potential for more

By Myron My

These days, you just need to look at a cover of a magazine or access a website to be bombarded with Hollywood stories and gossip. Some might say it’s the price to pay for being in the industry, however in Bette & Joan: Bitch. Slut. Liar. Whore., writer and performer David Morris explores how this type of reporting is predominantly focused on women and how not much has actually changed since Hollywood’s golden era.

Bette & Joan.jpg

As she sneaks into her bedroom to escape a dreary party, Bette Davis (Morris) comes to find the real party is in her bedroom, as she finds thirty audience members in there. She begins to reminisce about her life and the lost loves she has encountered. Of course, one such as Davis cannot reminisce about her Hollywood life without an appearance by her infamous arch-nemesis Joan Crawford, brilliantly played by Tom Halls. Having two gay men portray these immortal Hollywood stars is an effective and clever idea in reminding the audience of the fact that men who behave in this way are rarely scrutinised or expected to justify themselves to anyone.

Accompanied by pianist Shanon Whitelock, the musical numbers are highly enjoyable with the title track “Bitch. Slut. Liar. Whore.” perfectly displaying the tension between the two actors. The re-imagining of popular iconic tracks such as “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé and “Shoop” by Salt-N-Pepa are a great way of having them express their own sexuality and their own desires rather than playing to the male gaze.

While the narrative touches on the struggles these women faced in order to make it in Hollywood, I feel more thought was required on how to tell this complex story. Some moments, such as when Bette is recalling her failed marriages, ultimately add very little to the overall direction of the show, and seem to be forgotten about as quickly as they are brought up. The finale unfortunately also doesn’t seem to add anything of substance to the profound themes being explored, and cutting it in length would have kept the story tighter and more focused.

Despite the emotional turmoil and sacrifices Bette had to endure in order to be considered “as good as” and “as talented as” men, for me the extravagant and somewhat over-the-top way that Morris plays Bette doesn’t quite correlate with the more subtle emotional impact of what is being said. Similarly, the dialogue between Bette and Joan when they question the way they were treated in Hollywood feels rather forced and doesn’t ring with conviction over what is being said.

Bette & Joan: Bitch. Slut. Liar Whore is a distinctly enjoyable show with great music and quite a few laughs, that is admirably attempting to depict the struggles that these female stars faced in the golden age of Hollywood. Had there been a deeper look at how this really affected them though, I feel sure the show could then have created something even more telling of gender, sexuality and celebrity antagonism in the society they lived in then, and the one we live in now.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St, Carlton
Season: Until 7 February | Fri, Sun 8.30pm, Sat 10.15pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc
Bookings: La Mama Theatre

Image by Luke Warm

REVIEW: Ben Noble in MEMBER

Powerful and lingering

By Myron My

Presented as part of the 2016 Midsumma Festival by Fairly Lucid Productions and directed by Casey Gould, Ben Noble‘s play Member was incited by the death of gay man Scott Johnson in 1988 when his body was found at the bottom of a cliff at Manly. Deemed a suicide, there has always been speculation that he was a victim of a gay hate-crime. However, this narrative focuses on Corey, your typical Aussie living in Manly with his wife and child. We follow Corey through various moments in his life that have led to where he is now: in a hospital room with his son lying unconscious, seemingly fighting for his life.

Member.jpg

 

Ben Noble is exemplary in his performance as Corey (and all the other characters he plays). From the very beginning, our eyes are glued on him and even as he begins to unravel and the truth becomes clearer, we still cannot look away. Corey is a complex character but Noble is able to bring some insight into his actions and thoughts while still holding him accountable for them.

There are some very difficult moments to watch in the show: not because of what’s happening on stage, but because of what’s happening in our head. Noble is so convincing with his delivery of the dialogue and the characters he creates that it is impossible to not begin visualising what is being described. You see the fear in the eyes of the victims with every insult slurred, you hear the moment when foot connects with rib, and you can almost feel the blood splatter from every strike to the face.

The lighting design by Lisa Mibus hones in on the intensity of the events and despite the empty space bar for a single chair, builds well on creating a claustrophobic environment. Jacob Battista‘s stage design that covering the entire floor in one sheet of silver gloss works perfectly in bringing more depth to the work. The watery mirrored surface not only captures Noble reflecting on his own behaviour and past, but also ensures the audience reflect on the community we live in and acknowledge that these things have happened and continue to happen.

Despite its set time period, Member could easily be describing topical events from current times with homophobic attacks on people of the GLBTIQ community still occurring when you consider that only last week a gay man was bashed in St Kilda Royal Botanical Gardens, and stickers were placed along Chapel St stating “Cure AIDS, Kick a Poofter to Death”.

Member is an important story that needs to be told. It’s important because it reminds us that no matter how far we have come as a community and as a society, we still have so much further to go before people such as Scott Johnson can feel safe in their community and in their homes. With a completely sold-out run, here’s hoping this show gets a second season some time soon.

Member was performed between 19 – 30 January at La Mama Theatre

Image by Derek McAlpin

REVIEW: La Mama Presents GOBLINS

Six women reach across time to seek justice

By Myron My

Melbourne-based theatre company Panopticon Collective are dedicated to creating new Australian work that focuses on national identity and social responsibility. Performed at La Mama as part of their Explorations season, their newest production Goblins attempts to do just that, with mixed results.

Goblins

The “goblins” in this work are six women from six historical eras ranging from 2000BC to 2015, who are telling six individual yet thematically similar stories. Each of these women face some sort of persecution for daring to have control of their mind and body, and for speaking up for what they believe in. Written by Jeni Bezuidenhout and Cassandra-Elli Yiannacou, each story is predominantly a ten-minute monologue as we attempt to get inside these women’s heads and see what drives them to be such a courageous force as they confront their fears.

As we enter the venue, there are six bodies lying on the floor covered in white sheets. It is a powerful scene with which to begin, as we think about these “dead” women and reliving the stories they have to tell. It links well with the writers’ idea of showing history repeating itself and that women who dare speak up or act against social norms will be punished. The cast – Eva Justine Torkkola, Isabelle Bertoli, Kellie Tori, Luke Lennox, Bezuidenhout and Yiannacou – are, for the most part, strong and authentic in their portrayals.

However, I felt the stories themselves needed to be far more distinct from one another. Even across the various eras and with the different actors, by the time the final monologue began, I struggled to remember what each story was. While the narratives dealt with different ideas of persecution, the stories only offered a surface level that did not allow for richly drawn characters to present themselves to us. The anecdote that felt the most authentic and sophisticated was the last (“Danielle’s story”), with the closing moments creating some strong visuals that were poignantly reminiscent of the show’s opening.

The stage design by Marcus Verdi and lighting by Jaidan Leeworthy are prime examples of how less can often be more. Both are able to build adroitly on the hostility and loneliness these women faced in their lives. There is however, a distinct lack of sound or music throughout Goblins, and there are times where its presence could have intensified the emotions and experience for both the characters and the audience.

Goblins is still a work in development and changes are likely. If the writers can focus on telling six iconic stories that have heart and emotion rather than a series of more generic narratives, I feel this could well go on to have a life outside of the Explorations seasons at La Mama Theatre.

Goblins was performed between 7 -9 December at La Mama Theatre