Tag: Rachel Burke

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

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Helen Yotis Patterson’s TAXITHI

Moving portayals of resilient Greek-Australian women

By Myron My

Inspired by her grandmothers, Helen Yotis Patterson has compiled a number of stories of Greek women who migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 60s. While the narratives and their characters are often filled with hope and excitement for a better life, they are sometimes met with disappointment and frustrations. Despite this, the women presented in Taxithi (Greek for ‘journey’) are fiercely strong and determined.

Taxithi

The impressive cast – Maria Mercedes, Artemis Ioannides and Helen Yotis Patterson – bring much honesty with their portrayals of these women. While some stories are taken directly from Yotis Patterson’s family history, the cast are clearly poignantly connected with all the experiences that are played out. There are well-crafted moments throughout, including Mercedes’ emotional lament at missing her mother’s final moments as she traveled back to Greece and Ioannides’ striking performance as a young bride who find herself in an arranged marriage.

The music is one of the strongest elements of Taxithi. Musical director, arranger and pianist Andrew Patterson has captured the era perfectly along with Jacob Papadopoulos‘ masterful bouzouki playing. During the musical moments, the three women’s voices elicited strong emotive responses from the audience, to the point where even my non-Greek speaking friends were able to feel what was being sung. John Ford and Rachel Burke‘s lighting design and Darius Kedros‘ sound design, while both minimal, are still highly effective, especially in the evocative opening moments with the sound of waves crashing in the ocean, making you feel as if you yourself are on the ship travelling to Australia.

Towards the end of the performance, I admit I did feel the stories started to become slightly repetitious, with quite a few revolving around young girls immigrating to get married. Had Yotis Patterson perhaps narrowed the quantity of stories and explored her powerful themes even further, this repetition would have been resolved and the emotional connection with the characters could have been even stronger.

However, at a time where we are denying people entry into our country who are trying to escape persecution from their own, Taxithi serves as a telling reminder that “letting people in” is not a bad thing and only allows our lives and culture to become richer. Furthermore, the journeying tales of Taxithi teach us to always remain resilient and to fight for what we want in life, and that is something everyone can strive towards, regardless of sex, gender or race.

Venue: fortyfive downstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Season: Now until 24 March, then 5-10 April | Tue- Sat 7.30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $45 Full | $35 Conc
Bookings: fortyfive downstairs

Image by Sarah Walker www.sarahwalkerphotos.com

REVIEW: MTC Presents BUYER AND CELLAR

Here’s what Barbra keeps in her basement…

By Caitlin McGrane

As the house lights dimmed inside the Fairfax Theatre at the Arts Centre, I leaned over to my mother and whispered, ‘I don’t know anything about Barbra Streisand.’ This remains true, but I am now certainly informed about her basement. As Alex (Ash Flanders) recounts his fictional employment in Barbra Streisand’s basement shopping mall it was thrilling to revel in the affection that playwright Jonathan Tolins clearly has for the superstar singer. The play was warm, heartfelt and gregarious in all the right ways.

Buyer and Cellar

The play opens with Ash giving a brief introduction to the audience about the book that inspired the play (My Passion for Design by Barbra Streisand) and about how Streisand built a shopping mall in the basement of her Malibu home. Ash then becomes Alex and tells the wickedly funny story of how he moved from Disneyland to Streisand, and how Alex’s relationship with his boyfriend Barry is affected by the new job. It’s a true one-man show, and Flanders did a spectacular job of moving seamlessly between the characters with their idiosyncratic accents and mannerisms. As I stated before, I don’t know anything about Barbra Streisand, but Flanders’ impression of her softly lilting voice and affected mannerisms were outrageously funny.

For the most part the play had me in stitches, however, there were several LA references that went completely over my head and it seemed, much of the rest of audience’s as well. This has nothing to do with the delivery, just that the play was written about a particular place with which a local audience is not necessarily familiar. The saturation of American culture certainly helped contextualise the jokes, but specific references to freeways were always going to go over most of our heads. (I would love to see if something similar could be written about Melbourne; maybe Geoffrey Rush has a Pirates of the Caribbean set up in his garage, I don’t know.)

There is clearly so much passion and fondness for Streisand in the script; director Gary Abrahams has ensured the barbs (pardon the pun) are handled just right – carefully toeing that difficult line between gently mocking and barbarous (I’m sorry I can’t stop). Adam Gardnir simply and effectively designed the sets and costumes; while Rachel Burke’s lighting design was beautiful. For a play about such a massively successful musician, there wasn’t much music, however The Sweats’ composition and sound design carefully adorned and enhanced the performance. Finally, Flanders’ numerous accents were so accurate, that it would be deeply remiss not to mention voice and dialogue coach Suzanne Heywood who has clearly done a marvellous job.

It can make me wary when it looks like the cast and crew of a production have had lots of fun assembling and crafting their work, but in this case it was really joyous to see. Buyer and Cellar demonstrates how reverence can work well alongside gentle teasing, especially if the butt of your jokes is a multimillionaire who really does have a shopping mall in her basement.

Buyer and Cellar is showing at the Fairfax Theatre at the Arts Centre until 12 December. Tickets from: http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/mainstage-2015/buyer-and-cellar/