No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Category: Theatre Review

Review: Bindjareb Pinjarra

Bindjareb Pinjarra

In 1834 in Pinjarra south of Perth, white Mounted Police carried out a deliberate and well planned attack on the local Nyoongar people. Armed with guns and with no warning, the white men easily outmatched the Indigenous people. This was seen to have been necessary action for the protection and claiming of the land for the white settlers. Bindjareb Pinjarra brings this story, often not spoken about, or whitewashed to the point of being explained away as a minor battle, to the stage.

The work spins together three stories – of the white European generals who instigated the massacre, a young man in contemporary Perth coming up against racism before finding out about his familial connections to Pinjarra, and a slightly confused story about a white man Daniel and two indigenous men presumably set in the 1800s – mostly confused because I couldn’t tell if Daniel was supposed to be a child or mentally impaired.

It’s most compelling, though, when the cast speak directly to the audience: of the white performers who weren’t taught about Indigenous history; of the Aboriginal performer who was told by his mother he could just tell people he was Greek; and an extract from A Short History of Western Australia – a book I sincerely hope has been pulled from school library bookshelves.

The company promotes the work as being “a comedy about a massacre” – and it is an interesting technique to tell a horrific story. The company does an admirable job of keeping the work connecting to the young audience through humour, while also carefully detailing the massacre, but too often the humour feels as if it is sitting apart from the work. It sits on top of the rest of the story; this uneven layer of humour to defuse the audience rarely feels integrated with the narrative.

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Review: The Moon’s a Balloon

TheMoonsABalloon

The propensity for children to believe in magic is marvelous. They watch theatre with a sense of wonderment, not trying to figure out the trickery or catch the misdirection, but content with a belief that what they’re watching is real. To create a sense of wonder and mysticism in The Moon’s a Balloon, though, Patch Theatre Company uses something better than magic: they use science.

In its most compelling scene, dancer Rob Griffin moves around a solitary balloon, with just enough helium that it lightly skims on the top of the ground. Griffin deftly moves his body around the balloon, and his manipulation of the air surrounding it causes the balloon to move and appear sentient, creating a enchanting duet.

With dancer Katrina Lazaroff, the pair play with balloons that have been weighted and would sit in the palm of your hand, and balloons that extend meters in diameter and softly repel against the ground before falling back to earth. They run with helium balloons, their strings pulled taught to appear solid. Strings are dislodged and balloons fly up into the rafters; weighted balloons fall back down to earth.

Firmly embedded in dance theatre, this textless physical work feels like significant new territory for the company, while still feeling very much of the repertoire. The work was collaboratively created by the dancers and the rest of the creative team, and Lazaroff has previously created dance work for children in Skip also being featured in this year’s Come Out Festival – and it’s exciting to see this audience for the form being engaged in Adelaide.

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Review: Muff

Serena Moorghen, Brad Williams and Claire Glenn. Photo by Olivia Zanchetta.

Serena Moorghen, Brad Williams and Claire Glenn. Photo by Olivia Zanchetta.

Muff, the latest production from independent Adelaide theatre company five.point.one, is heavy, hard hitting theatre that leaves its audience with no easy to digest emotions. Written by Van Badham and directed here by Alison Howard, the work explores women, sex and relationships; a horrific, random rape of a young woman and the threads from this event that continue to wrap and bind their way into lives years after the physical injuries have healed.

Eve (Claire Glenn) has moved back to London from China, a country she moved to in order to reclaim herself, and has moved into the spare room in the flat of her ex-boyfriend, Tom (Brad Williams). There, she has to negotiate how to return home and meeting Tom’s new girlfriend Manpreet (Serena Moorghen), while Tom must come to grips with a relationship that fell apart after Eve was raped.

Myf Cadwallader’s set casts a sterility over the proceedings: furnishings of white against walls of opaque white plastic and steel frames, in corners lie discarded limbs of mannequins  The walls are repositioned to create different spaces: opening up one half of the stage or the other for the bedroom or lounge, or closing off the space to create the bathroom seen only in shadows. The cast move these walls slowly and calmly. Despite the tension in the work, Howard paces the actors to a steady and slow beat. In this environment, her direction frequently casts a clinical eye over the proceedings. These people, it feels, are there to be watched, their pasts and presents there to be analysed, but empathy or connection is a step too far.

Through this clinical lens, Badham’s text brings up interesting questions in relationships and sex: Eve and Manpreet discuss, or rather argue over, radically different views of the sexualisation of women: on pornography, of waxing, of violence and sexual games. Badham’s characters experience violence that is real, and a game of violence that exists invited and within boundaries in a relationship. These different strands compliment and fight against each other, creating a world that is messy and complex, representing the multiplicities of people and the way they each see the world.

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Review: Hedda Gabler

Kate Cheel and Alison Bell, photo by Shane Reid.

Kate Cheel and Alison Bell, photo by Shane Reid.

The house lights drop. The music rises, thumping through the auditorium. Half-light on stage. Hedda Gabler (Alison Bell) stands in the doorway. Stressed. Out of place. She moves the couch. It’s in the wrong place. Sits. Rubs her eyes. Stressed. Blackout.

Considered one of the greatest female roles of the repertoire, Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler comes roaring into the 21st Century in this contemporary adaptation by Joanna Murray-Smith, directed by Geordie Brookman. The dialogue is contemporary, formalities and the maid have been dispensed with, the characters wield iPhones, yet this faithful adaptation leaves the structure and major beats of Ibsen’s text intact.

While the characters keep their Norwegian names and the location is never explicitly stated, the spirit of Murray-Smith’s text is that of Australia, perhaps almost chiefly for Hedda’s relationship with guns. Murray-Smith’s Hedda is an anomaly in this society for owning guns at all, not simply for being a woman who owns them. Here, inherited and never registered, “you should have turned then in”, says Brack (Terence Crawford), a reference to Australia’s 1996 gun reforms. Indeed, because of this, it’s almost impossible to see this work having the same relevancy in contemporary America.

Perhaps one of the dangers in adapting Hedda Gabler to a contemporary context is the way that women’s place in society has changed in 120 years. Ibsen’s women, his Hedda and his Nora in particular, were revolutionary in their portraits of middle-class women unhappy with their lives, questioning society, and, ultimately, taking control of their own destinies – in radically different fashions. It would be all too easy for a contemporary Hedda to not ring true: while women are still under many pressures and societal expectations, today’s women are, on the whole, more activated both inside and outside the home. Yet, Murray-Smith’s adaptation brings with it startling relevancy, none more so in the ever-prevailing expectation and tension on women to become mothers: here, this conversation feels shocking but in no way false.

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Review: Ode To Nonsense

Slingsby's Ode To Nonsense, photo by Andy Rasheed

Nicholas Lester and cast. Photo by Andy Rasheed.

Previous to seeing and reviewing the show, I spent a significant amount of time with the company in rehearsal. You can read my documentation of that in parts one, two, and three. This experience undoubtedly coloured the way I saw the work, so take from this what you will.

Edward Lear (1812 – 1888) was one of the first writers to create work specifically for the entertainment of children. His nonsense drawings and writings have lived on, endearing themselves to many new generations of children, while his paintings and illustrations of wildlife and landscapes command ongoing respect from a whole different audience. Ode to Nonsense is an ode to the life of Lear, from Adelaide theatre company Slingby, in conjunction with the State Opera of South Australia.

A significant departure for the company, this work moves from the intimate work Slingsby are known for – both in terms of performers and audience – into a production with a cast of eighteen and an audience of 1000.

Walking into the old Her Majesty’s Theatre under a garland of green flags and fairy lights, director Andy Packer and designer Geoff Cobham have created a world that speaks from the same world of their previous works. With much of the usual suspects in the creative team, including Quincy Grant as the composer, visually and aurally the work seems to capture the spirit of Slingsby that has brought the company such acclaim. In Ode to Nonsense though, there is something that doesn’t quite gel, and we are left with a work that is curiously flat.

Lear (Nicholas Lester) has returned to his adopted home of San Remo with his perennial servant Giorgio (Adam Goldburn) to see his love Gussie (Johanna Allen) – not that he could ever admit to that. While Jane Goldney’s libretto has found moments of great heart in these scenes, and moments of joyous frivolity in the embracing of Lear’s nonsense, the gap between these moments is never truly bridged, and so audience members are never truly immersed in either world: Ode to Nonsense never reaches beyond the proscenium.

It’s a work that perhaps is captured in nearly-theres. In exploring the world of Lear and his friends, Goldney’s work alternately suffers from under-exposition, requiring a solid knowledge of Lear’s life and work, then over-exposition with too much stake in explanation placed in a single song. Taken in isolation, Goldney’s scenes under Packer’s careful touch of direction paint insightful snapshots of old friendships, of never embraced romance, of the triumph of embracing worlds and words that cannot be truly grasped or explained. Built up into a narrative, though, neither Goldney nor Packer have solved how to stop the strands unraveling.

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Festival Review: Itoseng

This review was originally published on ArtsHub.com

In the South African township of Itoseng, a young man, Mawilla, sits on his trunk. Where he sits was once the shopping mall. Now, empty space. Scattered rubbish. A trail of fine sand. Nothingness.

For the people of Itoseng, the end of apartheid was heralded with great hope. But instead, the town found itself stagnant. With the shopping mall burnt down in a fit of youthful collective foolishness – brash noise with no real impetus – and nothing to replace it with, the empty space it left in the town was more than just physical. Gone was the entertainment, gone were the jobs.

Itoseng, written and performed by Omphile Molusi, is Mawilla’s story of his town and the woman he loves. Or perhaps, of the town he knew and the woman he loved: the thing most crucially lost is hope.

On the wide Space Theatre stage, a lane of fine sand extends corner-to-corner, footprints extending across the rest of the black stage surface. Through the production Molusi kicks up the dust, tracks of footprints building up a picture of the work’s blocking. Scattered through the space is rubbish: drink bottles, sheets of newspapers, plastic bags and old shoes. At times Molusi appropriates these for props and sound effects, but for the most part they are just part of the desolation that Itoseng now faces.

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Festival Review: Doku Rai (You, dead man, I don’t believe you)

This review originally appeared on ArtsHub.com

As we walk into the Queen’s Theatre and take our seats, the performers from The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm, Liurai Fo’er, and Galaxy infect the space with their loud rock music. The music festival feel is perhaps somewhat incongruous with the large seating bank, but the music is fun, nonetheless, and the audience is ready to be swept up along with it.

We’re told a story about a young boy, constantly teased by his brother. The young boy asks for a doku – permission to kill his brother. The next time they are in the forest together, he witnesses his brother’s painful death – and runs away.

We are then introduced into the world of the show, Doku Rai (You, dead man, I don’t believe you). A man has requested a doku on his brother, and hired another to make sure the act is completed. No matter how many times he is killed, though, the man won’t stay dead. The pursuit and the killings become endless. New attempt after new attempt, all becoming documented on film, and still he rises – still he won’t die.

Throughout Doku Rai, created by the cast and director Thomas M. Wright, you constantly expect it to reveal another layer, and yet it disappointingly never does. The work appears largely flat and stagnant – the story of people who can’t die has been told many times before, with much more interesting things to say.

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AdlFringe Review: Book of Loco

Tandanya’s theatre has been transformed. Out has gone the seating bank and in is – quite literally – thousands of cardboard boxes. Big ones, little ones, square ones, rectangular ones, all stacked on top of each other forming four walls reaching sky-high.

We take our seats, talking about the Fringe’s events so far, our days, our plans for the evenings. Then, we notice someone walking around the seats. Sitting down in empty chairs, looking around to take stock of who is in the audience, is a man in a black suit – hardly your typical Fringe attire.

This man is Alirio Zavarce, here to introduce us to his thoughts and his life, which he has titled The Book of Loco. Everyone is a little bit crazy, he hypothesizes. What we consider to be normal and what we consider to be loco is, maybe, just a result of the reality presented to us.

But how best to tell us this story?

The lights go down, and Zavarce stands in a spot light. He opens the story in an airport. He has just flown back to Australia with a re-enforced prop suitcase from a performance. The customs officials are suspicious of the suitcase and —-

Wait. Lights snap on. Maybe that’s not the best way to tell it. Does he need to give us some back-story? Do we know who he is? Do we care yet? What if he hasn’t explained the constructs of the world and our relationships with sanity? Perhaps he just needs to comb his hair, and then he can jump back into the show ….

Part biographical journey, Book of Loco traces its own creation, compounding factors of both the world and Zavarce’s world changing over the past decade or so – the World Trade Centre attacks, break-ups, deaths, moving to Adelaide – in which Zavarce found himself questioning, losing, and refinding versions of sanity. Going a bit loco. Something he hypothesizes we all go through.

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AdlFringe Review: Insomnia Cat Came to Stay

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay

12:14am.
3:47am.
6:05am.
Eyes still open. Brain still spinning. Body still awake.
Every night, sleep eludes this woman. Her bed doesn’t afford her the comfort it should. Instead, it is just the place she struggles, night after night, to find sleep.
Sleepless, life becomes a suspended animation. During the day she never feels as awake as she does at night, when the world has stopped and yet her brain still moves on. And on. And on.

Insomnia Cat Came to Stay is playwright Fleur Kilpatrick’s exploration of insomnia. It is her trying to make sense out of something that is so little spoken about, so little understood. The work carries us through nights and days, a never-ending cycle of wakeful restlessness, of swirling thoughts on sleep, and where it has left this woman.

Through the performance Joanne Sutton attempts to woo sleep; to trick it into coming; she fights for it, and fights against the impact of a never-ending sleeplessness. In a delightful performance, her energies rise and fall with the manipulation of time and being constantly awake.

Sarah Walker’s design traps the woman within the white sheets of her bed. Even as sleep avoids her, she must lie there, trapped, trying to make sense of it all. Hoping, just once, that the sleep will come and find her. Sutton, standing in the same position through the work has only her arms and face to communicate and reach out to her audience with.

Though this primary design set-up is simple, on top of this is built a beautifully complex dance between Kilpatrick’s text, animation by Thomas Russell, and music by Roderick Cairns. These three layers play into and on top of each other, and the animation and music highlight the deep structuring which exists in Kilpatrick’s text. As it is spoken, you can almost feel the way it would sit on the page, and underneath everything, you can truly feel the impetus for Kilpatrick to have written this work. An often ferocious energy to the text suggests the insomnia she suffered caused these words to bubble up and spill out of her with urgency.

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AdlFringe Review: I Am My Own Wife

Charles Mayer in I AM MY OWN WIFE. Photo courtesy of 3rd Culture Theatre

On a trip to Berlin-Mahlsdorf in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall, American playwright Doug Wright found the Gründerzeit Museum, a museum of furniture, gramophones, and records: everyday items which can seem insignificant, but truly capture history.

Wright was taken by the collection, but in particular the woman who ran it. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde in 1928, began living as a woman post the fall of the Third Reich, and her museum became known as a safe space in East Berlin’s gay circles. By the time Wright met her, she had lead an almost unbelievable life.

From recorded conversations with Mahlsdorf, news reports, and official files, Wright built up a verbatim theatre piece, with one actor playing all of the roles. Most of the show is filtered through Wright or Mahlsdorf, but through Mahlsdorf’s memories the play brings to life her family, friends, members of the SS and later the Stasi, to build up a portrait of this woman, her time as a transgender person through such turbulent times in Germany, and her museum.

In this production, actor Charles Mayer takes to the stage, directed by Craig Behenna. The small stage (framed by what is truly a remarkably and distractingly bad paint job where the black framing the stage reaches the off-white surrounding the seating bank) is sparsely but carefully adorned: a few pieces of furniture that would fit at home amongst Mahlsdorf’s collection, and strings of light bulbs bring a warmth to the space.

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