No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Andrew Howard

Review: Random

Zindzi Okenyo. Photo by Sophia Calado.

Zindzi Okenyo. Photo by Sophia Calado.

debbie tucker green’s Random is a mammoth of a play for an actor to take on. It runs at under an hour, but asks a lot from its performer emotionally as she moves through the textually dense piece. Over the course of a day we follow a family – Mum, Dad, Brother and Sister – as they start their days, and then hear the news of a brutal, random knife attack on Brother.

Here director Nescha Jelk, making here State Theatre Company debut, also rests a lot on performer Zindzi Okenyo’s shoulders. In the first half of the play, Jelk places Okenyo in almost utter silence. Compounded by Ben Flett’s lighting that keeps Okenyo only lit from the waist up, Jelk is asking a lot of her audience, too, to train in and engage with the language of green’s text.

But lean in we do. green’s text brings a crammed, rhythmic poetry to everyday speech. This rhythm is intensified with the accents of the characters: the soft Jamaican lilt of Mum, the different tonal slangs of Brother and Sister. Some words are lost, particularly in the voice of Mum and at times it feels like the rhythm of the piece is more important to Jelk than the specific words.

In the first half, Okenyo fells most at home in the body of Sister – closest physically, but also the character she goes on to spend the most time in. Jelk gives Okenyo a breath between each character; transitions at first seem to be made too slowly, disrupting green’s internal rhythms. Lit by projections of blurred, muted colours as well as the rig, occasionally, too, transitions in the projection screens take away from the pace of green’s text. As the play develops, though, Jelk and Okenyo find the rhythms that speak through and they take over the performance.

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Review: The City

This review contains minor spoilers to the plot and the production. 

When Christopher (Chris Pitman) went to work today, his swipe card wouldn’t swipe. No matter what he did, the door wouldn’t register him. The cleaners didn’t even recognise him. As Clair (Lizzy Falkland) waited for the train today, a man came up, worried he hadn’t had a chance to say good-bye to his daughter. Recapping their days, overlaps and intersections of the mundane and the important, husband and wife talk past each other more than they talk to each other.

Slowly, their lives dislocate: Christopher finds himself unemployed – was the failed swipe card a sign?; Clair finds herself drawn to the man from the train station, Mohamed; their lives are interrupted by strange tales and accusations from their neighbour, Jenny (Anna Steen).

Martin Crimp’s The City, here presented by nowyesnow and directed by Geordie Brookman is a tight and tense look at lives that, while, perhaps aren’t faltering, are wrecked with tautness and strain. Crimp’s text, tightly woven and obsessed with structure, holds its audience at arms length: there is a mystery to the work, but it takes much labour to find your way into his mind and the mind of his characters.

Despite all my preparation for seeing The City, I wasn’t on top of the piece until the final scene in this production. In Crimp’s world, eerie and out-of-balance, nothing can be assumed to be the truth. As soon as you come to this realisation, as soon as you start noticing the cracks in this world, everything that is said is questioned. Things that once seemed true become lies, things that seemed lies become true, and even as the play ends I couldn’t tell where the frame of the “real” world within Crimp’s work began, and an imaginary world ended. Was any of it intended to be true? Was the whole thing fallacy after fallacy, lie wrapped up in a lie?

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Review: Boxing Day Test

Lest anyone be scared off by the title, no more than your absolute basic knowledge of cricket will be required when watching Boxing Day Test. My knowledge perhaps only just extends to the finer points of tippy go, and believe it is best experienced by playing on a sand bar.  I have absolutely no idea of how the scoring works, and to be honest I don’t much care to know.

After I couldn’t go to the Opening Night, or the following night, I was offered tickets to the preview performance: a night I could go to, but I wouldn’t have any time following to write about it.  I also felt strange about going and reviewing on a preview.  I have no problem with going to preview performances, and have done so frequently, but I also feel if I’m reviewing “professionally” then these shows should be untouched.  And they’re probably glad I didn’t review it: I heard the show went for four hours, had five stops, and twice actors were left suspended from the ceiling for eight minutes.  Oh, wait, no, that was Spiderman! The Musical!

This review originally appeared on  www.australianstage.com.au.

Christmas. It’s that time of year again. For some, a time for families, celebration, and looking forward into the future of a new year. Or for others, just the day before Boxing Day, and with it, the glory of the Boxing Day Test. For brothersPatrick (Tim Overton) and David (Nic English) and the Christmas approaching the one-year anniversary of their mother’s death, this test is going to be tougher than most.

Michael Hill’s Boxing Day Test is an often dark and tense look at a particularly hurt family, with damage traipsing back fourteen years finally coming out. Around the holiday,Dave flirts and connects with Patrick’s crush and fellow law student Sophie (Renee Gentle). To try and save from eviction, Patrick asks their father, John (Patrick Frost), to buy the house: he doesn’t realise this will mean his father coming back uninvited into Dave’s life.

Floating around for at least eight years, in an earlier incarnation, entitled Poor BrotherHill was shortlisted in the 2002 Jill Blewett Playwright’s Award, awarded at Adelaide Writers Week biennially. Despite these early accolades,Junglebean (a young company established and run by EnglishOverton and Gentle) is giving the script its world premiere production. It is a terrible sign as to the state of presentations of new works by South Australian writers that an accomplished piece of text has taken so long to reach the stage.

But through Junglebean, and under direction and dramaturgy by Duncan Graham, audiences are finally getting the chance to discover the script. While slightly uneven, where the piece tends to get unnecessarily bogged down in verbalisation rather than simply allowing the strength of character to come through, Boxing Day Test is a crafted portrait of four human and flawed characters, some more than most, and it is the final destination of each of these characters that truly creates the production.

Such characters cannot be brought to the stage without a strong cast. Here, English is the standout. While Dave is often unlikable in his actions, English strikes the balance between tortured soul, sexy bad boy, and a hint of brains, to create a thoroughly engaging character.

Frost is in fine form in the most narrowly written of the characters, yet this is a play that belongs to its young cast.Overton and Gentle truly come into their characters towards the last third of the play, as their characters are drawn in to the conflict. Gentle as Sophie in the last scene in particular left my heart beating. Overton does his best turn not as the straight-laced-student Patrick, but the drugged up Patrick. Where Gentle finds her best performance asSophie finds great strength, Overton finds his best as Patrick falls apart.

In an interesting directorial choice by Graham there is minimal physical contact between all characters on stage. While violence and sexual relationships are spoken about and are the overall themes of the piece, when onstage they are never extended beyond a short grab or a skimming embrace. While emotions run raw in a play that is so much about physical mistreatment, Graham never expands these emotions physically. This interestingly serves to create a level of frustration in these restrictions placed, yet highlights the tensions which are already present in the text, and do not need to be literalised.

Even in the one scene of overt violence, Graham maximises on the skills designers Tammy BodenAndrew Howard and Ben Flett, as a fight is created with a single actor, strobe lights, and frantic music. It is simultaneously a brutal exploration of violence and an exploration of the power of theatre to create images and ideas where there are none.

Playing around in the bleak, near squalor, of Boden’s simple, pared back and realistic set, Flett’s lighting design is tight, quickly changing between scenes in interplay between an abrupt change in Howard’s sound design. Within the frenetical world of the characters (particularly when under the influence of drugs or beer) these abrupt changes and high energy add to the tension of the construct.

As a counterpoint to these moments of high energy, Flett’s lights in the moments of tension and near quiet highlight the menace and pain within the script and the characters. Within the already small forum of The Bakehouse this extreme tightening serves to constrict focus onto the best parts of English’s performance.

Howard’s sound, primarily used in the scene changeovers and for snippets of commentary from the actual Boxing Day Test on the television, but also as more of a sound track to scenes veering on montage, provides a palpable energy and helps build the humour and the tension within the script.

The piece, while a fully contained story about a single familial conflict, also satisfyingly feels as if it fits into a much larger framework: there is a clear trajectory of where the characters have come from to get to this point, and an ambiguous yet present trajectory that these characters and relationship continue off the page beyond the confines of Hill’s script.

Yet, while HillGraham and Junglebean are tackling tough subjects that take a risk, overall it almost veers too much on a side of caution. Deliberate ambiguity in the set up led me to concoct a much darker storyline in my head, ultimately incongruent with the conclusion of the piece. The production would benefit from being pushed just a bit further into darkness and over that edge it sits on. Nonetheless, Boxing Day Test is a strong, new Australian work, from a young Australian company, which deserve to be seen.

Junglebean presents Boxing Day Test by Michael Hill.  Directed by Duncan Graham, set and costume designer Tammy Boden, sound designer Andrew Howard, lighting designer Ben Flett.  With Nic English, Patrick Frost, Renee Gentle and Tim Overton. 

Almost a review: romeo&juliet

It may be thought we held him carelessly,
Being our kinsman, if we revel much.
Therefore we’ll have some half a dozen friends,
And there an end. But what say you to Thursday?

– Act III, Scene IV

I think when you’re in high school, the texts and films you are exposed to in English and Drama tend to be either the best thing or the worst thing in the world. You’re a teenager: there isn’t a middle ground. It can be very dependent on the teacher,  but sometimes great teachers can assign terrible texts, while terrible teachers can expose you to playwrights, and knowledge about those playwrights, which still shape the way you look at theatre when you’re 21. Sometimes, they’re terrible simply because you have to read or watch them fifty million times, and you get asked inane questions on what the author was trying to deeply symbolise. My answers that maybe they just liked it, or “because it was funny” didn’t always go down a treat.

What good is Shakespearian tragedy without violence? Great movement choreography by Larissa McGowan. Michaela Cantwell as Romeo, Thomas Conroy as Mercutio and Mark Saturno as Tybalt. Photo by Shane Reid

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