No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Theatre Review

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: In The Next Room, or the vibrator play

Amber McMahon. Photo by Shane Reid.

In this house in the 1880s, the drawing room can be the domain of Catherine Givings (Amber McMahon), the slightly frustrated wife, slightly depressed new mother. In the next room is the domain of Dr Givings (Renato Musilino). This is the room where the man of the house can do his work, treating his patients. Largely women. Largely though the power of that newfangled beast: electricity. And the newfangled thing that electricity powers: the vibrator. A strictly utilitarian machine for therapeutic treatment, the cure for hysteria.

Mr Daldry (Brendan Rock) is concerned about his wife, Sabrina (Lizzy Falkland). She is faint, shaky, tired, shies away from bright lights. Hysteria, Dr Givings diagnoses. Not to worry, he and midwife Annie (Katherine Fyffe) will treat her. Once daily. It will all work out fine. Not only is Sabrina treated, but she strikes up a friendship with Catherine, and offers her maid Elizabeth (Pamela Jikiemi), recently bereft of a infant son, up as Catherine’s wet nurse.

But now there is a new patient at Dr Givings office. Leo Irving (Cameron Goodall). But surely Dr Givings couldn’t treat a man? Or could he?

Sarah Ruhl’s In The Next Room, or the vibrator play, gives it all up to its audience front and centre. In this production under director Catherine Fitzgerald, the plot points detailed above are no more than window dressing: this is a comedy about vibrators.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Call

A man crouches downstage, staring into, or out of, a cage. He is talking to the chicken about to be slaughtered and plucked. What is his responsibility to its fate? Can you apologise to something before you kill it? In what circumstances is it okay to kill?

His workmates appear; rather less impressed with his philosophical bent. They laugh at his falling in love with a chicken, in wanting to fuck a chicken; the women of the bunch is offered up – fuck her instead.

Three men drive through night streets, doing coke off the dash-board. They yell and scream: about dads, about life, about women.

A man sits outside a night club: he’s not really feeling it tonight. A woman comes out and talks about running away, of having adventures, of seeing more of the world. Nah, he says. He’s okay here. They talk more, and soon, instead of discovering other countries and other cultures, they are exploring each other: hands touching material of silk, falling into bed together.

Three men stand on the edge of a bridge and try to get the nerve up to jump. They fail.

A young woman realises, despite all her plans for the future, she’s pregnant. This changes everything.

And finally I realise this is a play that does have a throughline, and it isn’t a series of isolated short stories. Patricia Cornelius’ The Call is written for four actors and thirteen characters: Gary (Tim Overton) is trying to find his way in a world where he doesn’t quite fit in with the crowd, and he suddenly finds himself with a baby on the way with his new partner Denise (Renee Gentle). In this new world he grows apart from his friends Chunk (Nic English) and Aldo (Guy O’Grady); and finds himself out of step with the new workmates (Gentle, English, O’Grady) in an ever cycling round of new workplaces he comes across in trying to provide for his family and find himself.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fringe Review: The Disappearances Project

Half-light. Two people sit in two wooden chairs. On the black screen, lights move in and out of view, in and out of focus. They are but reflections, lights’ movement captured in passing. Through the electronica score, we hear the murmur of water.  A voice cuts through.

These are the stories of the people who knew, or who once knew, the people now lost. Missing. Disappeared. Weeks, years, decades. Those left behind wait in limbo. Neither coming nor going.  For those left, a person erased with no method of leaving, a gap in knowledge, an incomplete history begetting an incomplete present, an unimaginable future.

Performers Irving Gregory and Yana Taylor drive us through this verbatim theatre work, through the words of the parents and the children, the friends, the acquaintances who passed for just a moment to share a lipstick. In The Disappearances Project we share a different view of the missing, concentric circles of the people they once knew. Stories that overlap and are undifferentiated. And at their centre: nothing. Disappeared.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Dark Room

The room is small.  One of those pokey rooms where you hope the sheets were changed from the last occupant, because the carpet certainly wasn’t vacuumed.  Brown is the colour of choice: patterns make it easier to hide the stains. At some hopeless attempt at natural light, a small boundary of windows lines the top of the room – but they really only let in the fluorescence of the car-park.  The television looks like it was picked out of the hard rubbish.  The bathroom is economical, which basically means it wouldn’t be a stretch to use the shower and toilet at the same time.  The overhead lights bulbously protrude from the ceilings in their fishbowl-like plastic covers; they are both too dim to properly see what you are doing, yet manage to cast a harsh light on the already harsh location.  It’s the sort of room you would expect to smell stale – of stale perspiration, stale cigarettes, stale sex, stale dreams from stale lives.

This room is no-one’s first choice in accommodation.

The Dark Room, Anna-Lise Phillips.

Grace (Billie Rose Pritchard), face hidden in a mask crudely made from a pillow case, doesn’t want to be there.  She knows youth worker Anni (Leah Purcell) promised to take her home, once.  Anni remembers this promise differently: she can’t take Grace to her house.  But where else can she go?  She can’t return to her abusive mother; no-one will take her in; can Grace send her back to the group home where she was sexually abused?  The hotel will do for the night; more of a plan will come in the morning. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

The seventeenth summer Olive (Susie Porter) will spend with Roo (Steve le Marquand) is beginning: the summer of 1953.  Every year, women of the city Olive and Nancy welcome Roo and Barney (Dan Wylie) down from the Queensland canefields for the five month layoff between seasons.  Five months of spending money, living the city life, partying with the women, being looked after by these women, and by Olive’s mother, Emma (Robyn Nevin), and dotting on the girl next door, Bubba (Yael Stone).

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll: Pearl and Bubba at the table

But the seventeenth year will be different.  Fed up with the nomadic lifestyle of her man, Nancy has gone off and married; she won’t be joining in the antics this summer.  In her place is Pearl (Helen Thompson), the widowed friend of Olive, who doesn’t quite seem sure about the arrangement at all. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: This Year’s Ashes

This Year's Ashes Production Shot: Ellen and a one night stand.  This is not her place.

Forming a new relationship can be a funny thing.

Perhaps they’re a friend-of-a-friend.  Or a friend-of-many-friends.  You’ve heard their name in conversations, over rooms, seen them comment on facebook status updates, anonymously followed them on twitter.  You’ve heard great things.  Or the curiously intriguing I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

So you jump on a plane to Sydney, walk through the streets (with a detour by the Harbour – so much water is remarkable and incomprehensible), with one hand on the Maps app on your phone, trying to find the hidden theatre you’ve never been to before.  You find it, a darling little shack of wood, sticking out on a corner, double doors open looking out onto the small suburban street.  You grab your ticket and program (the script, no less!) and a glass of wine, and sit down and watch the shinny procession of glizty dresses, tendered dos, and high heels walk their way through the foyer: this is not the audience you’d expected to be sitting in.

Okay, so maybe this is just a little bit specific to my own relationship with This Year’s Ashes. Read the rest of this entry »