Archive for the 'Theatre' Category

20
May
17

Deal Or Ordeal

 

DEAL OR ORDEAL

Ms. Demeanours Theatre

Anywhere Theatre Festival

May 10 – 20 2017

Reviewed by Katy Cotter 

You know the Channel 7 show Deal or No Deal? What an afternoon delight full of bright wigs, gold cases and a host, it would seem, on copious amounts of speed. Just joking, Andrew O’Keefe is hilarious. But like many of those afternoon programs spending money that our government should be saving to pay back our national debt, the viewers know it’s all a bit of frivolous fun. You can sit back and relax, and trust nothing life-altering will happen.

The creative team behind Deal or Ordeal was very aware of what their consenting audience was to experience. They wanted to start a conversation about Sexual Harassment and Rape Culture in Australia. Ms. Demeanours Theatre explained, “With consent being reduced to a game, and victims being blamed and dismissed, we thought, why not take that concept to a new level?”

This show was a part of Anywhere Theatre Festival, and I arrived at a residence in Highgate Hill, to be seated in a garage set up like a TV studio. There was a shimmering gold curtain and bright lights, it was brilliant!

The audience was introduced to three hosts (Mikaela Hollands, Sophie Gliori and Maddi Romcke), all charming ladies that were loud and over-bearing in their cause to win us over. The games resulted in sharing shocking facts about sexual harassment and rape in Australia and involved audience participation, but only to those willing. Before we entered, we were given a card that said DEAL on one side and NO DEAL on the other. If getting up on stage was too terrifying a thought, then you’d show the NO DEAL sign and you were saved from being forced to do anything you didn’t want to do. The audience’s consent was cherished during the performance. 

The work runs a fine line of being annoyingly over-the-top and cringeworthy, as well as being confronting, honest and informative. This was an intentional choice to allow people to enjoy the “entertainment” side and immerse themselves in the “game,” yet remaining unsettled because of the horrible topic being discussed. There came gasps of horror at some statistics – this show packed a punch!

The ladies made sure to acknowledge their awareness that men are also victims of sexual harassment by female perpetrators, however; they chose to focus around their own personal experiences in the creative development of the show. The focus on men was tedious at times, though ultimately it was the right choice to go with. I did ponder afterwards, what it would be like hearing from the male perspective…? 

My favourite moment came at the end when the three hosts dropped character, removed the blue wigs, and the performers as themselves were revealed. They each stood before us and recited a poem about one of their most intimate experiences. I applaud them for their bravery and I will carry those stories with me. It put the whole show into perspective. A heaviness was left in the air, a weight each audience member now carried and were responsible for. We now had the power to make a change. I found myself reflecting on my own experiences and relating to the women in front of me. I left more informed and with a fire in my belly to speak out. 

Deal or Ordeal is an intelligent piece of theatre, clearly well researched, and each performer passionate about making their voice heard.

There is a stigma, a white noise, around sexual harassment and rape. This show urges its audience to break the silence and get talking. With open communication and education, we can start to move forward as a society. We have the power to stop the shaming and the abuse, and promote safe and consensual sexual practice.

08
May
17

The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Lyrical & Stage Presence

In Association With David Atkins Enterprises & ABA

May 4 – 14 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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If you’ve ever seen, or been involved in your local amateur theatrical productions, you know this play.

This was the ideal production to see at the end of a massive week of the Masters course, with a number of things due and a third of the ensemble at my house for half the week, due to various configurations of groups and scene partners, the stress compounded by very little sleep and a whole lot of the usual travel on Sunshine Coast roads that are just not coping with the rapidly increasing number of drivers. We’re based at The J, Noosa, because our USC campus has offered the creative arts courses without having the facilities to house them. We love The J but nevertheless, we’ve all submitted a heartfelt survey response…

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Originally staged in a North London pub, then on West End and Broadway, The Play That Goes Wrong is a production that literally brings the house down. A genius notion turned into an award-winning cookie cutter formula from young actors/writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, has given us everyman’s Fawlty Towers meets Noises Off. While Noises Off may be the slightly cleverer, more sophisticated show (we’ll see it soon), The Play That Goes Wrong is right on cue, and it’s on right now and it’s precisely the right thing to see if you’re in need of a good, laugh-out-loud evening of entertainment. And who isn’t craving a bit of light release?

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The simple genius of this play is that it’s a total parody of everything amateur, with a delicious premise packed full of pompous performers straight out of the community theatre green room/club room/somebody’s living room, which makes us laugh because it’s what we know to be true of any well meaning community theatre company. I wish more of the locals would get to see this production, and I wish the same locals would get to see our Queensland Theatre, La Boite and Noosa alive! productions. They may wish to charge slightly less then, for the productions they’ve convinced themselves are just as professional as anything on a professional stage. Really? Have you seen one lately? If you’re happy to hop up and have some fun with some friends, please just ask for a donation at the door and give us all a large glass of wine with our ticket. I’ve said as much for years. I may also have said that the alternative involves actually taking on board the feedback you ask for, and getting better at putting on shows. 

Anyway, the conceit is this: here we are, at a dreadful, over-directed community theatre production of The Murder at Haversham Manor, a tidy little 1920s murder mystery in the tradition of the Agatha Christie style whodunnits featuring Inspector Hercule Poirot. The poor company has suffered from budgetary challenges and the loss of company members, making it impossible to stage their productions as intended. Instead, they have produced variations on the classics, including The Lion and the Wardrobe, Chekhov’s Two Sisters and Lloyd Webber’s CAT.

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The set is a brilliant disaster (Designer Nigel Hook), magically falling apart on cue, and making it a stage manager’s dream and their worst nightmare (Company Stage Manager Anneke Harrison and Production Manager & Head Mechanist David Worthy). It’s absolutely the stage manager’s show, and given a greater chance to flesh out their stereotypical characters, it might be a more satisfying show for the actors too. They clearly relish the physical comedy, accomplishing astonishing feats of balance and the expert juggling of props, as doors refuse to close (and then refuse to open), books fall from shelves, shelves fall from walls, walls and floors fall… you get the idea.

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Original Director, Mark Bell, has taken the play-within-a-play formula to the extreme, even including in the first half of the printed souvenir program, the actual program for Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s show. This includes a heartfelt note from Director, Chris Bean, who also plays Inspector Carter (Nick Simpson-Deeks, the very model of an actor who thinks he’s nailed the English inspector character) and the full fictional bios of Cornley Polytechnic’s company members: Jonathan Harris who plays Charles Faversham (Darcy Brown), Robert Grove who plays Thomas Colleymoore (Luke Joslin, every bit the pompous Leading Man/Lord of the Manor/Master), Sandra Wilkinson who plays Florence Colleymore (Brooke Satchwell, in all her smokey vocal jubilant glory), Max Bennet who plays Cecil Faversham (James Marlowe), Dennis Tyde who plays Perkins (George Kemp, hilariously timid and pathetic), Annie Twilloil, stage manager & initially reluctant stand-in (Tammy Weller) and Trevor Watson, the Duran Duran loving lighting and sound operator who thought he was signing up to a house rave (Adam Dunn). We also get glimpses of Francine Cain, Jordan Prosser and Matthew Whitty behind the scenes. It’s a stellar Australian cast, directed by Sean Turner, to bring us every fine, funny detail of the disaster that community theatre so often turns out to be. It’s fast-paced basic slapstick; Sam says it’s “dinner theatre without the dinner”. (He is of the opinion it should have stayed in the pubs).

Our party of four split up and the boys sat so far back in QPAC’s Concert Hall that they missed a lot of the nuance in the facial expressions, making the indulgent set ups and in-jokes a little too much to believe. But in Row D Mel and I missed nothing and we loved every minute of it. Ideally, for the vast majority, the more intimate Cremorne Theatre would be the place to see this show.

Is The Play That Goes Wrong just well-funded fancy comedy for the lowest common denominator? Or brilliant, entertaining worthwhile art? Is it a million dollar show? (It’s making close to that each night just at QPAC)! It’s certainly fun and fast and very funny if you’re prepared to see it for what it is, and give yourself permission to simply enjoy it.

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07
May
17

Once In Royal David’s City

Once In Royal David’s City

Queensland Theatre & Black Swan State Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

April 22 – May 14 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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THE THEATRE IS THE THEATRE. THE CHARACTER IS THE CHARACTER. THE ACTOR IS AN ACTOR. THE STORY IS A STORY.

 

Great art is as multifaceted as life: sometimes perplexing, sometimes heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking. Sometimes, it is all of these things at once.

Sam Strong, Artistic Director, Queensland Theatre

 

Sam Strong’s directorial debut for Queensland Theatre is powerful, affecting, and lingering, leaving us with the essence of Michael Gow’s most recent work long after we leave the theatre, wondering, just as Professor Julius Sumner Miller did, “why is it so?” This great play hasn’t been touched since its Belvoir Street premiere (2014)…

Once In Royal David’s City is cleverly Brecht at its contemporary best. This seems an odd thing to say, because Brecht done properly is contemporary, challenging us to recognise the message in the story, and question what we see on stage, and go away and affect social change in our current contemporary context.

Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.

Berthold Brecht

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In case you don’t know anything about Brechtian theatre though, the protagonist, a slightly disillusioned middle-aged director of theatre, Will Drummond (Jason Klarwein in his most compelling performance to date), will explain everything. You’ll also find Michael Beh’s notes in the program. It’s a style created by German director, Bertolt Brecht, so often misconstrued, and messed up in the process, making whatever tale is being told lifeless and meaningless on stage, when its purpose is to be anything but. BUT Strong’s stark and sincere production puts political theatre back on the agenda and reveals the machinations behind the boldest sort of theatrical storytelling. It’s very Brecht.

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Beautifully and simply lit by Matt Scott (the exposed lights rigged in plain sight are a work of art in themselves), an expansive stark white set by Stephen Curtis uses every inch of the stage, its depth a particular point of interest since the initial hospital scenes are staged there, as if to allow a slightly more comfortable distance between the audience and the awkward events and unbearable emotions of staying, while a loved one is lying there, quietly, patiently dying…

We will all lose – or will have already lost – a parent, and it’s something we don’t necessarily talk about. It’s one of those things we go through and we know others go through, and we send love and light and hugs and emojis in a comment thread on Facebook, and yet it remains a very personal, often very lonely experience. Once In Royal David’s City reminds us that no matter how compassionate we think we are, we can never know quite what another person feels or thinks at this time. At any time… Will is, understandably, in complete denial at first, witness to the excuses his father makes when he can no longer recognise or correctly form the words he needs, and when his mother makes excuses for him (he’s had a cold for so long!), and when she falls ill shortly after his father’s death (she’s always so tired! And her aching back!), and is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (spoiler alert!), which leads to her rapid demise during the Christmas holiday. Will is determined to make a difference in the world, and eventually, he resigns himself to teaching. His faltering confidence, after failing an actor in his company during a doomed production of The Importance of Being Earnest, a delightfully funny scene and a masterclass in posture and articulation, leads him home for a Christmas unlike any other.

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There is such beautiful attention to detail, in the nuanced performances and also, in the way Strong has pieced together the bits of story, the bits of these untidy lives and neat-as-a-pin seamless transitions, using curtains to separate the spaces on stage.

It’s a uniformly excellent cast, a terrific combination of some of our established and emerging talent; a meeting of minds and hearts and skill sets from across the companies. Joining Klarwein on stage are Penny Everingham (a beautifully transparent Jeannie), Steve Turner (Bill/Wally/Ensemble), Toni Scanlan (Gail/Ensemble), Adam Sollis (Boy/Ensemble), Kaye Stevenson (Molly/Ensemble), Adam Booth (Andrei/Doctor) and Emma Jackson (Jess/Ensemble). Each has an opportunity to shine, bringing beautifully developed fully alive characters to the story. Sollis is memorable as the boy, in a moment imbued with hope, human kindness and acceptance, and Jackson gives a very funny, very accurate depiction of a reality television star turned manufactured superstar in the Christmas Eve Carols By Candlelight lineup. Will’s disparaging remarks about the programming and the talent involved (or the lack thereof), delivered from the comfort of a green beanbag on the floor as he flicks from one channel to the next as he gradually gleans some understanding of the cancer his mum has developed, elicit sniggers, and groans of recognition and sympathy because GOW IS SO RIGHT ABOUT THAT. And so many other things. 

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The magical thing is this: it’s almost so familiar that it’s actually incredibly un-theatrical. And at the same time, it’s the most masterfully constructed and manipulated meta-theatrical work we’ve seen in several years. A must-see, Once In Royal David’s City is warm and funny, and real and alarming, and richly rewarding. It closes, appropriately, on Mother’s Day.

28
Apr
17

ENGLAND

 

ENGLAND

Nathan Booth, Matt Seery & Metro Arts

Metro Arts Gallery

April 19 – 29 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward / Meredith Walker

 

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LOOK.

The floor creaks comfortingly (or disturbingly perhaps, if it’s your first time here), and the walls are almost completely bare, except for selected works by up and coming Brisbane artists, their pieces, for me, neither relevant nor irrelevant to the play, which is about art and heart and perspective.

The ink on the concrete stairs has worn off in some places, barely reminding us of who lives here, and who lends support to the place. The lift is out of order. I never used it. But others need to…

I’m flying solo, as I often am in galleries, when I take myself off on an “artist’s date”, to gather myself and spend time in spaces dedicated to nourishing us, rather than robbing us of feeling, of seeing, of soul.

In a post-show Q and A session to his 2013 Brisbane Festival show I, Malvolio, Tim Crouch described his advocacy of asking new questions about the artform through increasing consciousness of the alert and alive relationship between audiences and theatre makers, united in a live situation. Those who saw Crouch’s An Oak Tree at the Bille Brown Studio in 2011 will expect no less from the experimental theatre maker, given that work’s failure to play by ‘the rules’ by including a guest actor, without script familiarity, being guided through the performance by stage directions fed through an earpiece.

This is the world of Tim Crouch and of his 2007 work ENGLAND, which rejects typical theatrical conventions and, instead, invites its audience to help create the work. Perhaps as a consequence, the provocative text has only ever been performed once before in Australia. But this only makes the Queensland premiere of the tricky work from Nathan Booth and Matt Seery, the Hamish and Andy of the Brisbane theatre scene, all the more impressive.

Certainly there are easier challenges in theatre than taking on a show like ENGLAND. The script allows for anything; lines are not allocated to performers and there are no stage directions or indications regarding set or lighting. Yet, in Seery’s directorial hands, the scatter becomes a sophisticated performance work that starts as a gallery tour before becoming so much more in its look at life and impending death.

The story is well suited to the intimate venue of Metro Arts’ Gallery and the staging is well managed to account for the limitations of the space, which sees the action move from Brisbane to London and from a clean-lined gallery to a shabby sitting room. It begins with two attendants who share a duologue in talk of a wealthy art-dealer boyfriend in need of a heart transplant and as guide of the audience through a contemporary art exhibition (the work of artists Amelia K Fulton, Brigid Holt, Dana Lawrie, Charlie Meyers and Damien Pasquale), with comment on the works’ amazing colours and how art should be for all. As the audience is urged to look at the lines and colours and even the wood of the floor, we are reminded of the beauty of life’s little details, even as description moves to what’s on the walls of a doctor’s surgery and then in the search for health at any cost. It is a work of two acts at either end of the stylistic spectrum and yet it works, more because of, rather than in spite of, its contrasting forms.

Give the site-specific nature of the work, audience members should aim to arrive early to wander around the gallery until the work begins with performers Barbara Lowing and Steven Tandy take place to part the crowd and take command of the space. A two-hander from Lowing and Tandy is weighted with expectation; each brings a wealth of experience to the show and, accordingly, in their hands, the dialogue flows easily without overwhelming the delicate nature of the production.

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LOOK.

I end up sitting rather than standing, so tired, in the darker end of the space beyond a wall, waiting for the play to begin (are they late to start? It feels like they are late to start), and with a number of other guests, I’m asked to move back to the central, well-lit space, which is where we’ll start, standing for perhaps 25 minutes. I suddenly regret the decision to bring a tote that I must hold with both hands, rather than a little Miss London clutch. My wrap, in case it’s cold, for the record, does not fit into the clutch, so…..

Steven Tandy and Barb Lowing, all in black except for Lowing’s statement floral scarf, enter the space with the authority of tour guides or gallery owners. They are the same person. But we don’t know this right away; the realisation drops in later as we process the strategically shared narrative. It’s a lovely surprise, quite unexpected, because who else but our Tom Holloway can write like this, with lines left unsaid and many more overlapping and repeated? LOOK. We have a sense that some theatrical cleverness is at work, but without any pretentiousness or actual theatricality whatsoever, writer (and actor) Tim Crouch simply delivers the story. The actors simply deliver the story. It’s rare that high expectations are met.

They’re more than competent, assured enough to trust and let the text do its work (other actors say they do this, but rarely do they let things be and actually do this), and directed by Matt Seery (his Directing Mentor, La Boite’s Todd MacDonald), which lets us experience, moment to moment, at the core of the work, at its heart, sensitivity, beauty, patience and grace. And then there are the political layers; layer upon layer upon layer…what IS beneath the niqab, anyway? Only the eyes… LOOK.

This is a wake-up call for some, and palliative care for the not-knowing-they’re-already-dead set.

These actors are no less than iconic in our industry, both adored, genuinely respected; their performances in ENGLAND are testament to their ability and sensitivity as performers. These characters – this character, which they share in the first act – is someone gravely ill, waiting to die…waiting to live. Waiting to live, given a new chance to do so, given a new heart… An Islamic heart, which has become available through diabolical means, and accepted with basic, innocent gratitude. 

Lowing is a tour-de-force on any stage and Tandy gives a finely balanced performance in counterpoint to the vulnerability and strength of her presence. Indeed, it is testament to the craft of both the artists that they are at most captivating when seated in a conversation of sorts for second half of show, when travel is made to an unnamed country to thank the widow of a heart donor with a gift of a valuable painting. The ambient sound design and intricately composed score, are similarly memorable in their frame of the story’s essential emotions.

 

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In Act 2 the narrator offers the gift of a valuable work of art to the widow of the man whose heart she/he has within her, and a translator reduces the conversation to its essence. It’s absolutely fascinating to watch Tandy ponder, mentally processing what he must say aloud to make the conversation between the two women possible, plausible, relatable, reasonable. It’s heartbreaking to tumble into Lowing’s abyss of ignorance and misconception and wistfulness and wonderment, and frustration and anger and guilt and pity and……. for some reason, I’m thinking about My Name is Lucy Barton, another extraordinary piece of writing, and then, with fireworks, a display that’s fierce and frightening and shocking, before I can think any more about anything at all, the play is suddenly finished. But nobody moves. Nobody applauds. Nobody can move. And then, finally, after several deep breaths, there is applause. And we can go. And I do, because it’s a slightly earlier night than usual and, we are done. But not. This piece will stay beneath my skin for a bit, like ink. A reminder. Art permeates life. And love. And life.

ENGLAND is a wonderful show of little details and big thematic ideas about, for example, the effect of art and what constitutes its meaning. Much like last week’s Australian Stella Prize annual literary award winner, The Museum of Modern Love, it captures art’s ability to ‘wake you up, break your heart and make you fearless’.

The creators of the exhibition/performance/gallery tour that is ENGLAND have crafted something very special from its most arbitrary of guidelines. At once beautiful, powerful and devastating, it is an affecting and rewarding theatrical interaction, layered with meaning for contemplation and conversation about the difference between looking and seeing and the need for art in all its manifestations to enrich, sustain and lift us out of life’s hardships. 

This is a provocative piece for galleries…and for humans. It comes boldly, exquisitely from a team of creative hearts to yours.

24
Apr
17

Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead

Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead

Applespiel

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

April 20 – 29 2017

 

Reviewed by Meredith Walker

 

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Have you ever had someone in your life at one time, who you lost contact with?

Someone you cared about.

How many years has it been since you’ve seen them?

Do you know where they are now?

If you did, what would you do?

Have you ever had someone who just…vanished?

 

It’s Wollongong, 2010 and two weeks before performing in an honours show, Jarrod Duffy, friend and member of the performance collective, Applespiel, doesn’t show up for a rehearsal. He’s disappeared, leaving behind the furniture at his house and no answers from phone calls, emails and Facebook searches.

Jarrod Duffy Is Not Dead is the story of that disappearance and Applespiel’s hunt to find their missing friend. It is important to know this essential premise before attending the show, because of the poignancy it brings to the photographs that are shared on-screen at its beginning as audience members sit in thought of the memories that lie behind the images and the emotions evoked by their recollection. Those most affected, however, are those who lost a friend, the members of Applespiel who begin the podcast section of the show with overlay of dialogue about Duffy’s character.

 

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This initial section is particularly engaging in its authentic recreation of an episodic series, utlitising the genre’s features and respecting its usual structure. As it progresses from recollection of ‘good times’ antics, last conversations, speculative concerns for his safety and possible hints to the idea of leaving, to memories of the initial days after his first disappearance, it becomes clear that ‘memory is shitty’, allowing the audience to share in Duffy’s friends’ frustrations at initially dismissing his disappearance with stories of his flakiness and of how over time, blurred memories create amalgamated stories and even more uncertainly. But things are not all as they seem, as the audience realises in a second half that sees standup, song and appearance of the titular Duffy c/o cardboard cut-outs and then some.

 

As essentially a show of two halves, Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead is an ambitious work of anthropological storytelling that shows how sometimes you need to tell a story to have others ‘get it’. The resulting exploration of truth is both complex and compelling as we are posed questions about the meaning of ‘normal’, when a story exists and the need for narrative closure.

 

There is audience manipulation around original premise with its mention of figures of long term missing persons and the notion of bystander apathy, but deliberately so. As such, the show represents the fundamental nature of Metro Arts’ programming and championing of contemporary arts practice. As a part theatre, part live podcast show, Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead is far from a typical theatre experience. But that is its appeal. Its blend of live action and digital imagery is sure to give audiences much to talk about in terms of its artform as much as its message, provoked by its evocative final question of ‘do you get it?’

 

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12
Apr
17

I Am My Own Wife

I Am My Own Wife

Oriel Productions

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

April 4 – 8 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like during the Third Reich. The Nazis, and then the Communists? It seems to me, you’re an impossibility. You shouldn’t even exist.

Doug Wright, I Am My Own Wife

I Am My Own Wife is the most incredible theatrical experience; an intimate and secretive (like, a secret society downstairs underground back room Weimar Cabaret performance…oh, wait), and one of our more memorable evenings at the theatre; it’s one that I’ll treasure not only for its extraordinary story, but more so, for its captivating star performer.

Ben Gerrard saw the Tony Award winning production starring Jefferson Mays, which toured Australia in 2006 and “never in a million years would’ve imagined” that he would one day attempt to do the same, playing more than 30 roles in two acts over 90 minutes, to tell the true story of Berlin’s famous transvestite, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

Pulitzer Prize winner, Doug Wright – he also wrote Quills, Grey Gardens and the stage adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid – joined Charlotte in Berlin for a series of interviews over several years, in which she shared her survival stories and precious collection of antiquities, satisfyingly represented in this production by tiny wooden boxes, all of different sizes, hidden intrinsically within the surface of a quaint three-legged table. Against a wall of yellowed official documents, the stories spill forth, in a precise German accent and with a slightly mischievous sense of humour, which makes us wonder how much of any story is actually the truth. Gerrard is so completely convincing as this enigmatic character that I feel as if this is who I would expect to meet after the show. But we know the real Charlotte died of a heart attack in her eclectic downstairs museum, aged 74, in 2002. She had survived the Nazi and Communist regimes, collecting clocks and phonographs and gramophone records (“re-cords”), and other items of interest, and had been involved in the black market before she operated as an informant. She established an underground bar in her basement for Berlin’s LGBT+ community – the last Weimar Cabaret of the the gay 1890s – and dressed as a woman in sensible all-black-everything.

Caroline Camino’s simple, sombre design, Hugh Hamilton’s moody, poor man’s lighting and Nate Edmondson’s evocative soundscape wholly support Gerrard’s multiple voices whilst remaining true to the main character’s obsessions with precious things. Perhaps Charlotte’s love of objects more than people stemmed from the fact that there were very few upon whom she could rely. But then we discover that she betrays a friend and colleague, Alfred, and we understand that her loyalties do indeed lie at home, where she doesn’t need anyone. Proudly and defiantly, she offers the utterance that became the play’s title, “I am my own wife”.

A tender scene depicts the day of enlightenment for he-who-would-be-she, Lothar Berfelde, when the support of a cross-dressing aunt manifests in her wry observation, having caught him wearing one of her frocks, which she’d long since discarded in favour of men’s pants, that “nature got it wrong”. She gives him a copy of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Die Transvestiten, which becomes Charlotte’s bible for her newly self-determined life. It’s a beautiful story in itself, a quiet nod to our instinctual nature, our desire to connect with others – or not – and our need to be seen. This is just one of many moments, so sensitively, meticulously crafted by talented Director, Shaun Rennie, in which Gerrard captures our hearts and our imagination.

Having seen Mark Kilmurry’s production of David Williamson’s Odd Man Out (twice!), I was delighted to see Rennie have the opportunity this year to be a “fly on the wall” at Ensemble, under Kilmurry’s expert eye.

My favourite space here, the intimate Visy Theatre in the stripped-back Brisbane Powerhouse is ideal, allowing us to feel as if we’re there in the dingy room with Wright and his subject, peering curiously over his shoulder as he chats with her. The stories – the bits and pieces of them – are incredible, almost beyond belief, as tales of oppression and horror are to those of us lucky enough to avoid similar life experience.

And then came the wall. And for us here in Eastern Berlin, it was finished, gay life. The bars, closed. Personal advertisements in the newspaper, cancelled. No place to meet but the tramway stations and the public toilets?

So I thought to give homosexual women and men community in this house. Yes. It was a museum for all people, but I thought, “Why not for homosexuals?”… And there was over the bar an attic. When a boy or girl met a man, and wanted to go upstairs, they could. Two men, two girls, a boy and a girl? it did not matter….

There’s no rush to get past the uncomfortable details, including a gruesome self-confessed murder (yeah, but did you do it?), but instead, the moments are precisely measured and the mood is mostly constrained. Even in the opening moments, we get a sense of mastery and secrecy, and immense trust when Gerrard enters the dimly lit space to find his light centrestage, and sweeps his eyes over his audience, making eye contact with many of us from just a couple of metres away before he disappears into the darkness again… Something unspoken has happened, a deal has been wordlessly sealed.

Gerrard is a beautifully poised and accomplished actor who knows every trick in the book and still comes across as genuine and whole-hearted, able to make a pact with the audience early, and establish that rare and magical, unbreakable personal connection until the end. Later, Gerrard communicates on the same intimate level; open, curious, completely trusting. The quietest, strongest presence in a foyer full of excited, delighted and completely satisfied opening night chatter.

Who would have imagined that while the wonderful Elise McCann was with Matilda the Musicalwinning a Helpmann Award for her work on stages around the country as Miss Honey, she was simultaneously making this humble little show happen, and having the most profound impact on a whole different sector of the community. If Oriel Group’s I Am My Own Wife comes anywhere near you, you simply must see it.

10
Apr
17

Red Sky Morning

Red Sky Morning

Room to Play

Lisa Taylor-King Gallery

March 29 – April 8 2017

 

Reviewed by Katy Cotter

 

 

Room To Play Theatre

Lauded Australian playwright, Tom Holloway’s, beautiful work is given grace by Brisbane actors, Wayne Bassett, Maddi Kennedy – Tucker and Heidi Manche.

 

Room to Play strives to create intimate performances in industrial-like spaces outside of the typical theatre. It was my first visit to the Lisa Taylor-King Gallery in Newmarket, and when I stepped inside a backyard tin shed I was intrigued. Being familiar with Australian playwright Tom Holloway’s work, I knew this setting was a perfect match for his story Red Sky Morning. The play has three characters – a man, a woman, and a girl – and it focuses on a traumatic event in the family’s life.

Holloway’s style arose from the post-dramatic movement. During a time when theatre was becoming experimental and fragmented, Holloway took what he loved from those plays and began inserting narrative back in. With overlapping dialogue, reading his plays can be quite the challenge, though seeing one performed well is a testament to his great writing. Director Beth Child has achieved this.

The action was minimal, having each character claim a small portion of the stage. The man (Wayne Bassett) was seated on a sun-bleached grey bench, used to look out over his property or as a counter in his hardware shop. The girl, played by (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) occupied a computer chair that shifted from being a warm bed to curl up on, or a couch to disappear into. The woman, (Heidi Manche) had a chaise-lounge that acted as a bed, a kitchen bench, and a barrier against her stark reality.

Child focussed on the text, which, as I’ve mentioned, switches rapidly at times back and forth between the characters. The actors handled this with precision, listening intently to each other and harnessing the musicality of Holloway’s writing. There were three pauses I can recall when all action and speaking ceased, and the actors and audience were awarded a breath. These were consciously placed by the director and allowed a moment of reflection – the silence was beautiful. Though the pace was mostly all go-go-go, I loved watching the character’s melt into heartbreaking moments, revealing the humanity of Holloway’s work.

These are ordinary people – like you and me – and feelings of frustration, desperation and despair are relatable. Also our ability to laugh in dark times. There are plenty of comedic moments in this play.

A genuine connection exists between the characters and the audience that is not forced. They are confessing their secrets to us, but Child’s direction allows us to ease in and get to know the three characters before hitting us in the guts with that ending. This play is superb in its slow burning tension.

All three performances by Basset, Manche and Kennedy-Tucker are stunning. Whilst completely in the moment of their individual story, they never abandon the other voices but allow those narratives to affect their own.

The production is perfectly balanced, captivating, and emotionally devastating.

Room To Play Theatre

Red Sky Morning