Posts Tagged ‘emily burton

17
Feb
17

Single Asian Female

 

Single Asian Female

La Boite Theatre Company

La Boite Roundhouse Theatre

February 11 – March 4 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

things have to change…

Single Asian Female gives a voice to the voiceless and talks about race and gender in ways we often don’t.

– Director, Claire Christian

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Single. Asian. Female. It’s a joke because, remember the film? But it’s no joke that the truths shared in Michelle Law’s searingly honest and delightfully funny debut are instantly, regrettably, familiar to us. Of course, a lifetime of being on the receiving end means the racial slurs and assumptions to which this piece gives voice and context, are more familiar to some than others. It’s a timely, nicely conceived work, bold and furious and funny, and while it can do with a more discerning dramaturgical touch, on its first outing Single Asian Female wins the open hearts and minds of audiences and artists. Like Future D. Fidel’s unforgettable Prize Fighter, Law’s contemporary timeless story, inspired by aspects of her own, will rightly take its place in this country’s canon of works; it’s not only highly entertaining and moving, but also, another opportunity to open up our performance spaces and school curriculum to people of colour.

La Boite is employing all the colours, telling all the stories. 

I read something about someone wanting to get rid of a particular story. But why would anyone feel the need to do that? Acts of destruction waste so much energy. Challenging and questioning the dominant myth may be useful, but losing it from the conversation altogether? Not so much. It’s true that some stories are lost along the way, but they’re eventually uncovered, or remembered, or replaced by another version that has the same substance and soul message. This is why we persist with telling them, writing them down, putting them on the stage and screen… Isn’t it vital to keep the stories, to share them and not destroy them or discard them just because someone suddenly decides they don’t appear to be relevant to a particular group of people? The stories are another group’s stories. It doesn’t mean they have no value for you, and it certainly doesn’t mean they were created with an intent to offend or to bury any other stories past, present or future, it simply means they’ve come from someone else in another place at a particular time and you have the choice, always, to recognise any value in them from your unique personal and cultural perspective. And to continue to contribute your own version of events. Go on, get creating rather than destroying.

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Let’s keep all the stories and concentrate our efforts on contributing more stories. Stories are for sharing. So we hold space for all of them. There is enough space.

This production, this story, is another hammer, which La Boite rightly prides itself on wielding (this company too, sans hashtag, is all about leading from Queensland) and it will go a long way in continuing to shape our shared reality. 

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These are the stories that are with us and amongst us.

– La Boite Theatre Company Artistic Director, Todd MacDonald

There’s nothing to fault in the wonderful, easeful performances of the three leading ladies, each a fiercely “strong woman”, firm in her resolve to thrive, and funny in her unapologetically wry take on so many situations, which we find equally appalling and amusing. Director, Claire Christian, gives each situation to us straight, trusting the source and allowing her actors to play with the material, resulting in some of the sharpest, most original comedy of the year.

Lana: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR EYES? THEY LOOK HUGE.

Mei: OH … THANK YOU.

In a complex and appropriately cluttered and homely, surprisingly functional multi-level space designed by Moe Assad and lit by Keith Clark, the women revolve around each other and their Golden Phoenix Chinese Restaurant (amusingly, for long-term Sunshine Coast residents, located in Nambour, but it could be anywhere), which will bring about either fortune or disaster in the end. La Boite feels as festive as ever, with Chinese lanterns hanging in the foyer and the red carpet rolled out for opening night. There’s even cabaret style restaurant seating available inside the theatre so some audience members really get to feel a part of the action, a clever, inclusive design element. We delight in picking up our tickets (for the tiered section) encased in a shiny red and gold embossed envelope before the show, and cracking open our fortune cookies after it. 

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The Wong family women are real to me because they were inspired by people I know: generous, assertive, resilient women who hold the world on their shoulders.

– Writer, Michelle Law

Alex Lee’s Zoe is a superb realisation of the eldest daughter, harnessing the extreme emotions of a young, talented, ambitious creative soul suffering from anxiety, having yet to secure a place in the world outside of her mother’s realm and representing not just Asian young adults but every young woman everywhere. I’d love to see Lee’s solo show sometime – how could I not? It’s called I’m Eating Peanut Butter In The Shower Because I’m Sad And You’e Not The Boss of Me. Lee is a delight.

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Courtney Stewart’s Mei is the younger, impressionable and eternally frustrated, just-wanna-finish-school-and-go-to-the-formal eye rolling second child, on the verge of finding out for herself the truth about her father’s character and her own. (Interestingly, this dad is unseen and painted as the devil, having selfishly, callously caused every problem faced by the family). Stewart was an inspired inclusion in last year’s developmental showing of Soi Cowboy, a commissioned Brisbane Powerhouse production, which we’re sure to hear more about this year. 

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Hsiao-Ling Tang is an ideal Pearl with her frantic gestures juxtaposed against complete stillness (a sense of the sacred self knowledge coming up against the contemporary overculture’s unachievable expectations), her stubborn use of Chinglish and her insistence that shoes be taken off inside the house (and that Chinese snacks be available to friends during study group – how embarrassing – hilarious). Her tiger mother bouts of intense frustration and raw anger at something unseen prompt us to sit up in surprise and sadness and awe before settling back into a place between laughter and tears (of recognition, sympathy, empathy), when she finally reveals the secret that could be the family’s undoing… Tang will appear later in the year in the world premiere of Michele Lee’s Rice, the winner of the Queensland Premier’s 2016 Drama Award, another must-see.

These women, as if they’d been working together for some time already, convey genuine affection and concern for each other. The connections are real, making their stories completely relatable, regardless of our cultural background, a fly-on-the-wall shared experience. Such a magical thing, live theatre…

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Emily Burton is perhaps the most endearing performer I’ve seen on a Brisbane stage (Dash Kruck and Tom Oliver up there also). I adore her, and much more so when she’s perfectly cast, as she is here, as Mei’s lanky, daggy, wannabe Asian misfit friend, Katie. She’s got a bohemian willowy geeky tomboy cosplay comical sad panda thing going on and it works superbly as a foil to mean girl Lana’s constant digs, and Mei’s reluctant rebelliousness and her insecurities about who she thinks she wants to be. A scene in which we see Mei trapped between Katie’s longstanding friendship and Lana’s passive aggressive popularity test is so uncomfortable to watch; it’s probably stingingly familiar to most of us if we’re honest, as is Mei’s choice in the moment and Katie’s reaction. Like similar moments, it could be overplayed but Burton finds a balance between the truth of the character and the tragicomedy of the situation.

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Patrick Jhanur is just gorgeous as Paul. His gentleness though, his subtleties (and some of his words), are at risk of becoming lost in the noise and pace of the women’s world. This is quite probably a deliberate thing and will be more astutely balanced/managed as the season continues. The self conscious banter between he and Zoe is delightful, making us squirm and giggle and smile, and hope that everything will work out for these two. But is this character just the token male, included as a woman might be, to fit that space in a play populated with men, penned by a man? I don’t think so. As we see during a discussion about the chance to have a child, with vulnerability and a tenderness not always afforded a male character, Jhanur steps up for this role, and perhaps there is simply, gradually, a little more flesh to be added to its bones. 

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Emily Vascotto has vibrant, wicked, gleeful Isla Fischer/Lizzie Moore energy and if you don’t know our Lizzie Moore, you really ought to get out…more. A real-life red-headed Bratz Doll, Vascotto embodies the type I’d warn my daughter about, as in, keep your friends close and keep that one closer. With less experience on stage than the other girls but with no less sass, Vascotto walks a fine comical line between being immediately recognisable and so much larger than life that we lose sight of who Lana really is. I think she’ll settle into this role during the season and certainly, will do so without the vignettes involving her character losing any momentum. At least, let’s hope not, with some momentum lacking on opening night. (I think we accept that this is typical of an opening night performance and later, we’re unsurprised by reports of a cracking pace). The occasional lag seems due to The Family Law style episodic structure, each chapter landing with an unapologetically political or moral thud. Like, BOOM. It’s never too much but it’s almost too much at once; it’s almost overwhelming, but then, the reality is that life IS overwhelming. There IS this much blatant racism to deal with in this country, every day. We have ALL of these issues to consider, and more. 

One has to write what one sees, what one feels, truthfully, sincerely.

– Anton Chekhov

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To finish with Tina Arena’s Chains is such a great gimmick (and these girls can really sing it!), but it’s not my favourite closing number. I feel we should be singing along with something…upbeat. Karaoke is gold and if you promise it you need to deliver on it, just as the slinky has its moment on the stairs. (Gun. Bang. Etcetera.)

In the spirit of the current trend to make a short show a good show, it’s worth noting that a discerning dramaturg might take a red pen to the text, make more efficient use of the more stylised moments (a raw, real look at online dating and the daughters’ stories being taken into account by the end), and make it a 90-minute no-interval knockout…but think about that. Would we have quite as much to digest or to discuss? Would we feel as deeply about any of the characters without the time to meander through their world with them? The rich texture of this tale is in its detail and while I’d often prefer to get home earlier (but I know, it’s so interesting to stay for speeches too, so I usually do), by the same token I’d love to see the full length production, as it stands, return with yum cha at interval and actual karaoke afterwards. In fact, let’s make the food together. It’s perfect festival fare.

In the meantime, don’t miss seeing Michelle Law’s personal-universal play just the way it is, at La Boite’s Roundhouse. Don’t miss the opportunity to take part in our nation’s most pressing conversation. Don’t miss being part of the cultural change, the global shift; the impetus behind powerful art and empowered people.

 

Single Asian Female is the baton being passed on. Don’t drop it or decline to take it. Don’t be a dickhead. Don’t be that (white) guy.

 

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31
May
15

Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

 

Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio

May 23 – June 13 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

INCEST ASIDE, IT WAS A GREAT WEDDING.

 

 

WHAT IF OEDIPUS LIVED NEXT DOOR?

 

 

MUTHAFUCKA

 

 

I never really liked Neapolitan icecream but when we were kids we would have it for dessert sometimes – a special treat – and now I’ll never eat it again.

 

 

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Daniel EvansOedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is what we’ve been waiting for. It’s an incredibly fast, funny, deeply affecting piece, which uses the ancient story of Oedipus to look at how we respond to unspeakable tragedy.

 

 

The winner of the 2014-2015 Queensland Premier’s Drama Award, the only writing comp in the country that guarantees a fully professional production of the winning work, this Oedipus is a disturbingly accurate contemporary take on Sophocles’ Theban plays. If you’ve never before been able to work out the complex plots, this production gives you all the clues to do so.

 

 

Transposed to an outer suburban neighbourhood somewhere in Australia (it’s one we might try to avoid visiting after dark), the unfathomable story suddenly becomes horrifyingly familiar – as familiar as any tragedy involving celebrities or royalty might seem via Facebook – as a chorus of four young actors rise from green plastic chairs and tell us simply and directly where they are and which role they’ll be playing in order to relay the shocking tale.

 

 

Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is masterful writing, brought to vivid life by a brilliant team.

 

 

And speaking of teamwork, let’s not forget the Dramaturgs: Stephen Carlton, Saffron Benner and Louise Gough, who have helped to nurture the text through many stages of development.

 

 

I guess this doesn’t really require a mention either, but something about this production reminds me of another winner of this award so I’m going to remind you of it too. Marcel Dorney created an ancient world for his winning play, Fractions, directed by Jon Halpin in 2011. It had been in development for four years. “We all thought it was pretty special but were worried it was too hard, that the ideas were too difficult and too big and people would just switch off,” Halpin told Cameron Pegg. The boldness paid off, bringing us the big ideas and difficult lessons of an old story in a new framework. Halpin said of Fractions, “It’s set 1500 years ago but it speaks with an urgency and relevance to today’s world with more insight and profundity than any other new work I’ve come across.” I would say the same of Evans’ Oedipus.

 

 

The story is inconceivable, the stuff of the inescapable 24-hour click-bait news cycle but told this way, so cleanly and unapologetically, we believe it.

 

 

From the outset we’re drawn into a hilarious retelling of events (no really; it’s really horribly funny) with just a couple of amendments to detail, such as the pedophiliac father’s chariot becoming a car in a fatal crash.

 

 

A compelling scene toward the end of the play humanises things even more than the humour can do, in case we didn’t already feel something. To set it up, we live through the excruciating tension of a high school shooting orchestrated and executed by Eteocles and Polynices (the sons of Oedipus). The massacre is reenacted on top of a pulled-from-the-wall campus mud map. Again, as we’ve seen before, there is comedy in it that makes us feel inhuman for laughing out loud. It leaves me numb. I’m filled with dread in the moment before the final “bang” is voiced by one of the boys and then I feel sick to my stomach. This slow burn is a master class in tension and restraint, a perfect example of the restraint shown throughout by Director, Jason Klarwein. It’s his best work to date and it thrills me to think of what he might, as Director, be gifted with next.

 

 

The beautifully tragic scene-that-shouldn’t-work (and wouldn’t work in the hands of a less intelligent team) takes place in a deserted playground, in which Haemon (Son of Creon and Eurydice, engaged to Antigone, who is dead) sits silently on a swing while an unknown girl chatters away to him under the pretext of sharing the last can of rum from the carton at Haemon’s feet. Eteocles and Polynices have killed everyone else (BANG). The rum is…warm. The mood is…awkward. Burton is superb here, a gangly, desperately frightened teen unravelling for the longest time. She is mesmerising, expertly manipulating pace, pause and proximity. Suddenly, after his eerie extended silence, a single sentence tossed spitefully across the playground by Haemon destroys her completely and he exits and kills himself. It’s brutal, brilliant stuff.

 

 

The space is intimate and at the same time retains a vast, empty feeling, as if we are lost in time and space. Justin Harrison’s soundscape, comprising original compositions and precision theatre sound effects (is that even a thing? I’m making precision theatre a thing), matches the text moment-to-moment, beat-by-beat, leaving silences through which we can only breathe…or not dare to breathe. An intelligent lighting design by Daniel Anderson works like a spell to capture and focus our attention; it’s the best example I can offer to tech-obsessed students this year of the way in which the elements are used to enhance a production. That leads me to mention that although it’s a risqué show for secondary schools, that doesn’t mean students should stay away from it. While the school might not be in a position to take you, senior students, you should see this show. You’re welcome.

 

 

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The design, perfectly realised by Jessica Ross, is spectacularly simple, featuring fluorescent lighting to frame the action and a graffiti wall by Drapl, which is foreboding even in all its colour and humour, warning us like the Oracle and welcoming us like Laius into the cold, hard, clashing world of ancient and modern youth. The overall effect serves to focus our attention on the performers, an astonishing ensemble.

 

 

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Ellen Bailey, Emily Burton, Joe Klocek and Toby Martin are uncompromising in their multiple roles. If Bailey were a criminal she would be considered a master of disguise. Her ability to switch from one character to the next is impressive and always funny. Burton is a beauty, swinging from hysteria to thoughtful silence in a heartbeat. Martin sometimes shouts a little more than necessary but as Laius, King of Thebes, he successfully harnesses the craziest, creepiest kind of power imaginable over the young boy, Crysippus, and seers his image and evil energy onto our hearts. It’s Klocek we’ll keep an eye on though, because this 19-year-old achieves the same level of depth and nuance and variety with his characters as the others do with far less stage or screen experience under his belt. Here’s his bio:

 

 

Queensland Theatre Company: This Hollow Crown, Face It. Other Credits: QUT: Orphans, The Three Sisters. Film: Rome. Training: QTC Youth Ensemble, 2012.

 

 

THAT IS ALL. HE’S A NATURAL.

 

 

How exciting and frightening that the story of Oedipus who kills his father, sleeps with his mother and rips his own eyes out (the “professional opinion” here is a killer), can feel new and fresh and raw and completely relevant. I won’t give away the final moment but IT BITES. THIS PLAY BITES. WHO COULD WRITE SUCH A THING?

 

 

Well, Daniel Evans could and he has done, and if you miss it you miss bearing witness to a new, living, fire-breathing brand of Australian theatre that other writers are trying desperately to master.

 

 

Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is an exceptional play and this is an electrifying production, which must be supported to have a life beyond its World Premiere run.