Luke Carrol, Tony Briggs, Melodie Reynolds-Diarra.BITNW_STC_2018Brisbane_creditPrudenceUpton_049.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Building bridges with laughter

Review: Black Swan presents Sydney Theatre Company, Black is the New White ·
Heath Ledger Theatre, 14 September ·
Review by Jan Hallam ·

Before the start of the opening night performance of Nakkiah Lui’s Black is the New White, directed by Paige Rattray, actors Tony Briggs and Kylie Bracknell (Kaarlijilba Kaardn) paid a moving tribute to Ningali Lawford-Wolf, a Wangkatjunka woman of the far-north Kimberley and all-round great actor and person.

She passed away in Edinburgh while touring with The Secret River for Sydney Theatre Company – a terrific play she helped develop from Kate Grenville’s powerful novel.

Ningali Lawford-Wolf touched many lives, not least the many thousands who saw her perform but with whom she never met, this reviewer being one of them.

How is this relevant to Lui’s fast, furious and funny discourse on race, class, politics, love and the perils of Christmas?

In the simple injunction of Briggs – to feel free to laugh often and loudly, just like Ningali, and the opening night audience took him at his word.

There is a lot of playful fun watching as young successful lawyer Charlotte Gibson (Miranda Tapsell) tries to clear a path through her family’s (mostly her father, Roy’s) expectations that she become a crusading Aboriginal leader – playing a strong second fiddle to him, of course, and his vision of himself as the Australian Martin Luther King.

Miranda Tapsell as Charlotte and Tom Stokes as Francis. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.
Miranda Tapsell as Charlotte and Tom Stokes as Francis. Photo: Toni Wilkinson.

The way is especially fraught because the love of her life, Francis (Tom Stokes), is an unemployed experimental musician, who happens to be white, and not just musician white, but the son of Roy’s sworn political enemy, the arch conservative Dennison Smith (Geoff Morrell). Briggs is masterful in the role.

Chuck in the tensions between and within each set of parents – special mention of Melodie Reynolds-Diarra as Charlotte’s mum, Joan, and Vanessa Downing as Fran’s mother, Marie, who together managed to add such a classy and sassy layer of sharp-witted feminism into the already heady brew – and the audience is working double time to keep pace.

Oh, and did I mention Charlotte’s sister, Rose? Bracknell plays this glorious character – the fashionista WAG of the first Aboriginal captain of the Wallabies, the god-fearing, sweet-natured Sonny (Anthony Taufa).

Rose has a head for business and a nose for the good life but she also has deeply held views about keeping the family black and making a lot of black babies to reclaim Australia. The twist there is she doesn’t want to stop taking the Pill.

Like the ancient classics, Lui adds a touch of the Greek Chorus with narrator Luke Carroll watching over proceedings, offering a missing lighter for the cheeky spliff here and there, and some context to help the audience to keep pace… and busting some pretty neat dance moves.

And like all great comedies there is a solid trail of ideologies on display, ripe for challenging ill-begat stereotypes and cultural tropes.

But perhaps more importantly, certainly felt from this angle, Lui also wants her audience to be free to engage with the painful and complex aftermath of the Stolen Generation, the deeps cracks caused by past and present colonialism and social and political disenfranchisement of not only Aboriginal people but any one who plays differently in the playground of current Australia.

It is a powerful and sturdy bridge she builds.

Black is the New White plays the State Theatre Centre of WA until September 22.

Pictured top: Luke Carrol, Tony Briggs and Melodie Reynolds-Diarra. Photo: Prudence Upton.

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Four female actors at hens night
Calendar, October 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Secret Bridesmaids’ Business

11 – 19 October @ Roleystone Hall ·
Presented by Roleystone Theatre ·

If you knew a secret that could shatter a bride’s dream the night before her wedding,  would you tell? That’s the premise of Roleystone Theatre’s production of Secret Bridesmaids’ Business, written by Elizabeth Coleman and directed by Michelle Ezzy at Roleystone Hall. The popular comedy is set the night before Meg Bacon’s wedding in a hotel with her mother  and bridesmaids, ready for one last night of girlie fun. But one lie could change everything – and the bridesmaids have to decide whether to reveal a secret about the groom.

Secret Bridesmaids’ Business was made into a 2002 telemovie with Vince Colosimo while playwright Coleman is also known for It’s My Party (And I’ll Die If I Want To).

Secret Bridesmaids’ Business plays at 7.30pm on 11, 12, 18 and 19 October and at 2pm on  13 October.  Tickets are $20, $15 concession – book at  www.trybooking.com/book/event eid=542027&

Roleystone Hall is at 44 Jarrah Road (corner of Wygonda Road), Roleystone.

More info:
www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=542027&

Pictured: Matron of honour Angela (Bree Hartley, left), bride-to-be Meg (Elizabeth Elliott), bridesmaid Lucy  (Jade Azor) and mother-of-the-bride Colleen (Jay Shaw). Credit: Alex Beckley

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PERPETUAL WAKE_pictured_L-R_Jeffrey Jay Fowler_Arielle Gray_Charlotte Otton_Chris Isaacs_Photo Credit Dana Weeks
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A hilarious exposé of human nature

Review: The Last Great Hunt, Perpetual Wake ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, 31 August ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

Presented by local outfit The Last Great Hunt and directed by Gita Bezard, Perpetual Wake takes the darkest elements of humanity – falseness, lies, abuse of power and the urge to destroy – and turns them into a richly layered farce that comments ironically on the nature of culture, art and the cult of personality.

Written by Bezard and Jeffrey Jay Fowler, the narrative is engaging without being overly complicated; a story of a young women who has written a debut novel (Perpetual Wake), the pretentious male author-turned-critic who becomes obsessed with her work, and his wife, a romance author whose books, although hugely popular, are not critically acclaimed and are constantly denigrated by her husband.

As the story unfolds, bad behaviour abounds, and it becomes clear that everyone is lying about something. Within this nexus of falsities, the narrative of the play becomes messily entangled with that of the novel, further compelling the audience as well as the characters themselves to question the nature of truth-telling and the impossibility of objective storytelling.

Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Arielle Gray. Photo: Dana Weeks.
Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Arielle Gray in The Last Great Hunt’s production of ‘Perpetual Wake’. Photo: Dana Weeks.

Combining a self-aware, melodramatic narrative with moments of contemplative physical theatre, the play’s visual language is persistently striking, with a simple set design and the recurrence of motifs – antlers, fur, plaid hunting jackets – echoing through the performance. This continuing switch between narrative, plot-driven scenes and dream-like moments of absurdity and unreality effectively pushes the story along, despite the occasionally predictable nature of the narrative. This predictability is not a weakness, rather it’s cleverly woven into the story itself; a comment on the impossibility of writing anything truly unique in contemporary culture, and the reliance upon tropes within “low-brow” genres such as romantic fiction.

The characters themselves are incredibly well realised and outstandingly performed; simultaneously unlikeable yet relatable. There’s a strong undercurrent of feminist reclamation within these characters, as the two female characters, Fiona (Charlotte Otton) and Bernice (Arielle Gray) are both clearly much more intelligent than they are given credit for. This is highlighted by the fact that their “fictional” alter egos, referred to in the women’s’ published works, Veronica and Molly are both deliberately portrayed as laughably shallow and one-note.

In contrast, the male critic Paul (Chris Isaacs) is instantly unlikeable, a stunningly accurate representation of every man I ever encountered in an undergraduate English tutorial, aged by a few decades but unfortunately only in body, not mind. For Paul, it is a personal insult for a woman to be able to write well, and when faced with this reality, he does everything he can to deny it. For him, the truth is more complicated than he can grasp.

In its complex unfolding of the characters’ deceptions to others as well as themselves, layered within a story we’ve heard before but that never fails to engage, Perpetual Wake deftly and hilariously exposes the inherent predictability of human nature.

Perpetual Wake plays Subiaco Arts Centre until September 7.

Pictured top: L-R_Jeffrey Jay Fowler, Arielle Gray, Charlotte Otton and Chris Isaacs in The Last Great Hunt’s production of ‘Perpetual Wake’. Photo: Dana Weeks.

PERPETUAL WAKE_pictured_L-R Chris Isaacs_Arielle Gray_Charlotte Otton_Jeffrey Jay Fowler_Photo Credit Annie Harvey
L-R Chris Isaacs, Arielle Gray, Charlotte Otton and Jeffrey Jay Fowler in ‘Perpetual Wake’. Photo: Annie Harvey.
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Headshots of 2 male and 1 female actors
Calendar, Performing arts, September 19, Theatre

Theatre: The Nightwatchman

13 – 28 September @ Melville Theatre, Palmyra ·
Presented by Melville Theatre ·

Memory and nostalgia are key elements of The Nightwatchman at Melville Theatre, as three people move into a new chapter of their lives.

Written by Daniel Keene and directed by Siobhán O’Gara, the play follows a brother and sister as they return to their family home to help their now-blind father move into an elderly care facility. As they assemble for a final supper to say goodbye to their family home, memories come flooding back and the family history is re-visited with resentments simmering against current tensions in their lives.

The Nightwatchman plays at 8pm September 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27 and 28 and at 2pm on September 22. Tickets are $20, $15 concession – book on 9330 4565 or at www.meltheco.org.au.

Melville Theatre is at 393A Canning Highway (corner of Stock Road), Palmyra.

More info:
www.meltheco.org.au

Pictured: Andrea O’Donnell, Alan Kennedy and Garry Davies who are appearing in The Nightwatchman.

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Calendar, October 19, Performing arts, September 19, Theatre

Theatre: Noël Coward’s Present Laughter

27 Sep – 12 Oct @ Old Mill Theatre, South Perth ·
Presented by Old Mill Theatre ·

A playful reflection on fame, desire and loneliness from Noël Coward is ready to serve up the laughs at the Old Mill Theatre. Directed by Barry Park, Present Laughter focuses on self-obsessed actor Garry Essendine as friends, lovers, relatives and theatre colleagues rally around him.

As a series of almost farcical events unfold, his elegant London flat is invaded  by a love-struck ingénue, determined producer, adulterous manager and married seductress. Added to the mix is Garry’s estranged wife, a domineering motherly aristocrat,  clairvoyant Swedish housekeeper, cockney valet, long-suffering secretary and an adoring-but-mad aspiring playwright. While Garry welcomes the adulation, he struggles to overcome a mid-life crisis. The main character is a caricature of  the playwright’s real-life persona, as Noël Coward acknowledged.

Noël Coward’s Present Laughter plays at 7.30pm on 27 and 28 September, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 and 12 October and at 2pm on 29 September and 6 October.

More info:
www.trybooking.com/BACAS

Pictured: Peter Clark, centre, plays the main character in Noël Coward’s Present Laughter with Tarryn McGrath, Nyree Hughes and Grace Edwards. Credit: Myles Wright

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Calendar, October 19, Performing arts, September 19, Theatre

Theatre: John & Jen

20 Sep – 5 Oct @ Stirling Theatre, Innaloo ·
Presented by Stirling Theatre ·

Love, loyalty and family are key themes in Stirling Theatre’s production of John & Jen –a musical featuring only two actors. Written by Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald and directed by Tyler Eldridge, the show is set in the ever-changing United States between 1950 and 1990 and focuses on Jen and her relationships with the two Johns in her life. One is her younger brother, who was killed in Vietnam, and the other is her son trying to find his way.

Co-creator Andrew Lippa was previously responsible for The Addams Family stage musical.

John & Jen plays at 8pm September 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, October 3, 4 and 5 with 2pm matinees September 22 and 29. Tickets are $25, $22 concession – book through Morris News on 9446 9120 or at www.trybooking.com/ZGUY

Stirling Theatre is on Morris Place, Innaloo.

More info:
www.trybooking.com/ZGUY

Pictured:
Tim Tyrie, left, and Steph Hickey play the two characters in the moving musical John & Jen at Stirling Theatre. Credit: Austin Images Perth – Wendy D’Souza

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News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

Teen tale kicks the goal

Red Ryder Productions, The Wolves ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 21 August ·
Review by Nina Levy ·

I’ve long been a fan of American teen drama. Like most of my generation, my interest began when I actually was a teenager, with the likes of 90210 and Party of Five. Now in my forties, I’ve still got a nostalgic soft-spot for the genre (my recent foray into the world of Netflix saw me catch up on the entire seven seasons of The Gilmore Girls).

So it’s no surprise that the opening of The Wolves, with its cacophony of adolescent banter, won me over immediately.

Penned by New York playwright Sarah DeLappe, The Wolves has a few key differences to your average American teen drama, however.

For starters, this is a story about a high-school girls’ soccer team, The Wolves. Not only is women’s sport at the heart of the play but the ensemble cast is all-female. Though we hear of the occasional male (the coach, a boyfriend), we don’t see them and they are certainly not central to the action.

Instead, the fast-paced script revolves around various concerns. The nine members of The Wolves move from discussing tampons to genocide with breath-taking speed (speaking as a former high school teacher, it’s an accurate representation). They feel their way around big-ticket issues, like cancer and abortion, and then laugh them off… or not. Every now and then someone ends up in tears. Adolescent bravado may come across as naïve or self-involved, but through the chinks in the armour we see young people navigating the reality of life in the 21st century.

McLean’s choreographed drills ensure that women’s athleticism is at the heart of this production. Front: Chelsea Gibson, back: Anna Lindstedt. Photo: Susie Blatchford of Pixel Poetry.

It’s refreshing, too, to see physicality at the heart of The Wolves’ Perth season, which is presented by local outfit Red Ryder Productions. In her programme notes, director Emily McLean remarks on the way the young protagonists “create a dialogue on women’s bodies as strong, athletic and capable.” This is reflected in McLean’s choreographed ball drills and stretches, which deftly weave together theory and practice. It’s beautifully complemented by the part-rousing, part-ominous cheer-inspired electronica that punctuates the scenes, created by composer/sound designer, Rachael Dease.

Portraying the intricacies and hierarchies of the teenage social microcosm, McLean’s cast is uniformly terrific. In particular, Angela Mahlatjie is wonderfully sassy and stroppy as the alpha-girl, while Elise Wilson, as the seemingly unaware outsider, is a poignant figure. The standout, however, is Anna Lindstedt, the “high-functioning”, highly anxious super-achiever, a silent yet potent figure in a maelstrom of chatter.

There’s so much energy and tension in this script – we know something is going to happen. But what?

All I can say is, it’s not what you expect.

This season is sold out but if you’ve managed to snaffle a ticket, you’ll see why this play was nominated for a 2017 Pulitzer Prize.

The Wolves runs until September 7.

Pictured top: the cast of ‘The Wolves’. Photo: Susie Blatchford of Pixel Poetry.

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Calendar, December 19, November 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Bang! Bang!

26 Nov – 14 Dec @ The Blue Room Theatre ·
Presented by Scott Elstermann & Shona Erskine ·

Murder, Melodrama and Wes Anderson.

Be swept into The Grand Budapest Hotel in a visually striking crime caper. Be fascinated by tales of true crime and love: gunshots at a ball, evil stepmothers, and town gossip.

Reconsider what you though you knew about contemporary dance with this theatrical double header

More info:
https://blueroom.org.au/events/bang-bang/

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Man sitting and staring at knife in his hand
Calendar, November 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Playthings

5 – 23 November @ The Blue Room Theatre ·
Presented by Second Chance Theatre ·

Like watching RAGE at 3AM.

Lucy and Arnold are 13. He’s a bit sensitive and she loves The Simpsons. This week, he has an English assignment due, and she’s planning on killing her stepdad.

From the award-winning Second Chance Theatre (Laika: A Staged Radio Play), Playthings is an unflinching portrayal of violence, trauma, and abuse in Australian suburbia.

More info:
blueroom.org.au/events/playthings/

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Calendar, November 19, October 19, Performing arts, Theatre

Theatre: Cephalopod

29 Oct – 14 Nov @ The Blue Room Theatre ·
Presented by Squid Vicious ·

Calamari, Karaoke, and Filipina Fury.

Part confessional, part identity instructional, Cephalopod is a tentacular mess of Blue Planet homages, Little Mermaid drag-retellings, karaoke bangers, and work-out routines. A mess that asks, what does a Filipina sacrifice in order to survive a new life in Australia? How does a second-generation immigrant forge an identity?

More info:
blueroom.org.au/events/cephalopod/

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