Archive for the ‘Reviews & Responses’ Category

No Success Like Failure | The Fondue Set

Just before I begin this review, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a moment of space, a bit of time in which we are able to reflect what has brought me to this moment in which I am pecking out a review on the Fondue Set’s latest morsel, “No Success Like Failure”. I’d also like a moment to reflect upon the preparation which has taken place pre this moment of review… which is primarily the “view” I had of the show last night which has lead me inexorably to this moment of re-viewing, in the written form, for your possible position of a preview or which may be embattled with your personal silent re-view. I’d like to also spare a moment to think about the expectation you have of this review. Have you read anything of mine before? Have you read something like this before? Have you identified this as a non-review? Regardless of your expectations and preparations and prejudices I am hoping that you have a moment to think about all the things that have prepared you to be sitting there gazing at a luminous sheet of technology trying to make sense of this thing you are reading, unless of course you have decided, life is too short and you really need to do the laundry, try on your neglected golden tap shoes or perhaps meander off for a nap in the hope of dreaming of rabbits.

“Part talent quest, part educational forum and part cabaret,” The Fondue Set have brought a world of ideas and the history of post modern theatre to the Sydney Opera House Studio, complete with glittering blue tinsel curtain, ply-board palm trees and a bunch of costume changes. Emma Saunders, Elizabeth Ryan and Jane McKernan continuously push and transform and subvert the expected conventions of entertainment. Created in collaboration with UK based director, Wendy Houstoun “No Success Like Failure” puts the “no” in maNifestO, brings the alphabet of French philosophers alive, challenges the passive inanimate audience to not look at their sparkling costumes and eyes… whilst managing to dispel any preconceptions about the ideas mentioned in the promotional material/postcard.

Enshrouded in a dense cloak of critical theorists (Derrida, Foucault, Deluze) whilst dancing along to Roxette, The Fondue Set are infinitely fun, clever, sweet, raw and visually compelling. Whether wheeling around on a chair in a sparkling jumpsuit, pushing a mini wheel of fortune display board, or wearing velvet gown for the purposes of posturing and preparing, The Fondue Set are challenging and utterly engaging.

Fringed in nervous twitters, loud abrupt guffaws and stunned silence, they prove yet again that the audience makes meaning, whether they like it or not! Lets not ignore the very poignant message of the piece… the fine line between success and failure, the power of words to shift perception: “Look how happy my hand is so smoothly flips in our perception and soon we accept Elizabeth’s mournful “look how sad my hand is.” Also how malleable audiences are, how easily influenced and contained an audience can be… how fickle we are… how well trained and brimming with expectation… and how much we are at the mercy of those who may entertain us: and how empowered we are in our making of meaning and significance. Surprising as well, how moved I was during moments “Sad Dancing” … and how devastated I became in the key note speech: which really demonstrated “its not what you say its how you say it.”

At one moment we are “See you at the Top” at another we are “Ditching the stinking thinking.” Flipping between the two states of success and failure… flipping between acceptance and rejection… between beautiful and grotesque… between comedy and tragedy, all in a swirling glittering stupefying soup of reference and creation.

All I can say is “I urge you to open yourself in these tendrils of time to profound and intense fun of “The Fondue Set!”

Night Journeys|Sidetrack theatre

First Published on www.australianstage.com.au

Night Journeys is a new Greek Australian play by Bill Kokkaris about place, past, memory and the attempts to reconcile all three. Set in a bungalow in Marrickville the play unfolds as it struggles to answer the question “what is the value of a house?” is it the market value? The stainless steel appliances? The location? Or the history it holds?

Tessa (Natalie Alexopoulos), an empowered real estate visionary is keen to sell a house which holds her past and painful memories, while her husband, Richard (Benni Silvester) is keen to settle in and renovate to make their house suitable for their future together. Before long Richard’s troubled younger brother Joey (Mathew Halliday) arrives home escorted by the police and Tessa’s grandmother Georgina (Barbara Gouskos) visits the garden at night and checks in on the house.

Mathew Halliday is consistant and committed in his portrayal as Joey, the troublesome younger brother. Barbara Gouskos is multidimensional and a pleasure to watch as the difficult yet fragile grandmother Georgina, easily accessing the vocal depth and colour of a woman much more advanced than her years. Within the second half the Grandmother/Granddaughter scene holds within it the very essence of the play: how the past shapes us and we can be trapped by our perspective at the time: truly a poignant and difficult confrontation. Natalie Alexopoulos is bright and effortless as Tessa though her character portrayal has her sometimes relying on playing type and not the full range of Tessa’s objectives and needs in the scenes, which may be more of a question of script than performance. Benni Silvester also delivers an adequate performance as Richard.

Khristina Totos’s direction is simple and effective and services the unfolding of the play, the characters and the “reality” in with this piece exisits. The set is masterfully designed by Megan Venhoek which involves a light scrim which folds and unfolds like a rubix puzzle to add rooms, and change the space within simple motions and this is well utilized by the cast. An impressive addition to the set is the compliment of AV projections and sound design by Steve Toulmin which layers beautifully over the live action in parts, though I do question why the tape recorder needs to be operated from the sound operator? Light is gentle and adequate and is at times powerfully pronounced and startling.

The main question to this production lies in the script. Many of the scenes are written as duets and are laced with positioned exposition, which at time overstates the history of the relationship, when we can clearly see the dynamic unfolding in the natural interactions. Unfortunately at times, for example during any arguments the exchanges between the characters seem to be highly structured and less impassioned than one would hope. Some of the dialogue is overly simplistic and I believe that the code switching between English and Greek could be used to greater effect to develop the disparity between New Australian and second generation Australian. Language can be a powerful thing: a thing to bind and divide. As a mono lingual audience member I find it interesting and fascinating to hear how and when language changes from English to Greek and Vice versa. Some times tension is lost through lack of pace and over stated exposition, but the strength of the piece comes from its bilingual nature which rescues this play from monotony.

Sidetrack Theatre is an important and interesting theatre space amid the Addison Road community centre and an appropriate venue for Take Away Theatre’s production of Night Journeys. It has a family feel and is unpretentiously accessible, not unlike the script itself. This is a space that caters for, with and about the community that surrounds it, and Night Journeys is an important contribution to this community.

It is admirable that Take Away Theatre is committed to new world, which reflects the Greek-Australian community, as it is a vital part of the Sydney theatre landscape. It would be interesting to see a more fully fleshed out representation of the Anglo-Australian characters: especially how they react/feel when confronted by a history and culture which is foreign to their own. Curiosity? Anger? Acceptance? Celebration? Ignorance? And also interesting to examine the experience of the Greek Australians, their connection to history, culture and their displacement within the country which is both their home, yet not “home.” It is also questionable how the issue of mental health is dealt with in this play, and again the difficult confrontation of this, is simplified and deflected in a glib way. I am left somewhat wondering who’s story is this? Do I believe the changes in these characters? What is to become of these characters now they have been freed from deep-seated assumptions and resentments?

Regardless of these questions, there is no doubt that Take Away Theatre through the firm and eloquent direction of Khristina Totos, has strongly produced a play which, although needs further development, is an important piece of theatre which is relevant and accessible for the Greek Australian Community and beyond.

Men, Love and the Monkey Boy

First Pubished: http://www.australianstage.com.au/component/option,com_mycontent/Itemid,301/task,view/id,1292/

What do men talk about? More curiously: What do men talk about with each other? Are men as basic and simple as clichés suggest? Well, I know from my personal, deep and thorough appreciation of men, I find most men to be endlessly surprising and interesting and complex… and many to be great conversationalists. But, I am a woman, and I know how that may change the dynamic of the conversations I have and have caught myself wondering how men talk and engage with each other when solely in the company of other men. Does it differ? Is the subject matter different? Does the vernacular change? The pitch of the voice? The stance? The posture? Thanks to Caleb Lewis’s, Men Love and the Monkeyboy, my questions have been answered…

Philip (Bryce Youngman) is a 28 year old primatologist studying Gorillas who’s robust father Robbo (John McNeill) calls him Sphincter Boy and insists on buying him porn, taking him out fishing, drinking and picking up. Accompanying this father/son bonding session is Philip’s brother in law Dave (Andy Rodoreda): who is currently unemployed and being “taken care of” by his very capable Lawyer-wife Hayley (Julia Davis) and Rex (Laurence Bruels): a high school mate who is now a cop and quite the lady’s man. One night while celebrating his birthday, Philip is set up with a girl called Chelsea (Angela Hattersley) by Robbo: and despite an awkward start she chooses to be walked home by Philip: thus rejecting the advances of smooth-operating Rex. However, it is revealed that Chelsea may not be who she appears and soon Philip is in doubt of what is truthful connection and what is primitive posturing in order to get a “mate.”

The line between human and primate is drawn very thinly, with the actors playing both the characters of Philips human life and the primates which he studies. Quickly we see each male character in the human group playing a role in the Gorilla enclosure. Just as the gorillas have a social order: so too does the human. Without too finer point on it Robbo is the “Silverback/Alpha-male”, Dave and Rex the “Blackbacks” and Philip is the clearly the “delta male” of the group. Unfortunately the characters can also be defined as stereotype too… the old geezer, the immoral sexual predator, the hen-pecked husband and the naïve/virginal academic/SNAG, the power-suited wife and the whore with a heart of gold… all for the satirical purposes of re-thinking the modern-day human.

This satirical stereotyping ensures we are comfortable in the story and with the characters, and also ensures that the jokes work. But it is hard to know if we are to accept that the origin of the stereotype as it comes from inherent animal behaviour or if it comes from social arrangement within the culture of primates, or humans… and can we do anything about it? Do men behave badly because monkeys do: as the song suggests… “you and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals…”? Lewis states in the program that “this is a play about men and women, learning to be modern women and men.” Essentially, Men, Love and the Monkeyboy is, like all plays, about communication: when, how, what to say and who we say it to. Trust. Loyalty. These are fantastic ideas which are at times well explored, though somewhat a little too well for my liking. Some of the scenes are a little too long, the sub-plot about the deceased mother seemingly superfluous and some of the pace of this production suffered from some sluggish moments of pub banter (which are thankfully propelled primarily by witty lines and quirky retorts.)

A fantastic performance from Andy Rodoreda as the disempowered “Dave,” provides a believable tenderness and a humility to the dynamic of posturing apes. Laurence Bruel’s Rex is consistent and believable as the sexual predator, and there is a huge amount of strength and conviction in Angela Hattersley’s performance. Also of note John McNeil’s performance is perfectly appropriate as Dad and Ape and a very honest scene in the second act proves tough men still cry: in front of women.

Caleb Lewis has written an interesting and clever play about the evolution of human relationships and although it may not tell me anything new about Australian men and their struggle to be “men in the modern age,” it does contain funny, engaging writing, and some challenging scenes and according to Guy Williams (the only Primatologist to have graced the Darlinghurst’s programme) a sense of “scientific veracity.” Men Love and the MonkeyBoy is sure to get you talking or perhaps even beating your chest about the modern “man.”

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Augusta Supple

Sydney-based theatre director, producer and writer. This site is about my long, deep, bright-eyed, ever-hopeful, sometimes difficult, always invigorating, rambunctious, rebellious, dynamic and very personal relationship with Australian Arts and Culture... I reflect on shows, talks, essays, writing, artists that inspire me to say something, and you'll find out what I'm working on, who I'm working with and what inspires me.