Review: Tender – Metro Arts & …and moor theatre

Tender is an honest and hard working play on loss and love.

A young man and a woman are very much in love, the sort of love that creates lines in the mind, defines the personalities within that love, and everything else as being without. Joyous and serious.

Only, the man is gone, missing – traumatically so.

The woman? As if unable to live or redefine herself without him, has forgotten – unable to even make new memories. Past and present get muddled, identity gets consumed, and love gets tested.

The parents of the missing young man are split – torn between between their love for their son, their feelings towards their damaged daughter-in-law, and their need to keep their only grandchild in their life.

The mystery? Can this perfect love survive even this most tragic of circumstance. A difficult and worthwhile endeavour.

Strangely this production doesn’t quite succeed in wrenching us through that same knot of anguish so evident on stage, despite some fine performances and beautiful design. However where it does succeed is perhaps more important, for the production wraps you within an Australian aesthetic – a dramatic aesthetic as much as a design aesthetic – that quietly seeps into you giving both the performance and the audience that feeling of belonging – yes, it’s meant to be there on an Australian stage, and yes, we are right to be here, to prefer this flawed Australian struggle to an import.

This play then as much as anything is about claiming within us a space for Australian drama – how do an Australian husband and wife react at the loss of a son? how does a young Australian wife fight against her inner demons? And importantly, how does this make us Australians feel.

And so for me, perhaps even because of its flaws, it made me feel love and perhaps quietly proud.

Recommended of those seeking Australian fiction, for romantics, for those engaged in the Australian aesthetic.

Show watched 30th June 2010.

Playing at Metro Arts until the 17th of July.

Review: The Clean House – QTC w Black Swan

This theatrical comedy of class and love takes delight in making a jumble, in the mess and joy that is people’s lives and loves.

A doctor needs her house cleaned – she likes a clean house – only she doesn’t like telling people to clean it. She hires a Brazilian girl, who frustratingly is depressed over the sudden and comic-tragic passing of her parents – the greatest joke tellers in the world – and so doesn’t want to clean. This girl – what does she do? She passes her days thinking up the perfect joke, whilst secretly, the doctor’s sister does the cleaning for her.

Matters get complicated. The husband (also a doctor) falls in love with another woman. A beautiful South American lady.

So, on the surface? The Clean House – Four women from diverse backgrounds, two from South American, and two sisters from North America, are thrown together by a philandering husband who perhaps should know better. That he doesn’t, is what kicks this play forward.

This decidedly American take on love and loss adds a new vigour to the aging drawing-room comedy genre. But more interestingly it politely presents difficult truths about the growing class divisions (often on race grounds) that have been developing within the North American social fabric.

The playwright Sarah Ruhl is taking swift and fast aim at both North and South American cultures and I can imagine that on Broadway a production similar to what I saw would sparkle as each of the playwrights arrows hit their intended target.

In Australia, it still works but instead of that beautiful uncomfortable feeling you get when a play challenges you, instead we get to laugh at the funny Americans (North and South). This is still pretty good.

The audience I watched it with was split, with some of the more hard nosed theatre types not feeling it went far enough. That said, there were many delicious and heart felt laughs coming from the older set. The Clean House then, is four great female roles with terrific performances, a touching and pleasing story, and fun to boot. Something quite rare on Australian stages.

Recommended for Baby Boomers and Up, Ladies Social Groups, and for those that like their theatre passionate and kind.

Show watched Preview, Mon 28th June 2010.

Playing at the Cremorne Theatre unitl July 31st.

Review: The Chairs – La Boite Theatre

You may have heard the phrase absurdist and thought it to describe any number of plays or movies you’ve seen that were just a bit weird. Like the writer had perhaps taken a spot of acid and knocked off a couple of pages whilst on a really bad trip. (Say Bob, I like all that whole boy meets girl and fall in love thing, but what’s with pink elephant on page 39?) Well in theatre we tend to get a bit carried away. (That’s right, Bob my friend, take big swig of that absynthe you and him are going to be friends for a while.)

As to be absurd is, by its very nature, not to make any sense. Absurdist theatre then presents non-sense and attempts to make sense of it. Something, well, quite difficult to do.

What’s so weird about these plays then? Well it depends, sometimes the structure of the work is off, sometimes the language, sometimes the characters, sometimes more –

All of this is true for Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs.

The Chairs does follow a story of sort though. An old happily married couple, A Man and A Woman, are going to have guests around. Why are they coming around? Well, to listen to the Orator, naturally. And what does this Orator have to say? Well, the great meaning of life as realised by the Man, who, despite a beautifully comic turn of phrase, feels inadequate to the task of relating it himself.

The guests arrive, only there are no guests merely the chairs brought forth by The Woman upon which they sit. Introductions are made, half conversations are heard – clearly in the minds of the married couple, they are entertaining!

The play picks up as each new guest arrives, the numbers pick up, guests and more guests, the whole room is packed tight – chairs everywhere – and indeed the arrival of the orator is anticipated with great interest.

Where’s the absurdism? Well in the performance. In that gnawing gash in your mind that screams – but there’s no-one there!

The Chairs then is at times is quite brilliant, with the language exuding through the space, filling the emptiness. This pleasant mixture of anecdote, rhyme, derision, repetition, romanticism and non-sequiturs at times leave you in splits of laugher and at others puzzling over what you’ve missed while another audience member erupts on the other side of the room.

It’s not an easy play on an audience then, partly because our dear playwright is as times taking aim right at us, and partly because of the intensity with which it attempts to get its message across.

Indeed, as absurdist theatre goes, it accomplishes its goal; to draw us in and push us out, to make us laugh, and make us think. That it doesn’t fit our preconceived notions about that way theatre and stories are supposed to be told is kind of the point.

Recommended for those who like their comedies to gnaw, for those with a poetic heart, and all students of theatre.

Show watched Thurs 10th June.

Playing until 4th of July 2010 at the Roundhouse theatre, Kelvin Grove.

Presented by La Boite Theatre

Review: Fat Pig – QTC

This tricky piece – tricky because you don’t want to be too heavy handed with the subject material – is a somewhat refreshing attempt to bring some levity to an otherwise taboo topic – being overweight. With Australia no so long since being named the fattest nation in the world (ref The Age) it clearly seemed a timely opportunity to reflect back to us a bit of ourselves at our worse.

In this vein, a successful handsome young man meets and starts dating an over-weight young woman. How do we know she’s overweight? Well she makes several very tasteful jokes about it, that each draw laughs and girlish sighs in equal measure. Slowly they start to fall in love. The young woman is warm and charming and sexy, and yet, well, a fat pig – or at least we are led to believe she is from the young man’s mate, and ex, who each can’t stand the notion of him dating a fat girl. And indeed go to great lengths to mock and ridicule their friend. Some of the funnest and funniest moments can be found during these scenes.

But here-in lies its weakness. For an issues play it just doesn’t quite ring true. For although it did sit uncomfortably with me, it wasn’t because it challenged any notions of body shape, but instead because it didn’t quite accurately reflect the sorts of things men might think and say about an overweight woman. From the way other men in the audience were reacting, I feel I wasn’t alone in this view.

That said, women in the audience had a great time, and many said as much after the play was finished. The play seemed to be able to speak to them in ways that I just missed. Maybe my reservations are old man cynicism or perhaps more simply the play just isn’t aimed at me.

Despite these comments, I still had a good time, and certainly I applaud QTC’s choice. Indeed I would encourage girls looking for a show to go with their mates to pop along and see it.

Show watched. Preview. 31st May 2010.

Playing at the Billie Brown Studio until 26th June.

Review: The Flu Season – Vena Cava

Take a simple set-up, a man and a woman are in a facility where they are being treated by a Doctor and a Nurse for unknown concerns. Add a dose of love – the man and the woman fall in love. Then sprinkle with old man cynicism – the love goes sour.

And what do you have? Well – The Flu Season is one of those plays that catches you unaware. Like you’re playing a game a friendly game of touch football, it’s fun, you’re running about, you get to touch girls, then suddenly someone kicks you in the bollocks. It was an accident of course, but the shear shock of it jolts you into a giddiness where you want to go and have a lie down for a while.

Fortunately for you, if you’re lucky enough to catch this play, when this kick comes, you wont be caught with you pants down.

Indeed The Flu Season is at times a fun ride with a wistful humour, and at others a dose of cough mixture. Such material is difficult to pull off. However the students at QUT have done well showing an alertness to the text atypical for such a youthful cast.

This production is not perfect by any stretch, however, it is some of the best student theatre one can expect to see. It is an opportunity to see young people being pulled and stretched, sometimes beyond their skills, sometimes rising to the challenge. And I, for one, had a great time.

Recommended for lovers and haters alike.

Show watched 25th May 2010. Playing at The Studio, Kelvin Grove Campus, QUT until Saturday 29th.

Review: Stockholm – Frantic Assembly @ La Boite Theatre

A couple, young and hip, the sort you’d be intensely jealous of were they not so sensuous and sexy (in equal doses) are planning a trip to Stockholm. But before they can get there they must first get past their own neuroses and jealousies.

This intense and deeply human two hander is a narration on love, neurosis, and co-dependency, all told through drama and dance – the text of the dance being that feeling you get when words escape you, and the only way you can express how you feel is to move – very appropriate when dealing with the subject of love.

It is a complex work, and yet at times very funny with a bawdy vitality more akin to a pub after everyone has had one too many drinks. I enjoyed this lowest common denominator humour and indeed for my mind it framed and humanised some of the seriousness that followed.

The production values are very high with a tangible design which reaches into the action forming and controlling the performers, almost capturing them in their roles.

Frantic Assembly in association with Sydney Theatre Company have devised a work of unabashed theatricality, a tipsy joy-ride into couple-dom.

Recommended for adults and couples.

Show watched 29th April, 2010. Playing until the 22nd of May

Stockholm @ La Boite

Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

This French film from 2007 is despite its subject a celebration of life and living. Adapted from a memoir of the same name, the reality behind the drama gives it a haunting quality that stays with you for some time.

The hero of the movie, a journalist, wakes to find himself with locked-in syndrome. This rare medical condition has the victim paralysed from the neck down, unable to speak, vision and hearing impaired, he can only communicate through blinking. This slow and painful process doesn’t sound like the subject of film, yet through some expressive film making we get a window inside the life of this anti-hero.

We are introduced to the important people in his life, how their relationships change, and don’t. The landscape is both real and fiction, it is a place where history, future and imagination combine, with an ending as surprising as it is moving.

This is beautiful adult movie making. Recommended for lovers, romantics, and dates.

Watched 21 March 2010. Available at your local video store.

Review: Heroin(e) for Breakfast

This funny dark drama shows the joy and horror of drug abuse, framed through the wit and theatrical whimsy of this young and energetic UK theatre troupe.

Act One, seduction. In this beautifully theatrical proposition the play asks what happens to a group of young hip disjointed adults when Heroin – in shape of a hot Marilyn-esque blonde – is invited around for breakfast. The seduction is part lust, part desire, part need. Heroin wants to be wanted, needs to be in control of their lives. That they willingly secom only adds to the honesty of the work.

Act two, destruction. Now heroin must have her pound of flesh. Relationships come undone, old scars get reopened, and the horror that heroin causes to peoples lives comes to the surface.

This work was well performed by the young cast and was well received by the early twenties audience which filled the theatre.

With an adult eye for guidance this is just the sort of show I would strongly recommend to all young people as they face adulthood and questions of sex, relationships, peer pressure and mind altering drugs.

Show watched 14th March 2010, as a part of the Adelaide Fringe.

Review: The Snow Queen – Theatre Simple

Ostensibly for children this adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson fable is expertly crafted by the people at Theatre Simple.

Taking multifarious roles the five actors weave this tale of love and courage, taking us on a young girl’s journey as she attempts to save her close friend from the snow queen.

It is a story of growing up, of finding independence, and of living with a honest heart.

Theatre Simple have taken this basic premise and turned it into something quite delightful. The afternoon I watched the kids and adults alike were enthralled as the actors with the simplest of changes created the world of the snow queen in front of us.

Indeed it is children’s theatre, but I defy even the most cynical of oldies to enjoy it.

Show watched 14th March 2010. Played during the Adelaide fringe.