Thursday, 22 February 2018

Delilah - Theatre Review

What: Delilah
When: 20 - 25 February 2018
Where: The Butterfly Club
Written by: Clare Hennessy
Directed by: Romi Kupfer
Performed by: Laura McAloney, Francesca O'Donnell, and Sass Pinci
Design by Abbie Lea-Hough
Dramaturgy by: Glenn Saunders

Sass Pinci and Laura McAloney
Delilah is a new one act play being presented at The Butterfly Club this month. Presented by Left of Centre, it sits in an unusual space somewhere between a staged reading and a full production. I found this quite intriguing because it seems to allow for a work to be considered produced for funding and competition purposes without having to manage and resource what we would generally consider a produced work. I suspect we will see a lot more of this type of production in the near future so we will probably have to come up with a name for it.

On the plus side, a production of this scale really highlights the script and allows the cast the freedom to let go of the book which can be quite inhibiting in staged readings. On the down side, it really highlights the script and offers little to designers on the visual side of the practice. Having said that I really think Lea-Hough (designer) could have done so much more to create the characters and their world for very little extra effort or cost.

Delilah is the story of a young urban couple - Samson (O'Donnell) and Delilah (Pinci) - with Delilah's brother Dominic (McAloney) as the outsider looking in. Samson is an up and coming professional fighter with anger issues, and Delilah is his (supposedly?) abused girlfriend. Dominic is a mechanism to constantly put pressure on Delilah to get out of the relationship.

The whole story is book ended by the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah. In a nut-shell the bible story tells us Samson was given super strength by God. He fell in love and married Delilah who was offered a lot of money to find out the secret of his strength. Delilah bugs Samson until he finally tells her the strength is in his hair. He went to sleep, she cut his hair, and he was able to be captured and tortured.

The story of Delilah the play begins with this metaphor - our modern Delilah having cut off Samson's plaits before a big fight. It is a bit hard to tell in this production, but the story then goes back in time to the sequence of events which led to this moment, this betrayal.

Whilst this is a story with intriguing possibilities, my greatest hesitation about Delilah is the confusion about whose story is being told. According to the title it is Delilah's, and the media release insinuates it is an insight into domestic violence. That may very well have been the writer's (Hennessy) intention but this is not the play she wrote. This play is Samson's story - as is the biblical tale - and I am suprised the dramaturg (Saunders) did not pick up on the confusion.

You may say this doesn't matter as long as the story is a good one and well told. Perhaps. The next problem for me though, is that it is evident the story of Samson is not Hennessy's to tell. I often condemn men for trying to write women's stories and I am going to say this has the same lack of intensity and intention because women don't know men's stories. Everything becomes a stereotype.

In this production the entire problem is escalated because for some reason they decided to have women playing the male roles and all of the creatives (except Saunders) are women so who was there in the team to provide a male perspective? On the casting choice, I am all for gender fluidity but on stage gender is binary unless actively worked against. Theatre is the art of signs and signals so if you put a female in a male role you better be trying to say something or you end up saying nothing at all and this is what has happened to Delilah. Casting O'Donnell and McAloney in male roles and then not providing any information on how to read (or not read) this through costume or direction leaves the whole thing feeling very amateur and unfocussed.

This is not so much a reflection on performance. O'Donnell played her part well (and was de-gendered quite successfully I admit), and McAloney really hit her stride in the second half of the show.

Kupfer's direction is really a case study in creating tableaux with a few dated and rather twee theatrical movement tricks to try and give the work some depth and otherworldliness but it justs adds to the sense of 'drama school'. At 70 minutes the play is at least ten minutes too long and all of that can be attributed to the direction. It is slow and drawn out and despite a very affective sound track, tends to destroy the suspense rather than build it.

I know this is a harsh review, and I really thought there was promise and possibility in the play itself although Hennessy needs to go back and compare her intention to her product. There is no abuse in the script - just a hint of rough sex. The time lines are way out of wack. In one day Delilah finds out she's pregnant, chucks a sickie to tell Samson, plots to betray him with Dominic, and quits her job. I am all for telescoping time in a script - I use the technique myself - but in a play written as realism this is utterly fantastical.

There is a lot of potential talent in this team but they need to all start from the same place and not be afraid to talk to each other about inconsistencies. I would really love to see it performed with men playing the men because I think the creative team could use some male experiential perspective with the story as it exists right now.

2 Stars

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Romeo & Juliet - Theatre Review

What: Romeo & Juliet
When: 9 - 18 February 2018
Where: Queens Park, Moonee Ponds
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Alan Chambers
Performed by: Alexandra Aldrich, Lore Burns, Brendan Ewing, Victoria Haslam, Ty Holdsworth, Katharine Innes, Todd Levi, Masashi Shimamoto, Letitia Sutherland, and Harry Tseng.

Victoria Haslam
In an ode to Baz Luhrmann - and more specifically Leonardo Di Caprio - Sly Rat brings spectacle and imagination to the Shakespeare in the park classic, Romeo and Juliet. Over the top and with a keen eye to beauty and detail, what sets Sly Rat's production apart from every version before it is the outstanding interpretation of Juliet which shapes the entire production and makes this show leap into the category of extraordinary and truly contemporary.

Director Alan Chambers has taken a look - a real look - at what Juliet says and how she talks and realised that this character transcends the moment. Juliet often speaks as if from hindsight and Chambers has done what I have never seen anyone else do. He has let her age. And thus, this story is told in the confines and freedoms of her mind.

Trapped in a body aged and incapable of independent function, Juliet (Victoria Haslam) relives the adventures leading up to her life's tragedy. It is not said, because the text is altered very little, but I certainly inferred that whilst Juliet got enough poison to appear dead, she did in fact survive. The opening tableau seems to suggest a long and fruitful life although in her twilight she seems trapped in the reliving of those fateful 'in fair Verona' when two star crossed lovers met their plight.

Told from a dream perspective the first act is an indulgence of Surrealism. Set up like a wedding, the play devolves into something resembling the Mad Hatter's tea party as pink flamingo's pepper the lawn, bubbles and smoke distort the backdrop of epic beauty (Queens Park is stunning!) and Chambers indulges in visual flights of fancy. Surrealism is all about using the trope of the dream to create unexpected juxtapositions and Chambers revels in this in everything from the frame of age reliving youth, through to endless repetitions of Leonardo Di Caprio popping up all over the place.

It is ironic that in this incredibly clever retelling, the freshness of the idea is almost contradicted by the form which rides the waves of 1920's origins through the 60's of Lewis Carroll's imaginings before landing in the 2000's with Di Caprio. Personally I enjoyed the journey and the respect for lineage but I missed the utter contemporariness of the introduction as the play devolves into the nightmare of the 2nd Act only to be taken over by an almost Constructionist edge as troops of Di Caprio's invade Juliet's mind before she is swallowed up.

Having said that, the visual elements are stunning and Haslam's Juliet is ferociously dominating as she counts back all the steps which led to the death of her one true love. Her Romeo has taken on Davidian qualities of perfection in her mind, naturally, and Masashi Shimamoto revels in the melodrama of this interpretation - and he has the body to back it up!

I was intrigued by many character interpretations although in the end I do think the play suffered from too many acting styles and the overriding style of Surrealism doesn't account for, or accomodate this adequately. This seems to be a common issue with younger directors.

I was surprised and intrigued by Katharine Innes' Lady Capulet. Todd Levi's Lord Capulet was a more traditional interpretation but mighty fine as well as was Alexandra Aldrich's feisty nurse. Brendan Ewing was stunning as Mercutio and I very much enjoyed the quieter, yet lothario styled Tybalt portrayed by Harry Tseng. I was not convinced by Ty Holdsworth's Benvolio.

One element which had me perplexed was the interpretation of the religious characters as a Wiccan. Or perhaps it is truer to say I didn't warm to the angry, angsty version of a Wiccan presented by Lore Burns. I just couldn't figure out why she was so grumpy all the time when Shakespeare's Friar Lawrence is extremely approachable as a character.

Regardless, this is a wonderful version of the age old story of Romeo and Juliet and the visuals are so strong it stops people passing by and compels them to stay and watch. The location is stunning, the grass is full and soft and green and the gardens are immaculately groomed. Tickets are free and they have a BBQ and licensed bar so you literally can eat, drink and be merry as you engage in this romantic tale cleverly told. An early start time also makes it extremely family friendly.

4 Stars

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Glitterfist: Libertine - Cabaret Review

What: Glitterfist - Libertine
When: 30 January - 3 February 2018
Where: The 86
Written by: Bree Zilla
Composition by: Toyah Hoetzel
Performed by: Glitterfist, Jessica McKerlie, and Six Inches Uncut

Jessica McKerlie, Glitterfist and Six Inches Uncut
It's Midsumma Festival time so the way the trio in this photo are dressed is pretty much the norm rather than the exception right about now. Having said that, even as the mask of night slips away and the sun wakes us up, a whole lot of that glitter and sparkle is finding its way into the daylight hours. Even our 'day drag' - as Glitterfist calls it - is discreetly celebrating excess as metallics, sequins, animal prints and bling bedazzle offices and educational institutions giving expression to, and worshipping our individuality.

Playing at The 86, Glitterfist:Libertine is all about worship; worshipping the polytheism of indulgence, the glory of glitz and glam, and -most importantly - worshipping ourselves by indulging in our every desire. Written and directed by Glitterfist the show is an orgiastic overindulgence of sex and sensuality as she and fellow divinities Pleasure (McKerlie) and Filth (Uncut) try to find the balance between freedom and connection.

Identity, gender and sexuality are the themes on which the Midsumma Festival revolves and as society moves toward a non-binary aesthetic most shows in the festival tackle larger societal issues with a focus on pain and healing. Glitterfist: Libertine does do this, but in a much more traditional and celebratory context. They bring the joy and naughtiness of the previously secret world of drag into the open air with a new little twist.

Billed in the marketing material as "...Australia's first cabaret featuring an all non-binary gendered cast..." it made me hesitate. What do they mean and how can they make such a claim after a history which includes Les Girls amongst others? Upon seeing the show, though, I understood what they were saying. Each of the artists have genital accoutrements which signify both the male and the female. Thus, Glitterfist has chest hair and a light emitting dildo and Filth has a tentacled vagina under his bedazzled horn phallus. It is anybody's guess as to what is hidden under Pleasure's codpiece.

The story is how the divinity known as Glitterfist matured into an empowering entity helping people find their freedom and themselves, mentored by the older deities Filth and Pleasure who accidently midwife her into our world of flesh and blood. Starting as a pleasure seeking, naive, and thoughtless babe Glitterfist learns about the pain and cost involved in expressing indulgence and looks at some war wounds. The big message is don't always be at war and wear your armour. Relax and be vulnerable sometimes. Enjoy what you have fought so hard for (and are still fighting for).

The show is slow and mesmerizing and absolutely self-indulgent. Normally this would annoy me, but in this instance form follows function and if the message is to engage in our own personal self-indulgence what better way to do it than to show us what that looks like and how fun and fabulous it can be.

I'm not entirely sure where this show moves the gender conversation but it hits the sexuality issue right in the face. I was a little disappointed Glitterfist: Libertine did it from the traditional freak perspective which has always been the safe space for sexual diversity in modern times. It did however open up a wonderful subtext about the role of polytheism in societies.

It occurred to me whilst watching the show that polytheistic societies have a much greater integration of diversity and acceptance. Pick your favourite god and worship as appropriate. After all, we are just pawns in their whimsical and capricious games anyway. Monotheism, on the other hand, is a totalitarian regime where difference is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. It becomes clearer and clearer to me over time that monotheism cannot exist contiguously with tolerance and diversity. The question is which will we choose?

Glitterfist: Libertine is fun and flambouyant and I absolutely adored Uncut's character Filth. Dry, witty, and surprisingly down to earth for a deity all about getting dark and dirty, they brought the laughs when the audience got too lost in the Glitterfist trance. Your eyes will water with the extreme stimulation of the costumes and Glitterfist revels in her burlesque roots. A great way to start a big and bold night out.

2.5 Stars