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I Know There's A Lot Of Noise Outside But You Have To Close Your Eyes

Female friendships are the ultimate paradox. On the one hand they can be intimate, nurturing and honest, on the other they might be superficial, false and downright cruel. Often, they are both – at the same time. In a sense, female friendships provide a conduit through which women play out their innermost hopes, dreams, insecurities and disappointments in a far more volatile way than they would with, say, their partners.

In a true female friendship a woman is free to unleash it all: the good, the bad and, more often than not, the ever so ugly. And that’s what Katie (Anna McCarthy) and Imogen (Zoey Dawson) do in the sometimes funny, often dark and undeniably-squirm-in-your-seat intense, I Know There’s A Lot Of Noise Outside But You Have To Close Your Eyes. 

The set up is all too familiar in the Facebook Age. Two old high school chums who life has drawn apart decide to collide for one night of rum and cokes and cosmos to see what has changed and what, if anything, hasn’t.

Together with director Allison Wiltshire, McCarthy and Dawson are part of Melbourne-based pussy posse, I’m Trying To Kiss You, who put on self-penned performance works that touch on everything from tuna pasta to patriarchy. Gutsy stuff. And so it is with the intriguingly long (in the name sense) but short in duration (60 minutes)I.K.T.A.L.O.N.O.B.U.H.T.C.Y.E. 

The “noise” of the title refers to the preening and posturing or “constructed identity” that lies on the surface of female relations; the look-how-fabulous-and-successful-and-totally-happy-I-am wall of defence that masks the I’m-lonely-and-single-and-haven’t-had-sex-in-months reality that you’ll find if only you “close your eyes”. Through the course of the evening Katie and Imogen oscillate between these outer and inner worlds of representation, discovering along the way that neither are quite what they seem at a cursory glance.

Both are dynamite performances. Dawson and McCarthy are witty at times and ragingly bitter and daring at others. It’s a play of extremes, an emotional roller coaster that demands a lot from its audience in terms of its complexity and intensity. If you’ve come for Sex And The City you’ve taken a wrong turn (unless it’s the episode where Miranda fantasises about choking Carrie with one of her Manolo Blahniks). But if you like your theatre to slap you up the side of the head and say “wake up and smell the nail varnish, bitch” then it’s vodka shots all round.

I’m Trying To Kiss You presents
I Know There’s A Lot Of Noise Outside But You Have To Close Your Eyes

Director Allison Wiltshire

Venue: Parade Studio, NIDA, 215 Anzac Pde,Kensington
Dates: Mar 6 – 23, 2013
Tickets: $18 – 28

This review first appeared on Australian Stage


Sydney Theatre Company: Sex With Strangers

Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. Wi-Fi. Trolling. It wasn’t long ago that these weren’t even words, let alone predominant forces governing our lives. In the blink of an eye we’ve gone from the kind of creatures who value privacy and intimacy to ones that are willing to “share” practically every detail of our day with anyone who has access to a computer. It’s the biggest social shift since the invention of the telephone or the automobile. We are evolving, but into what?

Sex With Strangers by Brooklyn-based playwright Laura Eason explores the ramifications that our online lives have for our real-world relationships. Olivia (Jacqueline Mckenzie) is a talented thirty-something writer who has stalled after her critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful first novel. She’s holed up during a blizzard at a rural Michigan Bamp;B trying to finish novel number two when in blows Ethan (Ryan Corr), a handsome mid-twenties blogger whose salacious “fratire” memoir of one-night stands with hundreds of women he picked up in bars has propelled him onto the New York Times bestseller list. In true rom-com style his gen-Y arrogance rubs up against her gen-X insecurity and bingo, here come the fireworks.

If it sounds a tad formulaic, that’s the problem, because it kind of is. While Mckenzie and Corr are delightful and give wonderful, naturalistic performances that are warm and endearing, there simply aren’t enough places for them to go emotionally with this. It’s a bit like the feeling you get when you’re watching a chick flick of the predictable Must Love Dogs variety. Sure, it’s enjoyable for a bit of Sunday afternoon viewing when you’re flopping about on the couch, but it’s not terribly deep or satisfying. It’s not going to challenge any of your preconceived ideas, instead it will reassuringly confirm them so you can feel better about what you already believed. This is not a production that’s boring, exactly, as the action is sustained; interest very rarely wanes, but it’s not theatre in the capital “T” sense. It’s not going to move you.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse, a veteran of the Australian film industry, has been behind some of the best cinema ever made in this country. Proof (1991) starring Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving was a psychological masterpiece. Here, she handles her theatre debut with the utmost assurance, creating a visually fully-realised world that is immersing, thanks to the accomplished abilities of Mckenzie and the bright young talent of NIDA graduate Corr (of TV Packed To The Rafters fame).

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Tracy Grant Lord’s set is charming. It brings the Michigan woodland indoors one minute then reveals a stylish library that looks straight out of design mag Wallpaper the next. The transitions are beautifully handled with projections by Matthew Marshall displaying quotes on love and writing by literary luminaries that run across the stage. And the hip musical interludes from sound designer Steve Francis keep the energy appropriately up.

Sex With Strangers is a sweet, funny and playful production, enjoyable but not terribly profound. In a sense, Laura Eason has achieved what she set out to, which was to create a play that “can speak to this moment, the one we are all living in right now”. A place where attention spans are short and 140 characters says it all.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
Sex With Strangers
by Laura Eason

Venue: Warf Theatres, Walsh Bay
Dates: 28 September – 24 November

This review first appeared on Australian Stage

Belvoir St: Peter Pan

Peter Pan, JM Barrie’s story of the boy who never grows up may be a classic but it’s also a parable for modern times. If you live in inner-city Sydney chances are you’ve met one – a “manchild”, that is. Mid-thirties, skinny-legged jeans brandishing a beard, never goes anywhere without his skateboard. Surry Hills is a mecca for these Lost Boys. They mill about sipping soy lattes and eating sourdough, praying they’ll never have to get a mortgage or a real job. It’s a pretty shrewd move then on Ralph Myers part to put Peter Pan on the Belvoir main stage smack bang in the middle of manchild central. And in this production he gives them exactly what they are craving: a fantasy world full of fairy dust and make-believe, where their inner child can run rampant, stuffing its face with sweets without fear of counting calories.

Myers’ production is basically a panto for grown ups. Sure, children are most welcome, and with its fast-paced 1hr 30min running time sans interval they are sure to enjoy the show, but this is much more a rollicking ride for the young at heart. Adapted by Tommy Murphy from four source texts (Barrie, ever the perfectionist, tinkered with his tale for thirty years, resulting in myriad versions) this is a cleverly condensed play that may skip lightly over the Indians and turn the mermaids into a bit of a sideshow but it captures the essence of all that is great about the original flight of fancy.

Meyne Wyatt is charismatic and magnetic as Peter, with his exuberant youthful energy and naïve narcissism. When he says, “come fly Wendy” we wish he’d take us, too. Geraldine Hakewill is perfectly prim and proper as Wendy, the little girl Peter takes to Neverland to play mother to the parentless Lost Boys. John Leary is hilarious whether he’s crawling around on the floor as Nana the dog or indulging in a bit of swashbuckling tomfoolery as Nibs or Smee, as is Gareth Davies who gets very much into the childish spirit of things as Slightly. Harriet Dyer draws big laughs as Twin One and Two, while Jimi Bani is sweet and endearing as young John and very entertaining as the Captain-Hook-hungry Crocodile.

Of course, the real fun is reserved for Charlie Garber who plays Hook, the plotting pirate whose every fibre is focussed on finding Peter Pan and making him walk the plank. more info Garber grabs this role hook, line and sinker (pardon the pun) and runs far and away with it. In his stage directions for performing a “fairy play”, such as this one, JM Barrie states that: “The difference between a fairy play and a realistic one is that in the former all the characters are really children with a child’s outlook on life. This applies to the so-called adults in the story as well as the young people”. Garber, perhaps better than most, understands this distinction implicitly. Hook, therefore, is a child’s version of evil, larger than life, simplistic and one-sided, as is his real-world foil Mr Darling – which is just as it should be.

However, the ultimate joy of this production is in Robert Cousins’ ingeniously imaginative set design, which playfully recreates the make-believe world of children with the kind of deft versatility of a Wes Anderson or Michel Gondry film. A child’s bedroom is the backdrop that becomes Neverland with no-frills transformations. Blankets turn a wardrobe into rocks where mermaids squawk like seals, and then become the rising waters which threaten to drown Wendy and Peter. A bunk bed miraculously becomes a pirate ship at full mast. Even a single bed proves to be a cunning predator.

On the whole, Myers’ Peter Pan proves to be a fun-filled nostalgia fest that will transport adult audiences back to those early wonder years where anything and everything was possible. And, as an extra bonus, after the manchildren in the audience ride their skateboards home they might like to practice their new flying technique – now that they know how it’s done.

Belvoir presents
Peter Pan
by J.M. Barrie | adapted by Tommy Murphy

Director Ralph Myers

Venue: UPSTAIRS Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Previews: 5 – 6 January 2013
Dates: 9 January – 10 February 2013
Tickets: $65 – $45 | Family (2 adults and 2 children) $130 (additional children $25)
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 |

This review first appeared on Australian Stage

Sydney Theatre Company: The Secret River

The Secret River is, in a very real sense, Australia’s creation story. Set on what was the New South Wales colony’s new frontier, the Hawkesbury River in the early 1800s, it details the struggles and ultimately brutal resolve of the renegade convict settlers who claimed the land as their own by force from the indigenous people inhabiting it. The Secret River illustrates the choices made by our forebears, for better or for worse, which led to the expanding of the colony and an irreparable dispossession for the indigenous people of this country. It is a tragic and important history lesson, one that must be told sensitively and expressively if we are ever to reach anything close to an understanding of what went wrong in the beginning and why.

Kate Grenville’s novel, the source material for this play, is full of beautifully crafted and powerful prose. Transforming a piece that is already perfectly executed into a new form is a monumentally difficult task. It could be said that the greater the original text the more obstacles the adaptation will face in equalling or, in rare instances, surpassing it. This is because a great work inherently resists modification. Choosing what should stay and what should go becomes that much harder when everything has already found its snug resting place.

And so it is with The Secret River. Playwright Andrew Bovell has been reluctant to let go of Grenville’s signature voice and in his efforts to preserve it he has hamstrung this production somewhat with an onstage narrator. The result is a talented cast that are rendered impotent as they stand and wait their turn to fit in around the narrative, while the action is beholden to a staccato rhythm rather than a flow. This is a tale where point of view is everything and yet here we have an aboriginal narrator (Ursula Yovich) reciting text that is mostly sympathetic to the troubles of the settlers. While this may be an interesting attempt at unifying the characters instead it backfires, jarring with the plot irreconcilably.

There are a great many challenges from a directorial standpoint, too. With action that focuses mostly on exteriors Neil Armfield opts for minimalist staging and a bush that is largely imagined. Stephen Curtis’ towering ghost gums and a fully functional campfire help to lend the required ambience, as does Mark Howett’s subtle and quite lovely lighting, while Iain Grandage’s live musical accompaniments create a sense of intimacy. However, decisions such as making actors behave like barking dogs and disembodied branches bashed about the actors to indicate they are moving through dense bushland push otherwise serious scenes into the realm of farce.

There are, thankfully, many strong performances here. The entire indigenous cast are phenomenally good. Roy Gordon is magnetic as Yalamundi; Trevor Jamieson shines as Ngalamalum; Jeremy Simms is a standout as the dangerously unhinged settler Smasher Sullivan; Colin Moody is wonderfully moving as click here
Thomas Blackwood, the only settler who has found a way to happily coexist with the locals; Miranda Tapsell is charming as Gillyagan; and Judith McGrath lends nice comic relief as the long-suffering Mrs Herring.

Best of all the child actors imbue The Secret River with an effervescence and a lightness that keep it buoyant at crucial junctures, especially when the darkness threatens to drag it irretrievably away. But ultimately, this production cannot turn the tide, and it ends up slipping away without being as powerful or as meaningful as it most certainly deserved to be.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
The Secret River
by Kate Grenville | adapted for the stage by Andrew Bovell 

Directed by Neil Armfield

Venue: Sydney Theatre | Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay NSW
Dates: 8 Jan – 9 Feb, 2013
Tickets: $105 – $50

This review first appeared on Australian Stage