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REVIEW: Unheimlich | Turning the familiar uncanny – one cat mask at a time

Review | Laura Money

Unheimlich – roughly translated means unhomely and references Sigmund Freud’s essay about the concept of the uncanny. The basic idea is that something familiar and normalised and comforting becomes strange, horrifying, or disjointed. Co-creators Katt Osborne and Tarryn Gill create a domestic setting warped by the surreal touch of the uncanny. Through familiar settings and activities that are just a little off to body horror and a bevy of truly discomforting masks, Unheimlich brilliantly asserts itself into the surrealist stage of performance art while keeping the audience on the edge of their seats – I’m sure many will look at themselves in the mirror twice after seeing this show.

Filing in to PICA the show starts with a talking cat – a la Alice – to immediately set the crowd on edge. Whimsical and sleek, cats have long been viewed as lithe tricksters with various generations venerating or superstitious of them and a talking puppet cat places the audience firmly in the uncanny – topsy-turvy is clearly the nature of the show. As he narrates the scene before us like a cat-version of a nature documentary, the domestic scene unfolds. Sarah Nelson as human female lies in an inebriated state in a pristine bathroom. Part wallowing and part celebrating in the bathtub the cat explains that she has just started her cohabitation with human male (Brendan Ewing). Osborne’s direction and Nelson’s performance here is brilliant – there is a duality about the state of inebriation which vacillates between euphoria and torment – one can never tell which state she is in.

The set is magnificent – a true wonder of pure stagecraft. Set designer, Laura Heffernan excels in sleek and functional design and marries the physical set with the strange costumes perfectly – it’s Unheimlich incarnate. The shiny-tiled bathroom looks super insta-worthy, and if that isn’t an example of the surreal, then I don’t know what is! Spinning the set around not only serves as a clever way to change the scene but provides a sickening surreal carousel later on as the domestic situation swirls and eddies out of control for the new couple. A simple couch and table with pot plant and remote control is easily set askew with rubbish and overturned disco ball plant pots marring the seemingly normal scene. Combined with the sound design of Brett Smith and the lighting by Joe Paradise Lui, the scenes take on a Stranger Things vibe and the familiar sounds and looks distorted.

Unheimlich itself is a perfect example of the term it references – at its core is a traditional theatre piece complete with love story, cute relationship dynamics, marriage, and ultimately regret – but running through this seemingly familiar and normal story is the pulsing thread of the strange. The couple hold up a mirror to one another and conversation exploits their fears and insecurities. This is reflected when the normal conversations from earlier in the show lose their innocuous sound and become almost violent when one-sided. Games like Guess Who and Operation that seem whimsical now hit harder and the power of words and gendered language is thrown into sharp relief – it brilliantly highlights the insidious nature of patriarchal structures that are imbued into every element of society – including games.

Tying all of these themes together are the surreal masks created by Tarryn Gill. As the domestic becomes the uncanny, a host of masked figures observe and interact playfully, yet in a sinister way, in the background. Like trickster spirits in a Shakespearean play, they create mayhem and also reproach. Both Jacob Lehrer and Rachel Arianne Ogle don a huge cat mask with rolling eyes that appear to take on the emotion of the moment. Perched above the bath, silently judging, the cat is the stuff of dreams. There are giant masks that resemble elegantly upgraded Greek theatre masks, and even what appears to be the puppet version of Ewing himself. These large and surreal masks bob and weave in a whimsical, dreamlike manner further cementing the work into the uncanny. There are also some truly horror movie worthy multiple faced masks that creep and crawl all over the show. The most impactful mask sequence comes at the wedding, though as Nelson and Ewing touchingly see each other grow old together with a love that is enduring. It’s moments of sweetness like this that make the blows of the remainder of the show hit even harder.

Unheimlich is a master class in the uncanny. It’s the perfect blend of theatre and performance art with human emotion at its core. It will leave you feeling discombobulated and comfortable simultaneously and definitely rethinking a few things from your past. Osborne and Gill are a formidable team and they provide a commentary on almost every aspect of life, holding up a mirror to society and culture and letting the audience step through the looking glass into their world – and it’s phenomenal.

Unheimlich is on at PICA from 22nd September – 2nd October 2021, get your tickets HERE

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REVIEW: My Shout | Examining youth culture and alcohol through physicality and music

Review | Laura Money

Walking into The Blue room Theatre for My Shout, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d just gone into another room in the bar. The crew at Undercurrent Theatre Company have recreated the atmosphere of a bar perfectly – from the long high table, to the bar stools, and display of bottles reaching heady heights along the back wall the whole set evokes hazy pub life. Muted lighting by Adelaide Harney and the constant hum of music from David Stewart combines to plonk the audience right in the middle of a group of friends enjoying a bevvie or two. My Shout is an exploration of how the human experience is shared through alcohol and how alcohol and ritual combine to create that connection. It takes four performers and sees them through an afternoon/evening pastiche of previous drinking sessions and depictions of Australian drinking culture. Combining physical movement, music, and lived experience, the work is part homage and part criticism of that stalwart of Aussie life – a good old-fashioned drink.

Four performers, Claire Appleby, Scarlet Davis, Christopher Moro and Shaun Johnston share their lived experience and that of other devisors in a series of intense physical movement, mentored by Movement Consultant Emma Fishwick and spoken word that sometimes shares the frenzy of beat poetry and at others colloquial experiences that resonate through the crowd. Appleby confidently exudes her baller attitude when ritualising the getting ready segment of a night out – her excitement and body positivity extending to body autonomy in how far she will let herself go. It turns terrifying in a desperate search to fit in and get that next drink. Director Samuel Bruce turns the stage from familiar setting to bizzare parkour experience as characters topple tables, leap from stool to stool and see the furniture rear up in nightmarishly surreal sequences that put the beer goggles squarely on the audience’s eyes. Moro remains jovial throughout – the kind of friend who’s the first to get lit but then doesn’t deteriorate. He has a few moments of introspection where he questions the lack of passing on drinking culture from generation to generation – yet it somehow gets passed on.

Davis and Johnston are the two who really question what it’s all about – Davis acts as a fly on the wall, egging her peers on while not touching a drop. It’s an interesting take on the old addage – it’s not about drinking it’s about hanging out with your friends. Sadly, Davis is often left a step or two behind her mates and not enjoying herself as much. Johnston’s observations merge ideas of masculinity with alcohol as both an inhibitor and an enabler for male bonding. He sharply observes that drinking while watching the footy is highly superficial, causing him to go on a bit of a philosophical arc, questioning the point while also happy to keep drinking. Group dance/movement is eerily executed as synchronised moves ritualise the art of the pour, the repetitious movements becoming frenzied and dangerous to end doused in alcohol. My Shout is exactly what it says it is – their interpretation of drinking culture in Australia. It’s not an overly nuanced piece and seems to be more of a recreation of events than a deep-dive into the culture it’s examining but overall it’s a great new work from promising up and comers to the Perth scene – we’ll drink to that!

My Shout is on at the Blue Room Theatre until Saturday 18th September. Get your tickets HERE

Past Production, Review

REVIEW: Nocturna | A dark comedy of other halves, friends, lovers, soul mates…pets

Review | Laura Money

Imagine a cat’s nine lives span the ages – eons of primordial earth’s newness strengthening its kitten bones, Egyptian worship giving it the confidence of the pharaohs, sharpening its claws on stone age weapons. Nocturna gifts the cat a series of epic past lives as she searches for her one true love – her soulmate. Slinky and confident, Molly (Alison Van Reeken) has been through every possible rendition of the earth and come out on top. In a blistering opening monologue, and interspersed throughout the play she tells her story in a spoken word rhythm that pulses and resonates throughout the whole work. Writer Ian Sinclair imbues the character of the cat with a cosmic magnetism – the wisdom and power of the entire history of the world fits under her fur – filling her entire being from tip of her tail to point of her claws. The script explores duality and depth – it looks under the surface and draws its strength from the very land it’s written on – wisdom and experience absorbed by the characters but it is equally about the mundane and how sometimes even the seemingly small things can be big if given enough time.

This is a play in two halves – the large scale thrumming of time and space resonating across history with its emphasis on the primal, animal, and raw – and a sitcom worthy comedy where the only ‘grit’ is who ate whose yoghurt in the share house. On paper, these elements seem too disparate to work together, however Nocturna brilliantly intertwines these two genres and styles – the large scale and the minutiae of human life intersect and even begin to influence each other. Mellissa Cantwell directs the piece with the precarious nature of this balance at the forefront. Opening with Van Reeken silkily clawing her way through black draped material, dramatically providing a non-space that sits outside of time, Cantwell elicits an ethereal reverence from Van Reeken so sincere that the change of scene is a stark difference – almost jarring. It takes a moment to adjust as the human side of the cast settle into a domestic share house comedy complete with comedians in the cast and Van Reeken becomes a house cat – purring and meowing only.

Stripped of her grandiose monologues and thoroughly domesticated, Alison Van Reeken presents the best depiction of an animal this reviewer has ever seen. She slinks about the stage, settles her hips and shoulders in a swaying motion, prods and pads at the ground or couch before lying down – all of these gestures are so familiar to cat lovers it can be easy to forget she’s human! Sinclair cleverly places the monologues first which gives Molly gravitas as more than just a cat. Taking a moment to adjust after the schism, elegantly handled by Norabelle (Morgan Owen) waking from a dream, the share house comes alive. Sean (Isaac Diamond) scoffs at Norabelle’s paranoia about the window and her discomfort at their other housemate’s penchant for walking around in his underwear. Owen and Diamond have great chemistry and Owen’s comic timing is impeccable – her character is uptight and riddled with Millennial trends like her apparent ability to lucid dream.

Sinclair has written a very convincing sitcom style play complete with rough and ready room mate Noah (Dan Buckle) and newbie adjusting to their surroundings post break up Suha (Alicia Osyka). Suha and Noah develop a close friendship early on and take on the world in a heartwarming attempt to cheer each other up. The language is bang on, and the acting proves that these guys just get it – from Buckle’s amazing ability to keep his emotions slightly visible bubbling under the surface, to Osyka’s rubber facial expressions these two keep the comedy ticking over. Every single performer should be commended here especially for their sincerity when acting alongside Van Reeken’s perfectly rendered cat. Every exchange is beyond believable – the sheer skill of every single actor on stage is elite.

Nocturna is perhaps the strangest play to describe. Part sitcom, part dramatic poetry it begins with a clear separation however as it progresses the two opposite styles bleed into each other permeating depth and profundity into levity and seeming shallowness. The immense scale of the mysticism of cats fold into the share house in the form of dreams, discussions of philosophy, love and loss, and ultimately retribution. While the banality of human existence proves to be the downfall of the once powerful feline. Elegantly performed, beautifully written, and intuitively directed, Nocturna is a masterclass of its genre.

The Kabuki Drop presented Nocturna in August 2021 at Subiaco Arts Centre

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REVIEW: Every Brilliant Thing | Seeking out the joyous things in life one bullet point at a time

Review | Laura Money

Every Brilliant Thing about this show:

  • Luke Hewitt‘s amazing performance
  • Heartfelt and pure declarations of joy
  • A sense of community felt in the crowd
  • The list resonating with you
  • Laughing at previously taboo things
  • Calling out and becoming part of the show
  • Being with others
  • All of it

Hewitt’s list starts a little differently from mine – with ice cream, rollercoasters, and the colour yellow. These are the good things in the world as seen by a seven year old. As the audience calls out these simple delights they seem whimsical and pure – until Hewitt reveals the origins of the list. A list compiled at the time of his mother’s suicide attempt tinges the brilliant things with sadness. It is their joyous nature that jar with the bitterness of the situation. However, this is one of the most uplifting shows about depression ever written – it doesn’t claim to have any answers but uses one person’s ideas for seeing the good and the worth in the world and in humanity, which is a pretty good answer in my book.

Written and devised by playwright Duncan Macmillan and comedian/performer Jonny Donahoe the work is simple: a show in the round – which means there are four sides of seating with every section facing the middle where the performer stands. One performer – this can be anyone, male, female, non-binary as the narrator, in this case the brilliant Luke Hewitt. And all the house lights on – the audience is as much a part of the show as the performer. Every Brilliant Thing doesn’t really break the fourth wall – it never builds it up to be torn down in the first place. Through Hewitt’s affable nature and the sense of camaraderie from the intimate set up, the show is designed to focus all of its joy and heartache and hash it out in a kind environment. Black Swan State Theatre Company have certainly uncovered a gem in this buoyant and heartwarming experience.

As the show progresses and the audience becomes more and more involved, which serves as an elegant metaphor for community mindedness and how we all must come together and help one another. Hewitt is gentle in his approach to audience participation, coaching and encouraging the people in their performances. When his eagle eye searches for his next character, no-one is shrinking in their seats, as they know that they’re in the affable Hewitt’s capable hands. Through early loss with the death of beloved family dog, Sherlock Bones, to processing his mother’s illness and the repercussions her actions and his list have on his future, Hewitt relays these parts of the story with a clear voice and genuine emotion. Hewitt is the perfect fit for this role as he captures the essence of a confused seven year old, a university student on the verge of true love, and a slightly baffled 40-something divorcee with deft storytelling skills and enough heart to light the entire room.

Every Brilliant Thing is just that – every brilliant thing about theatre. It tells a truthful, heartfelt story that resonates, it brings people together around a topic usually hidden, it features cascading beautiful words that flow from Hewitt in an earnest monologue, and it contains a message of hope. Encouraging you to marvel at the world and the people in it, this play’s ethos is perhaps humanity’s most important function – to love and support one another – life is made easier with friends to talk to and shoulders to cry on and we can bond just as powerfully over positive shared experiences.

Trigger warnings for mental health and suicide

If you need to talk to someone you can find a list of resources in the program

Every Brilliant Thing is on at the State Theatre Centre from 25th August – 18th September 2021. You can get your tickets HERE

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REVIEW: Sydney II: Lost and Found | Bringing stories of hope and bravery lovingly to the surface

Review | Laura Money

In the midst of war, two souls find each other and fall in love. In the midst of devastation and destruction young boys find hope with their heroes. In the midst of death there is life.

This is the full story of the HMAS Sydney – its proud crew, its valiant heroics, its sad fate, and its eventual rediscovery. Told in a unique format – a clever mix of theatrical and filmic devices, with a sweeping score and brilliantly heartfelt performances – Sydney II: Lost and Found brings clarity to the fate of the Sydney and weaves in a beautiful personal story guaranteed to pull at the heartstrings. Lost and Found is Theatre 180‘s second foray into a mixed media play. Following the success of A Fortunate Life the young company embarked on yet another central WA story in the search for the Sydney. Both works capture the imagination and the spirit of the WA population and remind us that there are important stories to be explored.

Lost and Found adopts the same format as its predecessor – a unique blend of live theatre and a cinematic experience, complete with soundtrack, credits a la film mode, and tangible performances. The backdrop is the cinema screen but a dynamic and lively one where backgrounds move, performers interact with each other on both stage and screen, and real footage of the discovery of the wreckage is shown. The result is a breathtaking experience that engages the senses and transports the audience to wherever they need to be – historical Perth, the deck of the Sydney, even a farm in Manjimup! It’s immersive theatre at its finest and we are happy to be ‘on board.’

There are two stories interwoven at play here – a traditional tale of love and loss with more questions than answers and the search for the actual wreckage. It’s part traditional love story, part TED talk as Allan and Jessie Rowe’s stories interact with a scientific adventure. Each cast member adopts several roles in bringing the Sydney’s story to light – Morgan Dukes shines as the effervescent Jessie – newlywed and uplifting supporter of her husband Alan (Tom O’Sullivan) who also has an optimistic outlook on life. Their story is shared with warmth and heart by writer Jenny Davis – she has the incomparable ability to create intimate personal stories and render them wholly ours. She shares the Alan’s love of the sea and navy through O’Sullivan’s enthusiastic dialogue and delivery. Jessie’s trepidation is ultimately quelled by her sense of hope and Davis weaves futures and pasts in an intricate play of language that is fiercely intelligent.

Directed by Stuart Halusz the work uses every single part of its stage both on screen and off! The actors Dukes, O’Sullivan and Myles Pollard flit between characters with deft costume changes moving seamlessly through eras, nations, and genders. Aided by a stellar performance by all three actors each character is brought to life with incredible talent – a change of facial features, a cheeky jacket, or even a bearing changes them from able seamen to school boys to German officers and each rendition is utterly believable. Alongside the Rowe’s story are other sailors and civilians that highlight the impact Sydney had on the popular imagination. It is this impact that spurred on the second part of this tale – the search for the wreckage and a final answer to what happened. The actors turn into presenters as they explain everything about the wreck from the history to the science and the sheer magnitude of the operations. They also talk crowdfunding in a highly entertaining segment. Accompanying the search the audience is stunned into silence, watching the sonar footage with bated breath as the wreckage is illuminated. It’s a thrilling moment that captures the feelings of the ship wreck hunters themselves.

Sydney II: Lost and Found is a sweeping romance between the people of Australia and the ship that captured everyone’s heart. Combining haunting imagery of the wreck and the exhilarating thrill of live performance this is an experience not to be missed.

Sydney II: Lost and Found is on at various cinemas in both regional and metro areas for the end of the year. Click HERE to find out more information and to purchase tickets.