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

Past Production, Review

REVIEW: Minneapolis | Examining call-out culture in a #metoo world

Review | Laura Money

In Minneapolis, USA there is a room dubbed the quietest room in the world. It’s located at Orfield Laboratories and is so quiet that the longest anyone has been able to bear it is 45 minutes. Minneapolis’ protagonist sees his very own apartment take on the silence of its scientific counterpart in the wake of insensitive and obtuse comments used to invigilate a public shaming against him. As he hides out, waiting for the storm outside to subside he begins to feel the detrimental effects of silence and isolation. What if your thoughts are so heinous you don’t wish to be alone with them? In a blistering examination of cancel culture, the metoo movement, broken masculinity, and the normalisation of hate speech, writer/director/performer Will O’Mahoney exhibits emotional restraint and gives the issues under the microscope depth and gravity. Minneapolis doesn’t claim to have the answers but takes great strides towards a future in which calling out injustice and scruitinising gendered violence is absorbed into our culture – O’Mahoney is at the forefront of the movement and this work is an important rung on the ladder for change.

Minneapolis’ greatest strength is its biting sense of humour. One way to cement serious issues into a collective consciousness is through comedy. O’Mahoney’s humour sits in the awkward millennial camp – he adroitly calls out virtue signalling and the left-wing style of language in which correct terminology often inhibits the actual cause. The result is a hilariously on point, blistering attack on semantics and toxic entitlement that lifts the veil off the audience’s eyes and does so with its finger firmly on the pulse. Directors O’Mahoney and Frances Barbe eke out every bit of the Subiaco Arts Centre main stage – the action begins from behind the audience – a distressed O’Maohney runs after Andrea Gibbs down the aisle stairs until they reach the stage. There’s shouting, pleading, and even a bit of grovelling as O’Mahoney begs Gibbs to take down an incriminating video of him from the internet. O’Mahoney’s language and presentation style is brilliant – he stumbles and stammers over his words, backtracks and placates before a surge of self-righteous anger bursts through him and he lashes out in what we can assume is how he really feels.

The plot is simple – O’Mahoney’s character was filmed by Gibbs’ character saying something terribly offensive about a random woman. At the beginning of the play we are not privy to the content of the tape and have to glean information via clues glittered throughout the dialogue. Gibbs is unflinching in her delivery. Her signature larrikin-like, teasing tone renders the character equal parts infuriating and endearing. As she continues to work with O’Mahoney in a journalistic endeavour to uncover the truth behind hate speech and misogyny she becomes more and more frustrated by his absolute incapacity to take responsibility for his thoughts and actions. Straight, white, cis-gendered men your days are numbered and it is your response to this that will determine how you will help or hinder the process. He holes up in his apartment, moving furniture in frenzied frustration to the thrumming beat of musician and composer Liam Hickey. Hickey’s a master drummer and his clever, roiling soundtrack acts as the pulse of the show – beating faster and faster as things rush to a head. O’Mahoney’s world comes crashing about him as the drumbeats in his head are silent in the crushing quiet of his forced isolation. With all this time for introspection, you’d think he would accept responsibility for what he did – instead he becomes increasingly defensive and manic, seeking advice in the most unlikely of places.

It may seem odd to say, but O’Mahoney’s character is complete in his incompleteness. His speech patterns are as erratic as his thoughts, as he constantly self-edits to appear – for want of a better word – woke. Alongside the philosophical stylings of teenage bicycle food delivery guy Tobias Muhafidin he develops an insular and at times deranged approach to his personal but very public problem. Muhafidin is an absolute delight on stage. A hidden gem, he delivers everything with deadpan hilarity, only becoming vulnerable when pushed. Whilst the dialogue is laugh out loud funny, it twinges with dire recognition of gendered violence and microaggressions. And though these may seem like buzz words the philosophy behind these terms still resonates. As the play progresses we see O’Mahoney as less of a fish out of water, funny male protagonist (one that is comfortingly familiar in its ubiquitous nature) and more of an archaic and potentially toxic attitude that needs to be challenged. Gibbs sums it up in an impassioned speech as iconic as Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech but with more gusto. She expresses the weariness of women. How every single day misogyny wears them down. How it is still their responsibility when it’s clearly about time men stepped up. Gibbs is inspirational in this moment -she delivers her monologue firmly, and with conviction and emotional control, providing gravitas through her dignified tone to an issue that has been slowly gaining traction.

Minneapolis is a highly nuanced and intelligent work that provides humour, philosophy, and introspection. It puts fragile masculinity under scrutiny but even more important than that, it examines the complex relationship between cultural constructs and how to undo them. It is highly frustrating for people to be suddenly called out for something they’ve been doing their entire lives. Internalised prejudice is a sinister thing, and it’s only now that people are being held accountable for it that we can change. Highlighting differing attitudes through intergenerational masculinity, the play is not only of its time but for all time. Works like Minneapolis contribute greatly to the changing narrative and everyone involved should be very proud of this piece.

Minneapolis played at Subiaco Arts Centre from 27th – 31st July 2021

Past Production, Review

REVIEW: Hell Hath No Fury | Musical Bitchin’ From the Basement of Hell

Review | Laura Money

When the age old saying Hell Hath No Fury like a woman scorned comes up, the image of an angry, possibly violent woman doing something vengeful and stupid is conjured. Blistering rock songs that will rip your heart out and rain spite down on every man. This is the stereotype, but Zalia Joi is all about the healing power of love and forgiveness – so titles can be deceiving! The show is hell-bent on working through pain and sorrow through song and trying to reconcile how to match up being a good person when people have treated you badly. It’s raw, full of expression and utterly human.

Joi is the embodiment of wiccan rock chick. She sings with an emotional core that brings power and depth to a suite of original music that taps into a Fleetwood Mac vibe but exudes Joi’s wonderful blend of strength and nurturing. Alicia (Joi) finds herself in Tartarus – the ‘basement of hell’ – a place where souls live out their worst nightmares – their own personal hell. Accompanying Joi in this circle of hell are the band ‘Men From Hell’ a mash up of good boys gone bad all wearing various shades of red and black an sporting hellish and grotesque accessories. Joi’s guide to Tartarus – Evie (Fiona Cooper) becomes philosophical as her and Alicia nut it out over how to react to betrayal. Cooper is mesmerising in her badassery! She slinks about the stage with a mischievous grin, delighting in revenge and torture – in our case extending that delight to removing a mobile phone from an unlucky audience member – and her songs and story reflect her reactionary violence that might mask a vulnerability. Cooper treads this line with blistering vocal talent and a compelling stage presence and is the perfect counter to Joi.

Throughout the show, Alicia is processing her feelings and what exactly happened to her. Through heartfelt original songs, Joi brings a depth to Alicia that unpacks the initial shock of betrayal and probes beyond a knee-jerk reaction. As much as it pains her to confront these feelings, Joi’s Alicia is the vulnerable princess whose forgiving heart urges you to choose compassion over anger and is able to find peace. Clearly written from experience, Joi is the ultimate salve for heartache as she embraces you in her hurt yet giving embrace. The music is brilliantly composed and arranged and the ladies sing the hell out of it! Hell Hath No Fury is a blistering night of rock and soul that will stay with you the next time you’re faced with the decision to be kind.

Past Production, Review

REVIEW: York | Layers of history intertwine in this unique approach to place

Review | Laura Money

We are all just visitors of this time, this place, we are all just passing through.

Co-Director Ian Wilkes

Set on Ballardong boodja, York uses the site of the old hospital as its silent witness to the past and the bloody and intriguing history that sweeps through one particular place. Written by upcoming new voices Ian Michael and Chris Isaacs, both of whom have had a huge impact on the Perth theatre scene in recent years, the tale is set over three main periods – a couple seeking a ‘tree change’, a school camp in 1985, and as the original hospital in the aftermath of World War I. It’s a sweeping, epic tale that goes way back through 200 years of suffering and pain, highlighting the human experience in a unique and surprisingly fun way. It’s a play of collaborations – the writers collaborate, the directors Ian Wilkes and Clare Watson work well together, as does the ensemble cast and the result is a well-conceived piece to be proud of – this is Black Swan State Theatre Company at the top of their game.

Beginning in 2020 and working backwards, the play starts off funny and quirky – Alison Van Reeken and Shareena Clanton play couple Emma and Rosy as they move into the old hospital building, ready to renovate. After a hilarious exchange with movers Ben Mortley and Maitland Schnaars we realise all is not quite as it seems. Mortley and Schnaars refuse to place any boxes upstairs and at first this appears to be country banter and casual laziness but soon transpires that this is not the case. The 2020 scenes seem straightforward and charming – lulling you into a false sense of security until neighbour Shauna (Jo Morris) shows up. Shauna is a clairvoyant and the more she talks the more little spooky occurrences are exposed. Technical elements are pulled off magnificently, from windows shutting on their own to jugs leaping off the kitchen counter, it’s impressive.

What makes the show so successful is the brilliant set design by Zoe Atkinson. It’s a multi-story marvel that is part cross section and part closed set – complete with mysterious closed door at the top of the stairs that is used to maximum effect. There is so much detail, and the versatility of the set means it can span multiple eras with minimum changes. Your eyes will constantly rove every centimetre of the set for clues and the payoff at the end when it all clicks into place cement the set design and story as an interconnected work. Moving on to the 1985 section, the characters are different once again, yet the ‘house’ remains the same. This time, you notice the beds upstairs as they become used for a camp. There are great performances here by Perth mainstay Isaac Diamond, rising star Elise Wilson, and WAYTCO alumni Benjamin and Jacob Narkle and Sophie Quin. Based on true events, York is now a poltergeist style haunted house story – it has all the elements of classic horror: a school camp in the middle of summer, kids telling ghost stories, a real haunting, and kids daring each other to do stupid things. The camp section is hilarious, daggy as it embraces every bit of eighties style, and scary. I have never been in an audience that audibly gasp whenever something spooky happens but this whole audience remained on the edge of their seats, some people covering their eyes. For a show to elicit that response is remarkable, not since Let The Right One In have Black Swan audiences been so viscerally responsive.

Each section of York has a distinct tone, and the 1919 section is a little tense and formal. It is also the part where the audience is finally given answers, elegantly wrapping up the stories of the future. It’s brilliantly performed by all of the cast, but special mention must be given to Van Reeken and Clanton who really shine. Van Reeken plays the Matron who we kind of meet in the previous section and her performance is so nuanced as she maintains her principles, yet proves to be a kind and caring woman. Clanton’s pleas to help her sick son in a time where Aboriginal people were not granted medical help in hospitals is agonising and her heartfelt pleas will stay with you. The story then shifts one final time, to the early colonial era when tensions were high between white settlers and Aboriginal people dispossessed from their own land. The devastating part of the story recounted is that it is true. The ensemble cast stand in a line and deliver the story to the audience unflinchingly raw and messy. This is a powerful technique as it shows the time for antics and staging is over – it’s now time to listen properly and not speculate. It’s brilliantly effective theatre.

York is a wonderfully layered work that seeks to uncover the layers of the past. It demonstrates that history and stories are all around us and if we just connected to the land we might regain a sense of place. It is respectful of all who have used this land and all who may in the future. Brilliantly written, directed, and staged York is a local piece that should see the world stage. It’s a WA masterpiece and should be celebrated as such.

York played at the State Theatre Centre WA from 10th July to 1st August 2021.

Past Production, Review, Uncategorized

REVIEW: The Summer of Our Lives | Taking you straight back to family car trips, fish and chips for tea, and holidays to remember…oh and aliens!

Review | Laura Money

Aaah, summer holidays – there’s nothing like them. Packing up the car, getting a reading pile going, finding an alien lifeform and getting caught up in government espionage – you know, the usual! The Summer of Our Lives is the perfect crossover of ET and The Castle with a blistering soundtrack akin to Heathers the Musical. Writer Tyler Jacob Jones flexes his talent with this sharply written script and cohesive, catchy book. Each song blends classic musical theatre tropes with a lean in to the camp of both B movies and 90s sci fi nostalgia – it’s like Little Shop of Horrors downunder, and we’re absolutely here for it.

Jones stamps this show with a huge ‘Made in Perth’ marker and honestly, it’s just awesome. The references to travelling down south to ‘Dunsbridge’ and always getting fish and chips when you don’t catch enough takes this reviewer straight back to her childhood and all the warm fuzzies associated with it. Through Sally Phipps‘ set and costume design The Summer of Our Lives is essentially a giant chatterbox of a nostalgia hit. The costuming is particularly excellent – Erin Jay Hutchinson embodies the quintessential 90s Mum on holiday with her peach and pastel pallette, Mum shorts and 90s trendy Monica from Playschool short do, Elliot Peacock leans in more to the 1960s comic book geek but that tracks for his storyline, Emily Semple is ridiculously adorable in her pastel pink overalls (I think every girl growing up in the 90s had a pair of those!) and Nick Maclaine is just perfection – he looks like every awkward picture of your Dad from 1992 when he was still young enough to get away with shorts but probably shouldn’t have – and those glasses are bang on point. From the louvered cupboard doors to the retro table and chairs, the set is so familiar you’d be hardpressed not to dump your schoolbag on stage and call out to Mum to find out if dinner tonight is going to be lamb cutlets or apricot chicken!

Much like Little Shop of Horrors, this show celebrates alien movie tropes except this time it’s the 90s – it features a young family healing together after the death of the father, a hidden alien found by a small child and then kept secret, spies and conspiracy theorists, and a lot more gore than is necessary. Each element is writ large, conflating the original and placing it at the forefront of the stage. Director, Katt Osbourne has the actors utilising every bit of the stage and cleverly reimagines set pieces to create a picture in our minds. The dining table becomes the car, and combined with excellent lighting design by Peter Young and brilliant comic timing a mythical car chase scene steals the show – until the scene-stealing finale of course. Osbourne’s direction of the alien is particularly inspired – he is operated by puppeteer Tristan McInnes – allowing him to fly about the stage and manipulate objects. Everyone just suspends disbelief as McInnes moves objects through the air and it’s just so much fun, especially when the characters act as if it were an invisible force.

Each actor is phenomenal – no exceptions! Between Semple’s aggressive tirade against ants and teachers and Ned her heartwarming connection to her new alien friend and reconcilliation with her Mum is realistic and tender. She pulls off playing a kid by playing it straight and not faltering – it’s a great performance. Peacock as Arthur is the everyman you sympathise with – he sings with heart and maintains his quirky character throughout. His undeniable chemistry with the hilarious Tory Kendrick as the American Glance sparks as they compliment each other well. Kendrick slinks onto the stage with grace and humour – a Taylor Swift lookalike with a brilliant voice. Of course, no family would be complete without a loveable Mum – this is really the best role Erin Jay Hutchinson has played. She takes the grieving Mum, Bev and navigates her through the death of her husband, the misunderstanding of her kids, the spark of new love, and the understanding that she doesn’t need it all while rocking Mum jeans and super cool hair. Hutchinson is brilliant! Her Mum-isms are hilarious and her voice is great, she even gets a few sad moments and touching songs as well as some of the funniest lines in the show. Speaking of funny lines – all hail Nick Maclaine! Wow, is this the funniest role in the show or what? Ned is the dorkiest, church going, wannabe stepdad going and Maclaine’s portrayal of him is *chef’s kiss!* Not only does he lean in entirely to the dork side, Maclaine’s face turns rubber as he finds himself losing control of the ‘loveable’ persona to reveal the true Ned. Although (spoiler alert) he probably doesn’t deserve his fate in the end. (Although that’s what makes this show so great – it doesn’t shy away from letting everything go to hell in a handbasket.)

The Summer of Our Lives is pretty much the perfect musical. It has catchy songs, from the title piece to ‘kill all the ants’ and the fun, irreverant duo ‘let’s do something stupid’ and the sheer musicality of five way songs that express individual motivations while being a cohesive whole is brilliant. The show unravels into perfect chaos, further proving that nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – there is absolutely no going back. Let’s hope this show gets picked up nationally because it really is the perfect homage to all things 90s with killer tunes, hilarious dialogue, and poignant heartfelt moments – it’s the stage show of our lives.