on now, Review

REVIEW | Oil by Ella Hickson | Love is an infinite resource

Review | Laura Money

Topical and richly layered, Oil by Ella Hickson is the final sweeping epic in Black Swan State Theatre Company‘s 2022 season, and it is a beacon of light in the Perth theatre scene. Ella Hickson writes boldly and with heart – Oil runs through as a theme at times subtly, and at others at the forefront of the piece. Hickson’s style is ambitious – she paints with big strokes and bright colours to create strong, sharp scenes. Hurtling through time from a family in Cornwall seeing an oil lamp for the first time through conflict and energy crises to the inevitable arrival of new technologies, Oil sees the many manifestations of May (Hayley Mcelhinney) exploring themes of love and loss, sustainability and identity. Expertly directed by Adam Mitchell and Scott McArdle (assistant director), who take the scope of the play and mould it around a stunningly impressive set, Oil by Ella Hickson is a pertinent show with relevant themes and a gutsy message of hope.

Zoe Atkinson‘s sets are always impressive but this time the bar has been raised. An impressive array of eras and places are deftly brought to life with her attention to detail. Beginning with a run down farmer’s cottage complete with woodblock and coming full circle with the modernisation of the same set – its starkness mirroring the characters’ despair. There is the richness of a turn of the century exotic homestead in Tehran full of opulent tessellating designs and Imperialism, and a simply stunning 70s British kitchen with appliances that light up. Each section is an insight into the people and their story must be told instantly – Atkinson provides every detail to give an instant precis of the characters and their situations. Hickson uses May as an anchor character – from new pregnancy in rural Cornwall to single mother in Persia and beyond, May and Amy appear as threads throughout the work – vestiges of the past that echo through time. Atkinson uses red to symbolise the essence of May – her scarlet dress evolving from Victorian modesty to 70s wraparound to 2000s girlboss suit. It’s a clever way to indicate that these characters have the same spirit whilst placing them firmly in the time and place that their segment requires.

There’s so much packed into this play – much like oil itself, a little bit can go a long way. Mcelhinney’s May is punchy and spirited throughout, yet there seems to be an insatiable desire that on occasion comes out. Her husband Joss (Michael Abercromby) poetically describes her as a woman walking, walking, and walking. He delivers a poem at every transition that encompasses the restlessness of May – Irish lilt perfect for the narrative. May’s story is our story. Every iteration of her sees her fascinated by the Pandora’s box that is oil and technology. Mcelhinney gives Cornwall May a husky tone that exposes her raw ambition – her desire to be more to want more than just living hand to mouth. A little charmed at first by American travelling salesman William Whitcomb – played with all the charm and sleaze required by Will Bastow, May comes across as a bit selfish and stuck up – she doesn’t embody the hard working lifestyle of her extended family. This changes when her pregnancy is revealed – why shouldn’t May want a better life for her baby? Subsequent iterations of May see her grow and thrive as a confident, strong woman – quite stubborn, yet always thinking of her daughter. Mcelhinney has brilliant comic timing – there are absolutely riotous scenes where she doesn’t batter an eyelid – delivering quips in a deadpan tone that proves her acting prowess. The final scene is an absurdist postmodern stripping back of theatre. Mcelhinney shouts like a character straight out of Samuel Beckett and gives cantankerous yet vague commentary from deep within her red parka.

On one level Oil is about oil, its initial, revolutionary properties, the political battles fought to control its sources, the physical skirmishes, and the misuse of it. The destruction oil has caused and the grand social impact it has had on every single life. But these commentaries are undercurrents in a family story that explores feminism and ways to be women. From Violette Ayad‘s portrayal of women of colour to Abbey Morgan growing and finally finding her autonomy as a single woman as Amy, the plight of women is explored from all angles. Ayad in Tehran is distrusted by the English, and jealously mistreated as she is seen as favoured by the young Amy. A later vignette sees the pair reunited as friends, however while Amy is merely playing at conflict, Aminah passionately explains that she doesn’t have a choice. The 70s sees the rift between May and Amy crack and divide – unable to be fully reconciled down the generations. Amy, a hippy riles up her mother, this time a big executive in a oil company. Their back and forth appears light at first, but Hickson is the master of the double meaning. Discussing ice-cream and boyfriends gets just as heated as large corporations and war. Mcelhinney gives a death stare like no other – May tells it straight and gives some damn good advice to boot. Morgan’s Amy physically distorts herself to get out her frustrations, lashing out violently but in the end, May doesn’t hold back and tells Amy that she has so much potential – don’t waste it on anyone else.

Oil by Ella Hickson is a brilliant work that takes something that should be at the forefront of our collective minds and keeps it steadily there – pulsing throughout every section. It’s scope is epic – Imperialist Iran, power crises UK, war-torn Syria and beyond with more than just these historical eras explored but their derivative genres as well. Hickson is a genius – each era references theatre styles that relate to it, something Mitchell’s direction embraces fully. From Chekhov-style struggles to Bernard-Shaw Imperialism, even kitchen sink dramas of the 70s and an Ender’s Game reference that brings it all back full circle, Oil by Ella Hickson is a show for theatre-lovers. It’s also completely its own thing, creating an entirely new way of presenting theatre whilst standing high on the platform of its predecessors – and if that’s not a metaphor for oil itself, then I don’t know what is.

Oil by Ella Hickson is on at The State Theatre Centre of WA until 27th November 2022. TICKETS

The Fourth Wall acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land we engage in storytelling on – the Wadjhuk people of the Noongar nation. We pay respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

Keep up with The Fourth Wall on Facebook and @fourth_wall_media on Instagram to see what we’re up to in 2022.

Review

REVIEW | The Glass Menagerie | American fragility on show

Review | Laura Money

Tennessee Williams‘ timeless classic is a humble jewel in the opulent crown of His Majesty’s Theatre. The nostalgic piece shines at the helm of Director Clare Watson, keeping things classy yet hauntingly whimsical. The Glass Menagerie is restrained and poised, yet an energy burns underneath it – at times contained and at others bubbling over through heated expression. Every single performer in this small cast is at the top of their game and it is an absolute privilege to watch this intimate play from a bygone era, set in a period of transition. As the world around them churns and changes, the characters in Williams’ world remain fragile and still – afraid to move for fear of breaking.

Staging The Glass Menagerie in His Majesty’s Theatre is a brilliant move. The play itself speaks to a loss of wealth and nostalgia for the character’s heydays. Tom Wingfield (Joel Jackson) frames the piece as the theatre does – he openly describes the play as a ‘memory’ – immediately rendering the whole thing with a hint of rose-coloured glasses. The set and costumes designed by Fiona Bruce reflect this idea of memory as a character with their somewhat shabby coats and old furniture clinging on for dear life. It is not overt, the dining table and lounge furniture look quite nice but there is the distinct impression that once they are worn out there will be nothing to replace them. Bruce instictively breathes life into the characters with her clever costuming – from Laura’s (Acacia Daken) mousy and unassuming attire to Amanda’s (Mandy McElhinney) fancy nightwear hidden under a housecoat. Her dreams and desires are hidden just under the surface but flashes of them appear.

Accompanied by the gentle tinkling of composer and pianist Tom O’Halloran and projections by Michael Carmody the whole thing has a surreal vibe to it. At times the keys of the piano – hidden behind scrim at the back of a stage and ever present – provide the soundtrack of the past and at others represent the fragility of the glass both literally and figuratively. The projections provide emphasis on important points and serve to create a collective image that cements the idea of nostalgia. Tennessee Williams, inspired by the movies, always intended to use film in his staging and now in the twenty-first century mixed media brings the whole thing together. The music and projections add a frisson that ripples throughout the audience every time the gentleman caller is mentioned.

The Glass Menagerie is about a terribly shy girl, Laura, who only wishes to spend her days caring for her collection of glass animals. Her brother Tom, who wishes to escape but is the main breadwinner for the family, and then there’s the mother, Amanda. With an absent father figure, Amanda is presence enough for both. McElhinney shines as the aging southern belle, she is overbearing and dramatic, yet there is a sympathy there – desperately clinging on to her faded youth she casts her lifeboat adrift with Laura in it. Of course, we are only seeing Tom’s memory of the events so McElhinney’s Amanda is able to shift and erratically jump about from drama queen to sad and broken. Perhaps the saddest moment comes when Laura’s arranged gentleman caller finally arrives for dinner. Jim O’Connor (Jake Fryer-Hornsby) charms everyone in the family, including Tom which is why he views his mother’s attempts at seduction as being far more overt than they probably were. Emerging triumphant in an early 1910s dress from her youth, Amanda flounces about and McHelliney plays it as though she is regressing, collapsing in giggles. Even in such a prone position, Amanda is formidable. It is her unpredictability that gives her power.

Bruce’s clever costume designs shine here as Daken’s Laura emerges like an awkward butterfly in a gossamer dress – becoming one of her own beloved glass figures. Fryer-Hornsby and Daken have genuine chemistry and their conversation, though initially cringeworthy, evolves into a coming together of two minds. Once again, this is Tom’s memory of events so it’s complete fantasy, as he wouldn’t have been aware of the conversation between them. His imagination sees Laura graceful and confident, Jim as charming and kind. When everything inevitably goes wrong, Daken’s stiffened demeanour and McElhinney’s over the top physical theatrics serve to firmly stamp this play as it’s own fragile menagerie of glass memories.

The Glass Menagerie is on at His Majesty’s Theatre until 21st August 2022. TICKETS

Acacia Daken and Joel Jackson as Laura and Tom. Image Daniel J. Grant

The Fourth Wall acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land we engage in storytelling on – the Wadjhuk people of the Noongar nation. We pay respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

Keep up with The Fourth Wall on Facebook and @fourth_wall_media on Instagram to see what we’re up to in 2022.

Interview

IN CONVERSATION | Acacia Daken | The Glass Menagerie

Interview | Laura Money

Acacia Daken is a stage and screen actor who has been working in the UK after being accepted into the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Daken is performing in Black Swan State Theatre Company’s upcoming production of The Glass Menagerie a timeless classic written by Tennessee Williams. We asked Daken five questions ahead of the show to see what it’s all about.

What is your character, Laura Wingfield like?

Laura is deeply traumatised. She suffered a terrible illness as a young child, which left her with a physical impairment, but it is her ongoing anxiety which leaves her truly crippled. She is a deeply caring soul who values sincerity, and if only someone truly saw her – she would have the chance to shine for who she is.

Why is The Glass Menagerie still a pertinent play in 2022?

We are at a time where it feels like we are going backwards in the world – rights are being taken away, the cost of living is high, people are suffering. This play reflects the inner world and mess of a family, struggling with all these issues. The relationships are eerily familiar as the characters navigate ambitions, dreams, personal conflicts and the physical limitations of the reality they live in. 

Favourite moment on stage?

Any time I’m on stage with Mandy McElhinney. And Laura’s journey in scene 7 is a gift!

Apart from The Glass Menagerie what is your favourite piece of mid-century theatre and why?

I have to stay in the land of Tennessee and say A Streetcar Named Desire. The richness of the language and the characters is an actor’s dream and I hope to one day do the show professionally. 

Describe the play in 3 words:

Poetic, haunting love

You can catch all the drama at His Majesty’s Theatre from 2nd – 21st August 2022. TICKETS

The Fourth Wall acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land we engage in storytelling on – the Wadjhuk people of the Noongar nation. We pay respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

Keep up with The Fourth Wall on Facebook and @fourth_wall_media on Instagram to see what we’re up to in 2022

Review

REVIEW | Once | A dynamic, whimsical musical meditation on love and passion

Review | Laura Money

I don’t know you, but I want you all the more for that

So begins the signature song from Once – a stunning duet called ‘Falling Slowly’ that features poignantly throughout, perfectly placed for maximum effect. It is the feature piece of a strong musical score, written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova with book by Enda Walsh. This multi-Tony Award winning show is beautifully realised by Black Swan State Theatre Company in collaboration with Darlinghurst Theatre Company and is a whirlwind of music and passion that shines from a vibrant cast. Once is deftly directed by Richard Carroll – the whole stage bursts with the dynamic energy of Carroll’s direction and musical direction by Victoria Falconer who leads from the stage. It’s full of energy and vibrancy as movement director Amy Campbell captures the lively energy of the Celtic score and literally brings each note to life – fizzing and bursting in the air.

On the surface, Once is a love story with a stunning score but its deep connection to music with a fully collaborative ensemble, the relatively short time we spend with the characters reveals it to be about passions lifting and weaving patterns along with the music that doesn’t merely serve as accompaniment but is embedded throughout every element of the show. Bursting onto the stage and leaping on tables, rollerskating, and dancing exuberantly the entire cast play instruments and their movement is like watching a musical score’s notes leap from the page to create a dynamism that makes it difficult to know where to look. The set is the only part of the show that is static, designed by Hugh O’Connor it consists of a pub, music store, dingy bedroom, crowded share house, bank office, recording studio, and vacuum repair shop among other things! O’Connor creates the perfect base of wood panels and furniture that are moved about as needed – not just shuffled by a stage hand but thrown and slid and passed in time to the music by the talented cast who make every scene-change an exciting guessing game of how innovatively the objects can be used.

Guy (Toby Francis), Dublin born and bred is suffering in the throes of heartache. He sings a tortured number at a small pub and then rejects his guitar wholesale before being confronted by Girl (Stefanie Caccomo) – a bold and forthright woman who bluntly saves him by focusing on the music that is so integral to both their beings. Francis plays the confused figure perfectly – he begins stand-offishly and confused by the attention he’s suddenly receiving but it is obvious that his passion for music is part of his soul. Encouraged by a blunt Caccomo, he softens throughout the show and a thread of purity shines through whenever he sings. Caccomo’s character is unique and she plays her well. The fiery passion she has for helping others hints at a vulnerability when internalising, something Caccomo does with her incredible facial expressions. The entire cast is phenomenal, it’s an ensemble that fit perfectly with one another and their love and chemistry glows through the entire show.

If anything, music is the final character in Once, it’s ever present and adds nuance to every single scene. From the Czech folktunes that serve as a greeting to Guy as he enters the world of vibrant dancing and table-top stamping, to a literal guitar army adding their strings to bolster Guy as he applies for a bank loan, to the exciting studio session full of nerves and raw energy, and the beautifully reflective a capella reprise of ‘Gold’ by the men of the show every single music choice is perfectly performed and stunningly realised in this beautiful production. Special mention must be made of Gus Noakes who hilariously sings ‘Abandoned in Bandon’ – his bank manager persona’s foray into singer-songwriting. It’s terrible, and that’s a huge compliment, as you have to be a really accomplished singer to perform deliberately badly. Once is about passion and love, and missed opportunities, and so much goes unsaid. ‘Falling Slowly’ is a gorgeous song – with Francis’ strong, unwavering voice combined with Caccomo’s powerful and resolutely passionate sound the two form a memorable and heartbreaking duet that is impactful enough at the beginning but is truly devastating when reprised.

Black Swan State Theatre Company have a great reputation for musicals, but Once elevates the company to new heights as it is such a beautiful celebration of music and love it’s going to be hard to top. This is a five-star, 100%, phenomenal musical that will stay with you forever, and maybe even encourage you to jump up on the tabletops and let its music course through your veins!

Once played at the Regal Theatre in Subiaco from 28th May – 12th June and we already can’t wait for the revival! For more information about the production click HERE.

The Fourth Wall acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land we engage in storytelling on – the Wadjhuk people of the Noongar nation. We pay respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

Keep up with The Fourth Wall on Facebook and @fourth_wall_media on Instagram to see what we’re up to in 2022

In Brief, Interview

IN CONVERSATION | Rupert Reid | Once

Interview | Laura Money

Rupert Reid is a stage and screen actor with an impressive resume including The Matrix trilogy. Reid is performing in Black Swan State Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Once an eight time Tony winning musical set in Dublin that tackles love and everything in between. We asked Reid five questions ahead of the show to get an insight.

What is Once about?

Once is about a lot of things. It’s about the power of music to connect us, the healing effect it has on us and the leaps of faith we all have to take in our lives to let love in or to let it go when we need to.

Favourite part of the show, no spoilers!

There are too many favourite parts of this show to mention! The most rewarding part is seeing how audiences react night after night to this beautiful production. I get to watch the audience from onstage in some quieter moments. My character happens to be the kind of guy who’d imagine a crowd of people watching him play guitar every night so it’s all above board! Also, the curtain call is pretty special. We have a really fun finale. No spoilers!

How does the show relate to today’s society?

Outside the world is a mess, inside we’re all a mess too, more or less. That’s being human. Themes of love, loss, missed opportunities but essentially an optimistic view of the world make Once a story of hope and connection. The music is played by and for each character in the show and is a vital part of who they are. It speaks to our instinctive need for meaningful relationships and the ability to heal ourselves once we’ve learned to open up a little and let human connection work on us.

Apart from Once what is your favourite musical and why?

My favourite musical is The Lovers, by Laura Murphy. It’s a pop infused reimagining of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The word ‘pop’ seems tame. Sounds too cute. Nah. It’s insanely good and it will blow your mind. (opens in October at the Sydney Opera House presented by Bell Shakespeare Co.) 🙂

Describe your show in 3 words:

Irish. Musical. Mayhem.

You can catch all the mayhem at The Regal Theatre from 28th May – 12th June 2022. TICKETS

The Fourth Wall acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land we engage in storytelling on – the Wadjhuk people of the Noongar nation. We pay respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

Keep up with The Fourth Wall on Facebook and @fourth_wall_media on Instagram to see what we’re up to in 2022