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REVIEW: Love Letters to the Revolution | Moments of change and movements in time

Review | Amanda Lancaster & Peter Spence

Tucked away in a house at the bottom of a hill, electronic beats pulse through a party as we watch a kaleidoscope of moments of change.

Pulse, throb, pulse, throb.

Beating as if in time and tempo with the audience’s collective heart beats and breaths.

Calm at first then steadily rising in rapid waves.

Pulse, pulse, throb, throb, pulse, pulse, throb, throb.

Is this how it feels? To be eaten alive, as if by crocodiles? Dragged under, fighting for breath, darkness looming, is this what lies in the shadows, in the depths, in the unseen spaces? Is any space safe anymore? Internally? Externally? 

Is there something wrong with us? Why are we like this? why is the world like this?

Pulse, pulse, pulse, throb, throb, throb, thud, thud, thud.

Good question.

And one beautifully put into metaphorical prose on the set of The Blue Room Theatre‘s stage in this not to be missed show, Love Letters to the Revolution.

Let audiences be warned from the get go, that while this is very much a trigger warning show touching on a variety of important and often overlooked and unpalatable issues those in it face at the present moment in time. However don’t let that put you off as this show is more importantly deeply laced with the utmost respect and sensitivity.

Viva la revolution!

Love letters to the Revolution is an important and entertaining performance, whilst being engaging and relatable in many ways. An upbeat and fun performance which brings some heavy topics to confronting light, accessibility, disability, drug culture, reclamation, racial injustice, abuse, identity loss, climate change, caber culture, mental health, sexual assault and more.

A stunning works by Sian Murphy, who has proven a worthy winner of the WA Emerging Artist Award, it’s performed in a series of bite sized able to swallow scenes, as if extracts from a reality show without the tactlessness. We see a small group of five amazing performers take on the ideologies behind what the world is beginning to normalize and probably shouldn’t.

Both scene and character play out carefully and with skill to subtlety bring notice to underlying struggles and outright atrocities humans deem part of day to day practices and behaviors. Each scene is its own, yet set within a party where so many of the situations faced are individually addressed and explored. An ensemble of talent, portraying characters who we can each place in our own world, Marlanie Haerewa, Jono Battista, Elisa Williams, Stephanie Somerville and James McMillan provide us with the sense of the world we already know and would love to change.  

From the powerful metaphor of the opening monologue, the tone is set and left to linger throughout, personified by the figure in the corner of the room throughout the whole piece. Stephanie Somerville’s portrayal of her greatest fear, giving an intense and powerful account of how the fear of why a crocodile attack is so and draining just to even think about, and making it an obvious metaphor for the things we each fear and what drags us all down. Whether it be the things that seem small scale in the grand scheme of things such as cutting your hair to the pressures of answering that damn message, we all feel the pressure of the social constructs which can lead to things like peer pressure and conformity. The party is fun and the electronic music continues throughout, with a peek into the situations which affect the characters lives.

A revolution has begun, albeit slowly, to bring us into a new world where we realize the effects of grief, ptsd, society, addiction, social conformity, social culture, parental roles, and disability. Change needs to come about and this is where it is, now is when it starts. Love Letters to the Revolution is an open love letter to the idea of revolting against the oppressive forces and social constructs placed upon us, normalization of occurrences creating trauma. It’s a call to stand up and fight for this and future eras to fight what you can’t seem to escape, and that we are born into and are a part of without our choice. We don’t have to put up with it, we CAN stand up and fight for what we believe to be right.

Its about accountability , responsibility, and the fight to instill ideas of prevention over falsified sympathetic acts of consolation.its about acting before its too late. For standing up and revolting against that which we know we don’t want to live with internally or externally anymore.

The audience can breathe again, unaware they have even been holding it,

Heart beats at a rapid tempo, but no longer being on edge of the uncertain and uncomfortable. Now it is the steadfast growing thrum of questioning and thought provoked minds.

Pulse, throb, pulse, throb, pulse throb

The party slows, the music fades, the glittering glowing thrumming facade of it all comes crashing down to reveal all is not as it seems, but all is ok….the revolution is here.

Love Letters to the Revolution is playing at The Blue Room Theatre until 23rd October 2021. Get your tickets HERE

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REVIEW: Bite The Hand | Examining our relationships with man’s best friend

Review | Laura Money

What would it be like to understand what your dog says? From such a simple premise arises an existential play that examines our relationships with animals, each other, and our own psyches. Bite The Hand by Chris Isaacs is perhaps the most loaded and intelligently titled work circulating Perth. Brilliantly directed by Matt Edgerton and featuring a stellar cast, Bite the Hand appears innocuously funny and wholesome until darker threads are woven into the piece. Through convincing performances that fully suspend disbelief to a stunning set and edgy sound and lighting, this play will stay…..stay…..good audience! Apologies, will stay with you for a very long time.

In a surreal turn of events, Sam (Alicia Osyka) surprises her partner Dale (Amy Mathews) with the granting of family dog Alice (Arielle Gray) with human consciousness. It is something the couple had discussed but Dale hadn’t committed to, so with the help of her brother Wes (Michael Abercromby) she bites the bullet and does it anyway. Dale has been experiencing severe mental health problems and it is implied that she had recently self harmed. Mathews wanders into the living room a little vaguely – she is our vehicle into the bizzare world of Bite The Hand. Isaacs’ script is crisp and honed without any exposition dialogue in sight. Rather than have Wes tell us all what’s going on, Rex bursts onto the scene to show us. Rex, played expertly by Jeffrey Jay Fowler is Wes’s dog. Fowler is energetic and a little hyper, shaking his long hair from his face like fur and adopting the pose and mannerisms of a dog perfectly. However, it is Fowler’s dialogue, tone and expression that cements this brilliant performance. Cheeky, clever, and hilarious Rex flits from happy topic to happy topic like being a ‘good boy’, getting pats, and defending his stick from crows. It’s exactly what one would assume a dog cares about. Abercromby and Fowler have amazing chemistry and are truly believable as master and dog.

Speaking of chemistry, the transformation in Mathews’ Dale is phenomenal when Alice enters her life reborn. Gray gives the performance of a lifetime and is so detailed and exuberant in her performance as the above average intelligent Alice. Her mannerisms are convincing and nuanced, from the little whimpers to the slight aggression, and of course that hilarious bum wiggle. It is her facial expressions and sincerity that are so endearing – rolling around with Dale, Alice manages to elicit a feeling of happiness and uplifting energy in her. Osyka’s Sam is wary but Mathews manages to convince her and Wes that everything is ok. Until it isn’t. Throughout the show, the television in the living room features different artwork on it. A Rorschach Test looking brain scan image assists the audience in navigating Dale’s mental health and headspace. Bryan Woltjen‘s amazing set and costume design intelligently hints at each character’s journey. From the screen that serves as a mental health check in and provides the context for outside settings, to the playful and sinister costuming of Fowler as he takes on dual roles everything is considered. Dale hides under big blankets, all of the actors bounce off the versatile seating, and the outside area hints at something almost surreal and kitsch with its white picket fence, fake lawn, and front door complete with doggy door. Combined with subtle shifts in lighting by Rhiannon Petersen and the fact that there are literal talking dogs, the play does surreal very well.

Every element of Bite The Hand is beautifully considered. It’s an intelligent piece of theatre that is accessible to all. Fowler and Gray are so good at performing as dogs – actually the entire cast is brilliant at it as we see in the moonlight gathering scenes – that they elicit an exceptionally sympathetic response. Gray is phenomenal as the brilliant Alice – an absolute prodigy of a dog who undergoes an existential crisis and calls into question the relationship dynamics between domestic dog and master. The enlightening of Alice is so profound that I’m sure more than one tear will be shed as the play comes to its inevitable conclusion. Osyka and Abercromby enjoy some gritty scenes together and their words crackle and spark around the stage – Abercromby is subtle in his revelation that Wes doesn’t have much respect for dogs or mental health. He shows his true colours in a sinister manner that comes about the closest this work does to being a bad guy. What I really love about this play, is that once all the bells and whistles of talking dogs and the novelty of the piece wears off, it is a heartbreaking exploration of the self and mental health. Mathews is great as Dale, a confused yet not infirm woman back from the brink of mental collapse, and spiraling that way again. She delicately balances feelings of paranoia and hurt with feelings of love and support, often confusing the two.

Isaacs has written an amazing play in Bite The Hand – there is so much going on it should garner a second watch. Subtle, clever, and thoroughly entertaining the final scenes will go down in history as some of the most shockingly memorable moments in theatre – as I’m sure Isaacs is aware of considering the allusion to Sunset Boulevard. So go and be a good boy or good girl and fetch your tickets to this unique show – you’ll have a ball! Ball! Ball!

Bite The Hand is on at Subiaco Arts Centre until 23rd October 2021. You can get your tickets HERE

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REVIEW: Animal Farm | Revolutionary theatre that hits home

Review | Laura Money

Black Swan State Theatre Company catapults Animal Farm squealing into the twenty-first century with a faithful and fresh adaptation by Van Badham that proves how relatable the work has always been. Performed by a talented cast of three – Andrea Gibbs, Alison Van Reeken and Megan Wilding – the play covers everything in George Orwell’s original novella but intensifies its pertinence through contemporary technologies, personalities, and the pervasiveness of social media. It’s brilliantly crafted theatre that intelligently uses all aspects of stagecraft to create something memorable. Much like the book this play will enter social consciousness and take hold with its powerful imagery, and chilling message.

From the outset, Animal Farm grabs the bull by its horns and sets the tone of the whole show – on stage there is a giant screen dominating the frame with a set of stairs and a platform. Receding into the darkness are several metal fence sections reminiscent of a barn. As the audience settles in we are treated to a mock news report about the rise of Animalism, cleverly designed and created by Michael Carmody which serves as an innovative way to express exposition. After a little laughter, the report ends and a figure emerges from the darkness – it’s Gibbs on a walker as the elderly pig, Old Major. Gibbs brings gravitas to the character from the deep, gravelly voice, to the mannerisms she gets every bit right. Combining the remarkable costuming by Fiona Bruce, each of the performers take on all of their roles with convincing realism. From Old Major to the first pig in charge, Snowball, Gibbs adds an intimidating politician’s air to her performance. She is hilarious as Brenda the chicken, showcasing her quirky facial expressions in the medium of film but it is her turn as Clover the old horse who is careworn and dedicated to her partner Boxer that Gibbs displays a tenderness and humanity that ripples through the audience.

Megan Wilding proves to be just as versatile in her portrayal of Mr Whymper (a human), and slow burn characters Moses the crow and Benjamin the old donkey. Her tone and deliberately slow delivery makes you hang on every word, eliciting a sense that these characters are wise. Wilding also acts as Squealer, perhaps the character to go through the biggest transformation. Squealer is the exact target of propagandists irl (in real life) as is apparent when she bursts onto the stage with all the gossip from the ‘Battle of the Cowshed’ the biggest event of the year. Wilding is high-pitched and Valley girl in her delivery with quite a few OMGs peppering her story. She exuberantly holds her YouTube heroes up on a pedestal while regaling us with their achievements – it’s the perfect 21st century fit for the character. As Squealer moves up to right trotter pig, she starts wearing the farmer’s wife pearls, changing her speech and slowing down a bit to resemble a Sarah Palin, Julie Bishop type of toadie who is forever speaking on behalf of her beloved leaders – spreading lies and political spin with the sincerity of a dishrag.

The third player is celebrated performer Alison Van Reeken who brings her immense talents to perhaps the most diverse characters. From an excellent Leigh Sales impression to the stuck up horse Mollie, Van Reeken proves she is a versatile and intuitive performer. Mollie is one of the hardest characters to portray sympathetically as her defection from Animal Farm is so early on the sympathy is still being held with the pigs and other revolutionaries, yet Van Reeken navigates this masterfully – she leans in to the mannerisms of a fashion conscious, vain horse and is equal parts hilarious and sincere. After ousting Snowball, Van Reeken’s Napoleon the pig takes over as leader. As with any effective bogeyman less is more, and while Napoleon does give a few speeches, the majority of the work is done through body language. In full military regalia, Van Reeken struts, ramrod strait and arrogantly places her hand in her namesake’s pocket. She uses her hands in gestures and mannerisms that resemble Trump and exudes an intimidating presence whenever she is on stage.

Donald Trump and his inciting of violence is a huge influence on this work. Originally set to be on stage for the 2020 season, the play has been updated to reflect events that occurred after the original stage date, such as Trump’s defeat and the storming of Capitol Hill by people whipped into a frenzy. Director Emily McLean takes full advantage of this imagery and plays it to full effect with the clever staging. She uses levels and screen mediated content as means of signalling power struggles and control. Throughout the play we are privy to the fact that the Seven Commandments are changing. By not placing them up on the screen in the first place, the audience joins in the animal’s confusion as they feel their memories fail them – especially when the grim truth hits – they are being changed by the pigs in charge. The characters chosen to be portrayed are also a brilliant reflection of people’s place in the world and wider politics. Van Badham centralises women characters – in a book that doesn’t have many, she pushes the story through a woman’s lens. Obviously the main leaders are still male, but the use of Wilding as Squealer is key to the propping up of the leaders. It is in Clover (Gibbs) and Muriel (Van Reeken) the old goat that this subtle shift occurs – they discuss and relay the story of Boxer the big workhorse as women would do sitting around a kitchen table. This domestic realisation is significant as it highlights the people who are usually casualties of revolution. It is highly tempting to focus on the leaders or big players like history books do, but Badham takes the approach of social historians and champions the people – sorry animals – she is writing about.

Animal Farm is a sharp and clever piece of theatre. It bitingly attacks the screen mediated culture that prevails and serves as a lesson about power going unchecked. It is only when we stand up we can truly be free. The play is a unique blend of cmedy and intelligent political satire that retains its heart and integrity while depicting acts that contradict them. The final lines of the play, and the final edict painted on the wall that have echoed through the decades are rendered chilling in the stunning Black Swan show. All theatre is equal, but some shows are more equal than others – and believe me, this is a compliment to this memorable production.

Animal farm is playing at State Theatre Centre WA until 24th October 2021. Get your tickets HERE

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REVIEW: ARCO Snr | Sharing life on the spectrum

Review | Laura Money

When I first started performing, I felt like I actually belonged somewhere.

Adam Kelly

Self-proclaimed ‘autistic gentleman’ Adam Kelly stands on a chalk-filled stage, script in hand bursting with exuberance. The stage has markings – giant numbers 1 – 9, stage left, stage right, and other cues scrawled on it in a comforting safe zone for Kelly to inhabit. Conceived entirely by Kelly, with assistance from West Australian Youth Theatre Company Artistic Director James Berlyn, the stage itself is a testament to the kind and nurturing director Berlyn is. Kelly is able to tell his story and express himself in the best way known to him – theatre.

Taking each part of the acronym ARCO, Kelly frames his experience through stories and props and a not insignificant amount of audience participation. See this is a conversation not merely a presentation and Kelly is so enthusiastic it’s hard to say no to getting up an having a dance party! A is for autism and Kelly explains his personal experiences – through brilliant animations by artist Ben Hollingsworth he shows us what it’s like to be a fish out of water, or to walk in a loud, crowded city – but what Hollinsgworth’s incredibly good illustrations achieve is a sense that the autistic experience isn’t so far removed from the neurotypical one.

Kelly also uses either visual aides or physical experiences to great effect. There’s a whole audience dance party, a high five session, and calling out hello and goodbye to Finbar the fish. But Kelly also provides insightful teachable moments such as paper masks to demonstrate facial blindness, and flying our rejections in paper planes and then crushing them underfoot in a mass stomping party! R is for rejection. Kelly is open and honest, not shying away from tough topics. C is for celibacy. He is not crude, nor an object of pity, instead Kelly speaks plainly and with curiosity above all else.

O is for optimism. ARCO Snr (it’s the grown up version of his earlier show) is an unexpected gem of a show. Adam Kelly is perhaps one of the most optimistic people you’ll ever come across and his passion for theatre and zest for life shines through. He is having the time of his life up there on that stage and sharing it with others is a marvellous gift. Perhaps Kelly’s attitude to the world is so positive because he is able to deconstruct and figure out the parts that make him uncomfortable and has developed coping mechanisms for them. When was the last time you really looked at your life and figured out how to make it good? Why not go and see Adam Kelly and pick up a few techniques to grab life in one enormous bear hug!

ARCO Snr is playing at the DADAA Theatre in Fremantle from 5th – 9th October 2021. Get your tickets HERE

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REVIEW: Watch and Act | An open letter about chaos, fear, and control

Review | Amanda Lancaster

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this emergency broadcasts message.

“What is done, cannot be undone.”

This small statement is reiterated numerous times throughout the show like a mantra, a small talisman-like phrase repeated over and over not only aloud to the audience by our star Katie McAllister but left echoing long after within the viewer’s own mind,.

McAllister also repeats, “of this I can be sure, of this I can be certain , this I know to be true.”

Watch and Act is a beautifully dark, almost sardonic, 55minute open letter about chaos, fear, and that which we, no matter how hard we choose to ignore or pay attention to, can and cannot control.

The thematic thrust of the show’s undertone is that of world wide issue “climate change” and “global warming.” It’s cleverly framed as an emotional one-woman outpouring of love for a place, time and state of things shifting uncontrollably out of her gasp as quickly and elusively as the human populace has allowed climate control to escape their attention for far too long now.

Now on first inspection of  the media and marketing for the show Watch and Act featuring household name Katie McAllister you might be left wondering what the hell does Notting Hill , OCD and Nigella Lawson have to do with the global climate crisis?

The terms climate change and climate crisis are often used interchangeably and without distinction but both have distinct meanings. Similarly, the terms for  “weather” and “climate” are sometimes confused, even though they refer to events with broadly different states of spatial- and timescales. Climate change is not just a weather term is this day age but also a fitting one for the state of social economical ecological and emotional shift people experience in their own comfort zones and states of experience throughout life. There is nothing more chaotic and terrify than a shift in that state, a change in your own personal climate especially when so seemingly out of your own control. Katie McAllister knows this and Watch and Act represents this flawlessly.

Set in the studio at ever popular venue The Blue Room Theatre come take a ride with the incredibly likable and relatable Katie McAllister. A ride into that which we often ignore, that which we can all relate to, in a humorous one woman’s monologue, a love letter to Denmark, to the Karri Forrests, to a time gone by and to everything she loves steadfast, without bias and wishes to hold onto desperately.

The minimal stage dressing and design is the perfect backdrop for McAllister’s performance as her crystal clear voice rings out over the audience, unwavering throughout the entire shows powerfully tempered performance. It would be hard to find yourself distracted from such a heartfelt, honest and intimate performance regardless of the chaos ensuing all around McAllister on the backdrop of 3 walls upon which projections of chaotic overlaying of scenes from her favourite movie and other excerpts are taken and displayed,calmly at first then descending into chaos and sadness throughout. The  design of which comes from Kristie Smith. The gentle yet powerful reminders of the terrible and devastating losses that come year after year with the climate change and the ongoing bush fire epidemic that sweeps through her home town of Albany and Denmark are helped along by an imaginary last drive home down Albany Highway aided along by the dreamed up conversations McAllister has with numerous infamous and famous female figures of strength and power both in status and personal idolization. Oh and let us not forget of course, the comedic appearance of her own imaginary and drummed into her emergence into adulthood version of  …..Tim, fucking Winton

There is a wonderfully blended soundscape throughout the show put together by designer Georgina Cramond. A textured and layered seamlessly interwoven tapestry of 90s nostalgia movie quotes, news and interview soundbites and even a taste of McAllister’s own ABC emergency broadcasters announcements. The interspersing of soundtrack snippets from Notting hill, the Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant Rom-com that McAllister constantly references heavily throughout lays the framework for her own personal coping methods and safety measures that can be taken for the ever changing and chaotic mental climate that is her own OCD. A topic she declares to hate speaking about….but since it was in the marketing leaflets……

Emotions are messy contradictory and true this McAllister learned from her ideal climate change emergency wanna be buddy the famous, food is comfort, food is life, idol Nigella Lawson, of whom she has a life sized cardboard cutout by the way. This is true, we all know this, we’ve all experienced this, but we all know there is little we can do to control these waves and tides in times of crisis other than to hold on and ride it out.

Choosing to do nothing is as traumatic  and damaging consequentially as choosing to do something and being unable to do it. We may not be able to control the climate crisis or our own inner states of compulsion but we don’t have to give in nor surrender helplessly to them either. This Is McAllister’s underlying message and it is an important one. McAllister’s time reading the broadcasters announcements for emergencies taught her there is always something you can do even when there is nothing. The calm concise formatting of the emergency advice read aloud to the masses gave McAllister a way to not just watch helplessly but to act.

Remember…”What is done cannot be undone”.

So if you choose to do one thing in your efforts to be better, do better, feel better this month, make it the act of watching Watch and Act with Katie McAllister

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Watch and Act is playing at The Blue Room Theatre until 16th October 2021. you can get your tickets HERE