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: 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

REVIEW: Ugly Virgins | Five women skate circles around shit dates, self-worth and sticking it to the man.

Review | Sarah Soulay

Do you want to watch a heart-warming story with feminist grit on roller skates? Then you have come to the right place! Ugly Virgins follows an unlikely group of friends coming together to train, reluctantly share stories and be the best they can be. Brilliantly co-written and directed by Sally Davies and Anna Lindstedt, and produced by Maiden Voyage Theatre Company, this story of rejects to friends keeps you invested to the very end.

The play takes place during the latest roller derby season, as a group of rejects, for various reasons, are unable to join any teams. An older player ‘Cinnamon Roller’ who wants to bring the spark back to her life, played by the talented Danielle Antaki, assembles this unlikely group of individuals who have to work through their baggage if they want to make it on a team. They explore love, rejection, passion and deep-rooted emotional scares in this fun and one-of-a-kind story.

Even with just a bare stage, sound designer and composer Alex and Yell, and lighting designer Rhiannon Peterson are able to transport the audience to an intense roller derby match without the necessity for any real props. However, if the stage was a bit larger, I feel like the actors would have more freedom and confidence to move around on their skates. Either way they did a great job with the space they had.

The writing was exceptional and really tug the heartstrings especially during the gut-wrenching climax. A great show of the writing and directing is during the training scenes where they chop and change the exercises as they cut to different characters opening up to each other and to the audience. Through this unique spin the audience gets to learn about the characters in a fresh and up-beat way. This accompanied by smooth lighting transitions really elevates the play.

A favourite scene of mine is a Kate Bush montage, without going into any specific detail, it is hilarious. The only other comment on it would be that it goes just a bit too long, if it is slightly shortened it would be perfect. Although, you can really see each actor letting themselves have fun so it is a joy to watch.

One critique however, is in the beginning, the hardships of certain characters are teased at, implying that there will be a big reveal about what they are later on. Though, when the moment comes, it falls short of what is implied. The audience has to insinuate a lot about these events, which would been fine, if it wasn’t built up to be a big deal earlier on. This was a minor critique however, and the show as a whole is very well-written.

Each actor’s performance is phenomenal, they really make the characters their own. This is most evident through the conversationalist tone used by each actor during the performance. This really emphasises the varying extents of social awkwardness that each character has. Courtney Cavallaro who plays ‘Nutcracker’ does an exceptional job playing a closed off, emotionally stunted and determined softie who needs to open themselves up to the idea of friendship and love.

Mikayla Merks‘ character of ‘Huntswoman’ is the perfect comic relief, her ditsy warm hearted and equally determined character compliments Cavallaro perfectly. Also, extra praise for the amount of times her character had to fall over, well done for the perseverance.

Amber Kitneys character ‘Large Gundersen’ is such a delight, with a running gag of finding the perfect roller derby name, the grace of a competitive skater and a heart of gold she brings light and joy to the group. Katie McAllister as the ‘Mad Splatter’ provides the level-headed support the group needs, while still having her own burdens to bare.

Not only is the acting fantastic, but they did it all while on skates. I don’t know about you but the idea of acting, singing, and dancing all on skates completely exhausts me, yet every single one of them kept the energy at 100% the whole 65 minutes, never missing a beat. You know someone is a great actor when they can deliver a serious tragic scene while rolling around on skates.

With a group of rejects you want to be a part of, Ugly Virgins is an experience not to be missed. There is a lockout when you see the show, this is to ensure the safety of the cast and those coming to see them, so please make sure you go to the bathroom and have your drinks ready in hand when you go to this fantastic performance. So, what are you waiting for? Get your tickets and your derby name ready and skate on down to Ugly Virgins.

Ugly Virgins played at The Blue Room Theatre from 1st – 19th June 2021


PERTH FESTIVAL 2021 | The Little Mermaid | 4.5 Stars

Review | Laura Money

There are many ways to tell a story, and The Little Mermaid is a tale about a tail that has been interpreted and retold countless times. The classic fairytale is shared with us by Freeze Frame Opera, an innovative company that seek to introduce new audiences to opera and make it accessible, so this time they turn their sharp and intimate hand to a well known story. Beautifully presented at The Ballroom at Government House the production transforms an already charming venue into a wonderland of magic. Dvorjak’s opera Rusalka is delightfully reworked to tell a relevant coming of age story where multiple types of love are celebrated and growing up embraced. It’s a truly charming rendition of classic opera for contemporary times.

Director Rachel McDonald brings together the quintessential elements of the opera and the beloved fairytale and combines them into an exquisite experience. The Little Mermaid story is easily identified through its story, energetically narrated by Jessie Ward who acts as conduit between the characters and the children. McDonald’s directing is sharp as Ward flits in between the characters at times offering advice and others explaining the plot to the audience. Ward is a natural with children. Her affability gives them confidence to interact with the story and its characters, often to deafening results! Robbie Harald brings the story to life with stunning set and costumes. Each character has a distinguishable look that still remains thematically cohesive – from Rusalka and her father’s coral crowns to the sea witch’s harsh makeup coastal life is referenced in an instantly recognisable concept. Fun and charming elements continue to delight such as a ship suspended above the stage in all its majesty and little touches like pirate bunting or makeshift costumes but it is the rippling effect of material flowing bountifully, cascading from an upper balcony to journey down through the audience during Rusalka’s aria ‘Song to the Moon’ that cements this piece as an absolute winner. Culminating in a moonrise to remember, Jerry Reinhardt’s lighting design brings a softness and the blue is both serene and melancholic, allowing both feelings to sit with one another.

The Little Mermaid is a phenomenal adaptation. It renders opera accessible in a playful way that serves to showcase the form beautifully. As mentioned, Jessie Ward weaves the story together, unafraid to ask the children what they think is going to happen next, or encourage them to boo and jeer at the witch. Combining stunning music and vocals with classic pantomime and children’s theatre techniques each performer becomes a firm favourite. Prudence Sanders is stunning in the classic princess role – she is elegant and her vocals heart-wrenching as the moon song is performed with so much feeling the children cheer at its restoration. Her father, Robert Hofmann strikes the balance between noble and loving, providing a tenderness not usually present in a children’s show which is thoroughly refreshing. Of course, in this show the damsel saves herself – with a generous guiding from the enthusiastic audience – but there is a handsome prince, and Jun Zhang keeps his cool even while hamming it up with the dog Fluffy and interacting with the kids. Despite Rusalka being the heroine here, it is hands down the tremendously talented Caitlin Cassidy as Ježibaba the witch that steals the show. Strong and confident vocals call out across the whole room and even the boos from the children spur her on. It’s always fun to play a villain, and Cassidy relishes this role, clearly enjoying every second of it.

This is an important show to take children to as it celebrates opera in a way that demonstrates theatre can be at once silly and elegant. It’s irreverent energy embraces the audience with the thrill of folk lore and storytelling, and its phenomenal music – playfully arranged by the wonderful Caroline Badnall will see this version firmly cemented in young people’s guides to classical music. Not only do the children get to enjoy a wonderfully sophisticated opera but there is also tea, face painting, and games on the lawn afterwards all included in the ticket. The Little Mermaid is an immersive experience, so come and swim in Rusalka’s river and celebrate artistry at its finest.

The Little Mermaid was part of PERTH FESTIVAL 2021 and has finished, however you can check out what Freeze Frame Opera is up to next HERE

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