on now, Review

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

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

FRINGEWORLD, on now, Review

FRINGEWORLD 2021 | The Lucky Cat | 3.5 Stars

Review | Laura Money

The Lucky Cat is a sweet tale of friendship and adversity with all the charm of a children’s book. The characters leap off the page and onto the stage in a quest complete with puzzles, tricks, and courage needed to find luck. With a simple set, gorgeous puppetry, and a lot of heart The Lucky Cat is the perfect show for the little adventurer in your life.

Alex (Caitlin McFeat) is unlucky. How do we know she is unlucky? She tells us. This is the only downside of what could be a 5 star show – the story is solid, yet Yvan Karlsson‘s script relies heavily on telling rather than showing – rendering the play as more of a book being read out rather than a theatrical piece. Don’t get me wrong, McFeat and Tristan McInnes (lead puppeteer) are great actors who do the characters justice, however there are a few moments that could have been demonstrated better rather than just told to the audience. The story itself is solid, though – who doesn’t love a noble quest where the characters must face their fears and come out on top?

The strength of The Lucky Cat lies in its characters – McFeat as Alex is warm and instantly lovable. She fizzes with energy despite being saddened for being unlucky and is upbeat throughout. McInnes’ Tet (Bastet to strangers) prowls and confidently leaps from box to box with aplomb. He is every bit a cat – proud, arrogant in ways, water averse and there are clever allusions to a past of abandonment. McFeat and McInnes have tremendous chemistry – they lovingly work the puppets to the delight of every child in the audience. While there are sad moments, Alex gets through them with her new friends proving that friendship and support is more real than any temporal, arbitrary concept of luck.

You can join The Lucky Cat on his adventures by clicking HERE

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on now, Review

PERTH FESTIVAL 2020 | Hecate | 5 Stars

Review | Laura Money

In a world where the Noongar language is spoken by all, a yarn about a Scottish king is retold.

Hecate emerges from the very heart of the earth as she feels her land is dying. She laments the withering of her trees, her bushland, her water beds, her animals, and her people. She is a spiritual force who oversees Macbeth’s all-consuming fight for power – a silent figure striving to restore balance to Country. The queen of witches, played with dignity and raw emotion by Della Rae Morrison is a figure traditionally absent from productions of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but here in Yirra Yaakin‘s stunning adaptation she refers to deeper, more ancient traditions, and remains at the heart of the entire work.

This production for PERTH FESTIVAL goes beyond just translating Shakespeare into Noongar – there is so much more than just choosing words in a different language. The idea was conceived by Kyle J Morrison who says “Our performers aren’t just saying words, transplanting or replacing English words with Noongar words. We’re actually speaking the Noongar language in all of its philosophy and capacity.” Hecate is a full-scale spiritual experience, it channels ancient storytelling practices that course through the veins of the cast – they live and breathe the tale – it’s intertwined within the character’s mythology. It is elegant, lyrical, and simply stunning, and I defy you not to have a lump in your throat throughout.

Morrison is compelling. There is a calm stoicism that follows her as she sings her song of the dying land to the Mischief Makers – almost the rest of the cast – and they answer her call. Through a soundscape perfectly designed by Dr Clint Bracknell the bushland of the Wadjuk Noongar region is evoked in a series of frankly brilliant techniques – the audience is surrounded by the actors who click and clap, whistle and recreate birdsong – at times reaching cacophonous heights. Three Mischief Makers replace the witches – and are way more effective – playfully messing about and catching sounds before bucking up and dealing with the task at hand. Kyle J Morrison, Mark Nannup and Ian Wilkes take familial bonds to a whole new level – they cavort about, reveling in their mischief and draw power from Hecate herself. Their dancing evokes the animals and nature of the land they are grateful to play on in a metaphor for the entire company itself.

As Morrison said, Noongar language is a philosophy and to see these Mischief Makers dance with their dialogue, to see Morrison switch from lilting words to heartfelt song, we are witnessing the intimate intertwining of language, song, and life that Noongar culture encompasses. Every single performer puts their entire body and soul into their performance – you will not struggle to understand what is going on, even if you only know the handful of terms so thoughtfully placed in the program! Trevor Ryan is every bit the King as he commands the stage, striding across with a gravitas that is honestly terrifying. His energy is countered by Maitland Schnaars as Macbeth – he appears very still, yet haunted by his thoughts of ambition. He strikes the balance between charming host and murderous fiend. Alongside Rubeun Yorkshire as Banquo he retains a calm veneer, only breaking it when not in his presence. Yorkshire is every bit the offsider – he fashions his expression into neutrality when talking to Macbeth, only to express his concern through his eyes to the audience.

Hecate is an absolute sensation, due largely to its collaborative ethos. It is the work of many people’s ideas and talents being used to perfection. Director Kylie Bracknell [Kaarljilba Kaardn] elicits the best from the performers, sound, lighting, set, and audience. From whooping and cheering to marching solemnly down the aisles – and literal burials and bursting forth from within the earth and water – Bracknell’s vision is one that is breathtaking. The set is simple, yet effective. Designed by Zoe Atkinson it is a raised back, covered in muted coloured strips of canvas, there are two trapdoors that are revealed to maximum effect, and at the heart of the stage is a waterhole – lit from within. Mark Howett‘s lighting design takes its cue from the muted tones of the set and costuming, yet still manages to bring that elusive quality of light that is so intrinsic to this area. He creates rain, lightning, evil spirits, and uplifting ones – the pure white light that bathes Hecate as she passes on the crown to her ancestral daughter is cleansing and healing at once.

Bracknell excels in creating strong visuals – Cezera Critti-Schnaars is filled with the exuberance of youth as she bounds around the stage as Fleance, and is folded into safety, escaping through one of Atkinson’s cleverly hidden trapdoors. Bobbi Henry smugly looks down her nose at a triumphant gathering as she ascends the throne through violence – the party guests appear uncomfortable as they are forced to wear name badges in a grotesque mockery of networking events – the vignette resembling the works of visual artist Sandra Hill, whose ‘Homemaker’ series provides a statement on displacement and loss of culture. The artistic nature of the play continues with Henry staring at her hands, bathed in red light, as she scrubs in the ancestral water hole. Yorkshire, bursting forth from that same water hole, drenching the stage as he takes the long march back; the frieze along the back wall blooming to life as all is restored.

Hecate is, simply put, the most important play to come out of our region to date. To say it is perfect would be an understatement. This is a work full of love – love for each other, love for language, love for land, and love for theatre. The story is universal, yet so exceptionally fitting for the Noongar language – a language of storytelling. Its themes of violence, ambition, love, honour, and restoration resonate with the Noongar experience. It’s a story about dispossession, giving back to the land, and being of it. This is so much more than a play – it’s an emotional, spiritual experience. Every element of this work is next-level, Yirra Yaakin have raised an already high bar for themselves, and I have a feeling that the only way is up.

WHEN: 6th – 16th February 2020 | Tue – Fri 7.30pm | Sat 8 Feb 2pm | Sat 15 Feb 2pm & 7.30pm | Sun 6pm

WHERE: Subiaco Arts Centre | SUBIACO

INFO: Tickets $25 – $69 | Duration 90 mins | Suitability PG | Performed in Noongar language | Latecomers not admitted | Haze and Smoke | Post show Q & A Tues 11th Feb | Audio description performance Wed 12th Feb |PERTH FESTIVAL

LINK: https://www.perthfestival.com.au/event/hecate/

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