Monday, 18 February 2019

Trixie Matell: Skinny Legend, In the Dark Productions, Playhouse, Canberra Theatre

Canberra has had a bit of a sudden inundation of Ru Paul Drag Race alumni in the last year or so - I can think of at least seven shows within the last 12 month or so (including the big "Werk the World" tour). But if you're going to catch just one, Trixie definitely has the skills to bring a full-length two show - hilarious lip-synching, witty banter, musical talent (including random acts of playing the clarinet) and extraordinary looks. Playing to a large appreciative audience, Trixie has us in the palm of her hand, whether trading quips about other Drag Race alumni, bears, growing up in the regional US and other forms of havoc. I will say it's not entirely polished (there's a bit of referring to the script-on-the-phone), but she's an extraordinary talent to watch, adore, be amused or moved by, and it's a rich, fantastic evening of fun.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Wolves, Red Line Productions, Belvoir Street Theatre

This 10-character play takes 90 minutes to tell of a group of young women preparing for games of indoor soccer over a series of weeks - and as it does so, we get insights into their hopes, fears, how they entertain each other, their jealousies, their understandings of the world and how they hold together in the face of disaster. It's an exraordinary production in a number of ways, starting with the credits - in the entire production team, there's only one man (Mandela Mathia, the actress's soccer coach) - otherwise it's all women. It's relentlessly physical as the pre-game rituals include continuous drills, stretches and training for the offstage games. The setting, largely astroturf with a few benches and a set of soccer nets between the audience and the actors (as, after all, these are actors, not trained soccer players, and a ball accidentally propelled towards the audience could prove disastrous), keeps everything focussed on the nine actresses in the team. Dialogue is naturalistic and frequently overlapping, as the girls muse on everything from their hopes for soccer progression to history and op culture trivia. And we get to know the seperate personalities, from the driven captain, #25 (Brenna Harding), to the sarcastic star striker #7 (Cece Peters) to the new girl in the team, #46 (Nikita Waldron).

I find it difficult to explain quite what I loved about this play except, perhaps, for the relentless energy and engaging nature of the cast, the deceptive simplicity of Sarah DeLappe's script and Jessica Arthur's direction, the chance to watch a number of actresses at the dawn of their career getting great meaty roles to bite into, the chance to catch a new play that celebrates and engages deeply in young women in a way I haven't seen in theatre in a while, and one that makes their perspective absolutely central. It's an extrordinary evening in the theatre.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Counting and Cracking, Belvoir Street Theatre and Co-Curious, Sydney Town Hall

This Sydney Festival epic tells a story covering around 50 years of the lives of one Sri-Lankan family, taking place largely between Sri Lanka and Sydney, with a cast of 17 drawn from Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and France. By any measure, it's an ambitious work, and one that succeeds far more than it fails. It's true that in structure the most immediately relatable section is the first act (mostly set in Sydney, the first scene in Sri Lanka carefully selects the topic most immediately remember able to Australians, the cricket travails of Muttia Muralitharan). And some of the most interesting tangents of the first act remain unexplored (in particular, the question of how a family comes together after 21 years of separation is kinda squibbed, as the play instead looks into the background of how they became separated in the first place - acts two and three act more as a social history lesson of Sri Lanka). But there's a beauty to the staging and much of the writing - a simple deep thrust stage, a wide platform covered in earth and dust, where the characters sweep on and off, using meta-theatrical devices like actors on the sidelines translating for actors speaking in foreign languages, or performers becoming part of the setting. Dale Ferguson's set and costume design uses simple devices to locate us in time and place, and Damien Cooper's lighting creates mood and space within it.

I do think act three suffers slightly from the choice to show Columbo falling into disaster from the perspective it does - slightly removed from the action, with everything reported by phone call - and it's the one point where Eamon Flack's staging flags a little - more direct engagement with the subject matter seems called for here - we want to be where the action is, but instead are stuck inside an upper class compound just hearing about it.  And I kinda do wish the play stayed confidently with the perspective of the current generation family - it does feel like a separate play about the matriach's grandfather is trying to fight its way into the material, and, though that does indeed give it size, the two stories don't entirely naturally fit together. But still this is a feast for the eyes, the mind and the emotions, and sees Belvoir back on the right track after last year had me doubting them consistently.