What is it?
We have invited 7 local residents to accompany UTP’s Artistic Director to 12 cultural events during 2014. UTP covers the cost of tickets and transport and in return the group share their critical feedback on the work we have seen together.

Residents are:
Gaele Sobott
David Cranston
Maree and David Ledson
Cecelia Balamoan
Dean Lloyd
Frances Panopoulos

Matthew Whittet
13 Nov-14 December (Belvoir St Theatre)

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Gaele Sobott

For the last 2200 Review for 2014 and maybe forever, we travelled to one of the citadels of Sydney mainstream theatre to see Cinderella.

The Belvoir St Theatre downstairs is thickly carpeted and intimate. I sit next to a young man with long hair, writing in long hand what he tells me is one of many scripts.

The lights dim, Ashley, played by Mandy McElhinney, stands spotlighted, waiting nervously. Her date turns up. She panics, rushes off and in her flight from the club, bangs her head. She sits outside the club on the curb, crying, lonely, anxious.  Enter Ash, Matthew Whittet  (also the writer of the piece), a kind of magical, slightly gormless character. The fairytale begins. There is no pumpkin, no evil stepmother but there is a lost shoe motif, and the girl gets the prince in the end.

It was pleasant to sit in the air-conditioned dark and let go for a while. I smiled, Rosie laughed at the pea-up-the-nose gag. The acting was nuanced, the story absorbing and tender.  Cinderella probably reflects an aspect of 30s something, inner city, middle-class life. It was light, white and fluffy like a well-made sponge cake.

A man in the front row delivered an enthusiastic standing ovation and encouraged others in the audience to do the same. He told me later he does that at all the Belvoir plays. We climbed the stairs (there is a lift) and walked out onto the muggy Surry Hills’ streets to start the journey back to the ‘burbs.

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Frances Panopoulos

The play worked as a well-acted, entertaining romantic comedy ‘of our times’. Highlights included Ash’s (Matthew Whittet’s) burlesque piece, a tribute to self-seduction if not seduction of the other.

However, a day later and I’m still wondering what, if anything, the would-be initiate (Ashley – Mandy McElhinney) had learned from her adventure in the underworld forest, and how the experience would serve her on her return to the world.

Sure, it was one up on sugary Hollywood fairytales, but the plot fell short on its (implied) promise of exploring the Cinderella and related archetype/s. The narrative, and particularly the ending, remained unresolved in this sense.

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Maree Ledson

This was a very contemporary version of the old Fairy Tale. The play opens with our modern Cinderella waiting for her ‘prince’ to arrive at the ball, or rather the bar, wearing a pretty floral dress and bright red, peep toe, wedge heeled shoes.

She was clearly very nervous and when he did arrive she lost her nerve completely, turning and running straight into the wall and the back exit, leaving a red shoe behind.

This modern version of the Cinderella story was very deftly and deeply acted out by the two actors, Matthew Whittet, ‘Ash’ the prince and Mandy McElhinney, ‘Ashleigh.’

There were many twists and turns along the way and a resolution which wasn’t the conventional one but may have turned out satisfactorily for the two main characters in the end

Matthew Whittet wrote the play and it was directed by Anthea Williams whose original concept it was.

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Richard Blomfield
24 Oct-2 November (Bankstown Theatre Company)

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Frances Panopoulos

Not a fan of musicals, but I enjoyed the players’ energy, especially the high kick and big ballad numbers.

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Maree Ledson

On Saturday 25th of October I had the privilege to attend this Musical Production as a member of Urban Theatre Productions 2200 Review Team. It was a most pleasant and enjoyable experience for me in familiar surroundings.

The Arts Centre Theatre is a small and intimate and easily held the disappointingly small audience who attended this matinee performance.

I hope and trust that more people from Bankstown and other suburbs will come to see “Grease” in the Bryan Brown Theatre in March next year.

I intend to be there, as from the quality of the acting, singing and dancing we were treated to on Saturday, it promises to be an excellent show. We were ushered into the theatre on Saturday by the cast of Nuns, one of whom informed me that Sister Amnesia could not help it, poor dear as she had lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head. This set the stage for the rest of the plot which was about these twelve nuns, the surviving members of the Little Sisters of Hoboken after the other 52 had been accidentally poisoned by their cook Julia Child of God.

They had run out of funds and with 4 of the dead sisters in the freezer and needing to be buried, they were putting on this variety show to raise the money for their burials.

The nuns had a variety of talents and issues with which they had to deal, relating to and stemming from their lives, before and since taking up holy orders.

The first half of the show was a bit slow and tentative, but things really got moving after interval and all resolved happily in the end.

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David Cranston

“Nunsense” was performed by the Bankstown Theatrical Society. I cannot recall seeing any of their previous performances.

When I read in a flyer at the Bankstown Arts Centre the background story of “Nunsense” that our review group were going to see, my first thoughts were that this is going to be a fun show.

Our group of eight were greeted by then led by Sister Amnesia to our seats, travelling across the front of the stage, up the stairs, across the theatre again then down to our seating. So what is going on? Just part of Sister Amnesias’ odd behaviour!

The story unfolds that “The Little Sisters of Hoboken” had lost some fifty two of their sisters, them being accidentally poisoned by their cook. They had buried most of them but still had a few bodies stowed in the kitchen freezer waiting to find money to bury them as what money they had left they had spent somewhat recklessly.

So with a health inspector due to visit, they had to devise a plan to raise money quickly to bury the rest of the nuns.

They decided to put on a variety show and I guess this is where the fun began. A variety show it was.

Sister Amnesia did a spot with a ventriloquists’ dummy, there was audience participation with a quiz and some play on words, baby cheeses (meaning Jesus) and perhaps some outdated humour but it still raised a laugh.

Also included was Amnesias’ Bingo where probably fifty percent of the audience had the winning numbers.

And of course it would not be appropriate to reveal how the fund raising problem was ultimately resolved.

The background music was piano and drums and possibly one other instrument that could not be determined.

The performance was by twelve nuns (and one priest?) from the Bankstown Theatrical Society. They perform with no pay, only the joy of doing something that they obviously love, is their reward.

Their performance was skilled and professional, with an odd stumble here and there, but one thing that impressed me was the quality of their singing voices.

I left with a thought that some shows are dated. They need bringing forward to our time if this be possible. This shoe needed some modernising to better reflect the skills of the performers.

Well done to the cast for an evening of fun!

Note: At “Bankstown Bites” held recently in Bankstown, I heard a few of their singers singing “Oklahoma” as their final song for the day. Wow!

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Phillip Scott
26-27 September (Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre)

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Frances Panopoulos

Being (at times) a bit of a ‘political tragic’, I loved every minute of this performance. Most memorable favourites included: Christopher Pyne’s heart-felt bedtime prayer and Peta Credlin’s hyper-intense operatic number.

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David Cranston

Ah, Casula. This place invoked memories of my youth.

To get there then was by train via Liverpool or by pushbike along the Hume Highway turning left at Casula Road, down the winding hill, over the railway line to a beautiful picnic area where you could spend the summer weekends.

There was a little shop for food, boiling water for a cup of tea, a play area and a clean river to swim in that was full of small fish and Carp (the general opinion was that it was easier to boil a stone and eat it than to boil and eat a Carp).

Or take your own lunch, a half loaf of bread stuffed with a knob of Devon or eat a few peaches from the local orchard together with a watermelon but don’t get caught.

Then there came a golf course, the Power House, new suburbs further south along the river and as a consequence, polluted water not fit to swim in. Goodbye Casula as we knew it

But wait! The Powerhouse is now an Arts Centre. The rail crossing is closed, so one must drive there along a new road on the eastern side of the railway line, dodge the ghosts of the past and in the dark wonder how anyone can find this place. Who would come here!

But people do and for the locals and those fortunate enough to be aware of its existence, you move from the past to the present at the Powerhouse as a first class entertainment centre.

Satirical Comedy “The Wharf Review” was the performance we went to see.

There were no disappointments, just fast moving political satire, relevant, reflecting the recent past and the mood of what I would believe to be the majority of the population today.

One could not be offended, only enjoy the writing, the presentation, the colour, the sound, the background scenery and obviously the enjoyment of the actors themselves as they performed their various roles.

Two especially come to mind, the first being of Paul Keating and Julia Gillard. The actor playing the role of Keating was so good it was hard to believe he was not the real Keating.

The second was of a much more sensitive nature portraying the persecutor (the church), the victim, (the child) and the system that protected the persecutor but ignored the realities and consequence of the abuse being conducted on the child as we are now being made aware.

Particularly impressive was the voice of Amanda Bishop in her singing roles.

There was too much to remember of the whole performance but I would recommend to all who enjoy live theatre this, The Wharf Review, is something you must see.

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Maree Ledson

The stage laid out in the form of a Monopoly Board and the screen behind on which background images were projected formed the Wharf Revue, lampoonist’s action packed and up to date take on Australian politics and current affairs.

Drew Forsythe as Bronwyn Bishop in blonde beehive wig and pearls, opened proceedings on the screen.

We were then taken back to Chaucer’s 14th century England in style and setting for their up to date “Canberra Tales” of mining magnates and financiers. Phillip Scott as the landlord at the inn at which our travellers were forced to stay on their way to Canberra also played the piano and sang as he did in many of the other sketches.

Of the four players I recognized Jonathon Biggins and Amanda Bishop from television appearances. Ms Bishop notably for her very realistic, if somewhat cruel portrayal of Julia Gillard when she was Prime Minister.

The Julia Gillard that she portrayed alongside Jonathon Biggins’ Paul Keating in this production was a more charismatic, less strident, entertaining one singing and dancing along with Biggins’ Paul, whom he too brought out the best side of.

Amanda Bishop, true to her name, quite accurately, in my opinion, portrayed Julie Bishop in another skit.

They were all there Tony Abbot and Peta Credlin his hardworking and hard done by right hand woman in a Wagnerian opera themed skit “Peta the Great.” Christopher Robin Pyne saying his prayers, Scott Morrison in bed with his wife and the Defence Chief, Bob Brown and Christine Milne, The Palmer United Party and Rupert Murdoch, exercising his power and authority over his minions.

The Royal Commission into child abuse was the subject of one sketch in a cathedral setting with Biggins playing the archbishop, Phillip Scott a pedophile priest, the other male lawyer and a kneeling Amanda Bishop the victim.

The sketch was very moving a brilliantly handled by this extremely talented and competent group of players enjoying their 15th year of the Wharf Revue’s performances.

We finished on a note of whimsy and humour with Blinky Bill Shorten, Tanya his female koala sidekick and Albo (Anthony Albanese) another furry friend all lamenting their fate. A bit cruel but kind too. Just like politics and life.

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Cecilia Balamoan

Always political, sometimes funny.

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21-23 August (Parra Riverside Theater)

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Dean Lloyd

Circa “S” was a ‘Cirque Du Soleil’ style production in which the main focus of the show was human acrobatics. Although this sounds like a simple and potentially boring idea for a show, the expertise and imagination that the performers brought to the show was far more than enough to create an extremely entertaining performance.

The show itself was fantastically paced. Beginning with (relatively) simple flips and tricks and slowly escalating into a crescendo of rapid energetic full body contortions that left you wondering whether or not there were any illusions used. The stage was used whole heartedly, ranging from laying on the ground, to hanging from the ceiling 10 meters from the floor, creating a mind boggling sense of fear and astonishment.

One scene in particular stood out for me in which a series of roughly 8 hula hoops were thrown one by one onto one of the performers who consequently shifted them to individual limbs without ever colliding hoops with one another. With a clever mix off lighting and colouring, the hula hoops themselves were made to look almost computer generated, further adding to the mystery of the show.

Overall, this show was the essence of entertainment and I loved every second of it.

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Gaele Sobott

I was around seven years old when I realised elephants had toes. In country South-East Gippsland, where I spent most of my childhood, a circus coming to town was a pretty rare, but magical event. We all raced to the showgrounds after school to watch the men putting up the big top. We ran amongst the caravans, little dogs yapping, ponies tethered, and stopped where a lot of other kids were gathered transfixed by an elephant eating watermelon. The circus was even more exciting than the fortnightly visit of the bookmobile.

I suppose it’s an understatement to say the circus is not what it used to be. Life in Australia is more regulated and constrained now. Growing bureaucratic, public liability and licensing demands forced many travelling circuses to close down. Concern for animal rights mean that circus groups like Canada’s Cirque du Soleil that became popular during the late 1990s early 2000s, no longer include the exotic animal traditions of circus. They concentrate more on special effects, and spectacular acrobatic and gymnastic acts. In this regard the Brisbane company, C!rca is very much contemporary circus.

As advertised, C!rca’s “S” was ‘a stunning combination of ballet, gymnastics, tumbling, contortion and mystique.’  There was no story that I could figure but the performance was poetic in the way it hung together. The combination of music, ambient sound, lighting, and the movement and placement of bodies created rhythm, a beat, stanzas, theme.  At times I felt surges of deep emotion watching the human body push beyond the frontiers of what we assume is possible. This circus took me away from the humdrum of daily life. The athletic skill and dedication of the artists was evident. It was particularly impressive to see the three women members of the ensemble demonstrating their strength and agility, and taking on major roles.  Jessica Connell’s hoola hoop routine was brilliant. The comic scene however, did seem to jar an otherwise seamless production. Perhaps three comic interludes would have been better than one.

The audience was on the whole middle-aged to old, I saw about four children. One sat behind me asking his mother, “How long do we have to stay here? Can we go now?”  He did though laugh during the comic scene. Maybe it was the Riverside Theatre stage up-front, passive audience seating, maybe the show needed more clowns, but it was not really a performance for both young and old. C!rca is definitely bold, inventive and slick, and “S” provided edge-of-your-seat, jaw-dropping entertainment.  Nevertheless as I left the theatre I felt a yearning for the sawdust-covered ground, cheaper tickets, family orientation and intimacy of traditional circus.

Circuses have always offered extraordinary acts of great skill and discipline. Traditional circuses, Ashton’s, Sole’s, Alberto’s, operated as private businesses. They travelled to small towns, regional and remote areas. They performed in tents, in the round, where audiences played some part in creating the meaning of the performance. Contemporary circuses are generally not-for-profit arts organisations. Their projects push the boundaries of circus as art, especially as theatre, to be eligible for Australia Council for the Arts funding. A lot of the performances are in cities. With the emphasis Australia Council’s new strategic plan places on community participation in regional areas, maybe we will see a lot more contemporary circus performances for all ages in regional amphitheatres, or in tents on community or small-town vacant blocks.  I would love the opportunity to enjoy a C!rca production in that context.

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Frances Panopoulos

Magnificent soundtrack, inspired choreography, impressive strength.

I came into the theater with no expectations and left with a new standard of what circus acrobats can do.  The marriage of the soundtrack and movement was soaringly beautiful at times.  Dance and acrobatics merged and flowed in new and exciting ways.  The focus on the women performers’ physical strength was particularly inspirational.

The young audience member laughing unselfconsciously at the slapstick elements was an added bonus.

An hour or so extremely well spent!

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Seini Taumoepeau
19 July (Blacktown Arts Centre)

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David Cranston

In writing a review of a performance, I like to be fair, reasonable and constructive in any comment or criticism I may make.

My reviews normally come about after taking some short notes (first impressions) after attending a performance then preferably writing the review as soon as possible afterwards.

For whatever reason, I did not do this after this performance which implies a degree of disinterest perhaps but that was not intentional. Was it a question of looking for inspiration but finding none?

SistaNative has a lovely voice singing her stories and life experiences. There is no doubt about that but can I suggest and/or question the following?

Do you need a band as back up? No, you do not as their sound detracts from your own performance.

Without the band but guitar/s only, I still had difficulty hearing clearly the words to the songs. Your words must be the dominant sound with the musical instruments providing rhythm, beat and continuity only, otherwise the story the words tell can be lost.

The background rolling seas whilst interesting at first became a total distraction as I finally became aware the video clip was replaying and replaying endlessly. You do not need this as you and your other singer/guitarist are more than good enough to stand alone in your performance without background scenery.

Having said that, sometimes one needs to attend a performance again to better understand and enjoy it as the artist themselves review their performance, finds what works and what does not work so well, then goes on to improve and polish their performance in their search for continuing improvement. I would be delighted to attend your performance again.

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Gaele Sobott

There was a delay, we were told, before SistaNative Cantora Seini Taumoepeau ‘s performance would start.  The extra time meant we could look around Blacktown Arts Centre’s The Stitching the Sea exhibition, an added bonus.

I’m not sure if I am acknowledging all the artists involved but from what I could see, Sione Falemaka, Seve Faleupolu Gooding, Greg Semu, Angela Tiatia, Cook Island Women’s Group, Teivao Tamariki, Mount Druitt Tongan Tapa Makers all created pieces.  The artwork reflected Pacific peoples’ story telling traditions and narratives using a variety of media. There were appliqué quilts, woven baskets, Tapa bark cloth, a magnificent feather cape, and sculpture which, together, offered a range of cultural and political threads, and new generational takes on old traditions.

We got great front-row seats to watch SistaNative. She is a powerful performer and fine writer. Her spoken word pieces remind me of Dana Bryant. At one point, I thought also of Jean Binta Breeze reading her poem, ‘Dubwise’, where the female protagonist moves  “cool an/deadly/snake lady/writhing/ ‘roun/de worlie . . .”  Sista Native’s material shifts easily from the deeply personal to direct political comment, to philosophising on the nature of time, and then back to love and loss.

Her voice croons very comfortably across the “Neo-Soul” style grooves she has written. She sang her own rendition of the 1974, Hues Corporation song, Rock the Boat taking it from the original disco to Pacific reggae, then a song she wrote based on her experiences working over many years with people from the Tiwi Islands, and finally a traditional Tongan a cappella solo.

The band was professional, the accompanying singer and DJ good, and I appreciated the video images screening back of stage, the continuous roll of waves, the feeling that the sea was rising.  I did however feel that SistaNative should have been front of stage more often.  This was a retrospective performance. It is difficult for an artist to make a living from practicing their art in Australia, so I don’t know where SistaNative is heading in the future. I do know I would love for her to refine, polish, explore and push her musical and performance skills even further.  I would be among the eager audience willing to follow wherever that took her.

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Maree Ledson

Not my scene, the music was too loud for me not helped by the fact that we were seated in the front row, centre, behind two large speakers on the floor of the stage.

My initial response was to try to block my ears, but that was impossible not having any earplugs. Forewarned may have been forearmed.

Gaele’s suggestion was that I move to the seats at the side. So when the band members, who had been sitting there got up to go onto stage I made my move, David followed me there. As the band started to accompany the main singer, whom I presume was “Sista Native” and the volume of the sound increased as a result I could stand it no longer and headed for the door.

David accompanied me and we sat out the rest of the performance in the quiet the back room, where Julieanne found us nibbling nuts, biscuits and cheese left from the Cook Island Community’s Arts and Crafts Display.

This display entitled “Stitching the Sea” which we had seen before the “Sista Native” Performance, based on Traditional Cook Island arts and craft was very colourful and interesting.

One work by Sione Falemaka, “House of Plenty” especially impressed me with its use of Celluloid Film, kanui sticks, Madagascan raffia, emu, goose and Muscovy duck feathers, dyes, poly-strapping and beaded tubing. In the program Sione explains that in Polynesia it is every child’s dream to build the TauMatua (parents) a Fale (house). He welcomed us all to view the house and “contemplate your own feelings inside the House of Plenty, created with unconditional devotion to the lalanga (weave) and his adherence to protocols and therapeutic properties in the making processes.”

The inspiration for the weave is also drawn from the artist’s research visits to the huge collection of Pacific artifacts in the Australian Museum.

The other artists displaying various traditional Polynesian arts and crafts, combining them with untraditional or contemporary materials all gained there their inspiration and expertise from this source of their culture, here in Australia.

I only wish I’d had more time to see and appreciate this display before the performance we were there to see began. I think I may have also enjoyed the dancing of the colourfully clad Cook Island Community women much more than the very athletic, modern dancing live and on video in the Sista Native act. My age is showing here I think.

Thank you to the Cook Islander ladies who greeted us so cheerily as we arrived and they departed  and to the Staff at Balcktown Arts Centre for making it all possible.

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24 June (Bankstown Arts Centre)

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Frances Panopoulos

Bankstown Poetry Slam (BPS) started about a year ago – ostensibly as a forum for locals to perform their spoken word poems.  Early on, the majority of the performers and audience were from Arabic-speaking backgrounds and there were more young men than women in the audience and among the performers. I remember thinking back then how great it was to hear the (mostly young) people passionately expressing themselves about issues important to them.  A dominant theme was Middle East politics, including the role of ‘the West’.  Many of the poets seemed to be reacting emotionally to conflicts they were watching from afar, playing out on their televisions.  Going beyond that, the more convincing performers were offering an analysis of the same conflicts but with a critical eye on how these conflicts were dished up to them through the media, and the influence of things like propaganda.

So attending the BPS a year on, I was curious to see how (or if) the performers, the themes and the audience had evolved.  The first thing I noticed was that there were many more women in the audience and among the performers, compared to a year ago.  The audience was also a bit more diverse and therefore somewhat more representative of the multi-cultural Bankstown community.  The political theme was still there but had taken a back seat, to be replaced with several poems about deeply felt personal experiences.  The more grounded and convincing poets talked about their lives in the here and now – their sense of belonging as young people trying to find their voice in the world. A low-light was the tortured, teary poems about unrequited love that seemed to dominate the first half.

Overall, I’d say the themes and audience have diversified somewhat and this has inched BPS a bit closer to being more representative of the local community and the myriad issues that might interest the people of Bankstown.

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Dean Lloyd

For me, this was my first ever poetry themed event that I’ve attended and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. What I did see though was a series of heartfelt, well-rehearsed and throughout out poems performed to a cultivate audience in a fantastic atmosphere. Apart from the poetry, the layout of the evening was what struck me as a highlight.

It was staged as a sort of competition, with prizes handed out to the three highest rated poets of the night, a format which I believe doesn’t suit the poetry slam. I feel that the atmosphere of support for poets, new and experienced, was more than enough to spur on a new wave of poets for the next performance. Regardless of confidence, looks, personality or content, each poet was blitzed with a wave of clicks, foot stomping and cheers of encouragement from the densely populated crowd. Rather than a competition, it felt more like a family affair, where all involved were more interested in each other, rather than winning.

Although, I felt that most of the true poetry came through the poets performances, rather than the words they spoke. Many tears, screams and choking vocal chords played their part throughout the night.

The audience along with the performers were predominately young, averaging from roughly 18 to 26. This wasn’t so much a downside, it just happened to show a lack of broadness to the topics that were discussed throughout the evening. It felt as though the poems began to merge as their topics were too close to distinguish. With a differing age range, a more versatile series of poems would ensue, creating a more enjoyable and less tedious string of readings would take place.

In retrospect, there weren’t many downsides to the poetry slam. Better organizing with seating and breaks between sessions would be preferable. Although with a limited budget and mostly volunteer work, I have to commend the organizers for a well-run event. I would easily recommend anyone interested in poetry, solo performance or just even a night out to attend the next Bankstown poetry slam.

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Maree Ledson

The Poetry Slam which I attended at Bankstown Arts Centre on Tuesday 24th June was a revelation to me of what talent we have in and around Bankstown.

The people there were so enthusiastic and engaged, those organising it, the audience and the people who stood up to declaim their poetry. The organisation was taught, tight and terrific, run by dedicated people willing to give a great deal of time and effort in order to give a voice to others. They too had voices and gave performances of their own words and ideas, but were there willing and encouraging others to do so and what a diverse group of people, ideals and ideas there were.

The issues covered were moral, social and environmental issues concerning not only their own lives but the lives of others. They examined what it was to be young, in love, hopeful and yet uncertain, but also what it is to be different and disaffected. In one very moving poem on the subject of the documentary film Utopia the poet spoke about the alienation and isolation of Australia’s indigenous inhabitants, the Australian Aboriginies. The issue of growing old and cynical was dealt with by one mature aged poet. And current affairs and politics were also right up there too.

Supper was even provided by a sponsor who operates a Frozen Yoghurt business in the Bankstown Plaza.  I believe watermelon was also provided as a refresher too. All this for a gold coin donation. No wonder these Poetry Slam evenings are so popular. Get there early for a seat.

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David Ledson

The Poetry Slam was about politics, relationships, fitting in and being left out. In fact about everything that involves and interests people.

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Gaele Sobott

I heard the Bankstown Poetry Slam, was a bit too Islamic fundamentalist, a bit too angry young Muslim men.

I’ve never seen the performance space at Bankstown Arts Centre so packed out. I’m guessing over 300 people. I’m lucky to get a seat at the front. The audience is young, predominantly Muslim, probably children of migrant families – Lebanese, Vietnamese, and other Western-Sydney communities. There are a few Anglo-looking faces.

First up two young women, both a little nervous, sing love songs. One’s wearing a headscarf, the other’s long locks curl down around the guitar she’s strumming.

Sara Mansour and Ahmad Al Rady started the Slam in 2013 and host the event once a month. They crack jokes, explain the process and the rules. Then they throw teabag packs into the audience to determine the judges for the night. The running order is decided by drawing the poets’ names from a hat. It’s democratised poetry, true Slam style.

The poets speak their Western-Sydney identities into being, each with individual performance styles. Words on paper are reference points for memorisation and recitation. Some of the poems are weak, some are strong, some are about love, one poem is about the hurt the narrator feels to see her brother on the wrong track. Another young woman tells of her experiences of becoming a doctor, a young man talks about body image and the gym. Troy Wong performs a brilliant piece on racism. Lorenzo speaks of his experiences of injustice. Yas presents us with a not so ideal relationship. Pranishka slams home her thoughts on John Pilger’s Utopia. We are not doing enough, she says, ‘neither is this poem’. Iman’s words are sad and defiant describing her deep love for Iraq. I don’t know if she has read the Iraqi pioneer of free verse, Nazik Al-Mala’ika, but this young woman’s poem reflects Nazik’s resolute tone. The performers speak of surviving and resisting oppression. One poet is sixteen, another seventeen. They all have something to say and they’re contemporising the very oldest poetic oral traditions of different cultures, to say it.

The audience are actively listening and responding, clicking their fingers when they like the content, a clever metaphor or a rhyme. Like raindrops falling on a tin roof the sound swells then tapers off. These young people are versed in ethical listening that involves the intellect, the senses, kindness and respect.

A white man, maybe in his fifties, wearing a suit, takes the mic. His poem is tongue in cheek, about working in finance. He too speaks of his struggle to survive. It’s well done. The audience fingers are clicking.

Bankstown Poetry Slam is inclusive, it’s political, it’s personal, it’s intelligent, it’s lyrical, vocal, rhythmic, and it’s bold.

A major function of the oral tradition of South African praise poetry is to preserve and develop social consciousness. Nelson Mandela’s praise poet, Zolani Mkiva, describes him as, ‘…someone who believed that if you want prosperity for a period of five years, you grow maize. If you want prosperity for a period of 10 years, you grow trees. But if you want prosperity for a life-long term you grow people.’  I would say that by successfully creating a safe and structured performance environment for slam poets, Bankstown Slam Poetry is doing just that…growing people.

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David Cranston

How does one review a “Poetry Slam” except by describing one’s experience attending, a performance?

Free entry to the “Slam?” Now that is unusual! There must be a catch! And there was, this being a donation jug where one donated as much or as little as they wished prior to the “Slam” starting, during interval or after the performance had ended.

And not only that, but free watermelon slices and frozen yoghurt at interval were given to all despite it being so cold and windy that night, but it was much appreciated. A great start and finish to a very enjoyable evening.

The “Slam” ran from 7.00pm to just after 9.00pm. It began with two girls singing with one of the girls playing guitar. A very pleasant performance.

After that, the MC randomly selected a poet’s name from a beanie and to much cheering etc. from their supporters as they approached the stage they either recited their works from memory or read them from notes or their mobile phones or Ipads.

The poets were of all ages, male and female and obviously of all professions with their own reasons to perform before an audience. I believe the youngest was sixteen or seventeen and then older from there. The amazing thing was the poet’s  feelings and passion that came through as the poems were recited and one could not but see that some had had adverse life experiences.

I believe that unless you knew the poet or something of their background, their recital of their poems in most cases could have been a bit slower so that given the depth of feelings in many of the poems , the poet’s message could have been better understood (but perhaps I am betraying my age here).

The audience appeared to be predominantly of Middle Eastern background but many other nationalities were present. It was a full house so it was obvious that the “Slam” is a well known and extremely popular event both in the0 Bankstown community and surrounds.

Perhaps the judges (5) could have been a bit better informed that “Infinity” out of 10 is not a valid score of the poet’s recital and also they could have been a bit more impartial in their scoring.

But to heck with that and more “rules” as the spontaneous reaction of the participants and audience cannot be suppressed as this is the beauty of the overall enjoyment of the evening.

Keep it simple, keep it friendly and keep it nice. Well done!

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9-12 April (Urban Theatre Projects)

Visit My Radio Heart here

Gaele Sobott

My Radio Heart is a fine example of how cooperation between different theatre companies and communities can contribute to the diversification and decentralising of the performing arts in NSW. The play is a co-production between NORPA (Northern Rivers Performing Arts) and UTP (Urban Theatre Projects). The development phase took place in the Northern Rivers region over a period of two years, working with local communities of people with disability, and with the pop electronic collective, Tralala Blip (described as ‘differently abled’). The themes are universal, about love and loss. My Radio Heart opened late March at Lismore City Hall and continued with a short season in Western Sydney’s Bankstown Arts Centre from 9th – 12th April.

Fairy-light sculptures filled the courtyard leading into the BAC theatre. A big blue and red flickering heart stretched between two trees creating an ambience of kitsch illusion.

The set is a room with three white walls. A radio plays. Mat (Mathew Daymond), a large man with a scraggly beard, lumbers through a door, stage left. He turns off the radio, looks at the audience, the pace is slow. A female cyber voice speaks from a computer tablet on the back wall. Mat asks questions. The responses are programmed and don’t satisfy him. We learn he is searching for his parents.

Videos projected onto the three walls, and the electronica sounds of Tralala Blip craft a place of shifting perspectives and cognitions, an arcade or computer game, a place of virtual realities, or perhaps the story is happening in Mat’s imagination. The demarcation between the real and the unreal is blurred.

Four characters enter. Lydian (Lydian Dunbar) dressed in white with feathers covering one arm, is looking for love. The muscular Zac (Zac Mifsud), wearing tight black gear and a black full-face motorcycle helmet, is helping Mat in his search for his parents. Claudie (Claudie Frock) is the obsessively neat housekeeper, constantly changing frocks, remembering up to a certain point then repeating herself like a broken record. Randolph (Randolph Reinmann) moves frenetically from one piece of electronic equipment to the next fiddling, fixing, checking. Both Lydian and Zac use a pair of goggles to transport them and the audience to another layer of virtual reality. Dense coastal tea tree forests, the beach, a grove of Jacaranda trees surround them. It’s here that Lydian finds his dream woman (Phoebe Rose). In one of the most authentic moments of the play Lydian sings her a love song. It’s real, touching, almost angelic. Lydian leaves the stage to be with his newfound love. In the end Mat is alone. He tries the goggles. We see a projection of his parents standing in the sea, waves lapping around them. They gradually disappear.  All Mat has is a memory. He turns on the radio and Country and Western music crackles through the theatre.

The excellent visuals by Samuel James, and the sound design by Lawrence English and Randolph Reimann, create a professional context for a very simple narrative. The colour palette, choice of costume and set design hold the story together in a retro, kitsch absurdist framework. The play relies heavily on this framework to position itself as a professional rather than an amateur production. Although a huge amount of effort went into development and rehearsals, most of the actors were not professional actors, timing was out on a few occasions, and some of the delivery was wooden. The characters were not developed in any significant way and I feel this was the fault of the script. I found my concentration waning a couple of times, the same way it does when I’m sitting with my two-year old granddaughter watching Hoopla Doopla.

I also felt some discomfort in relation to the language surrounding the promotion of My Radio Heart. The cast and Tralala Blip are described by overtly politically correct terms like differently abled and mixed ability – euphemisms that suggest the term disability should be avoided. I believe terms like these serve to diminish the actual experiences of people with disability, the complicated interactions between those of us who have physical/mental impairment and the social, cultural and political structures we live in. I don’t see anyone describing the cast of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad as mixed ability casts. Peter Dinklage who identifies as disabled, won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his extensive talent in portraying Tyrion Lannisterhis in Game of Thrones. RJ Mitte who also identifies as disabled, plays Walter White Jr., a character with disability, with a very high degree of professionalism.

My Radio Heart is sad, tender and a little disturbing. I hope to see more collaborative projects like this, developed and performed in Sydney outer-suburban and NSW regional areas, featuring characters and actors from communities who are not adequately represented in mainstream theatre.

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David Cranston

The website for Urban Theatre Projects opens giving a background About Urban Theatre Projects and I quote Urban Theatre Proejcts re-imagines what theatre can be and who it can be for. It tells contemporary Australian stories that show the universal within the uniquely personal.

Well in presenting My Radio Heart, UTP certainly lived up to its background. The entwining stories performed by the actors, some with disabilities were about: Losing your parents whom you really depended on particularly when you were disabled, performed by Mathew Daymond.

Looking for love, a not unreasonable search for fulfilment needed by Lydian (and by us all during our lives), performed by Lydian Dunbar and Phoebe Rose.

The facilitator with the magical motorbike helmut helping Lydian to fulfil his dream by putting the helmut on and turning his dream into reality, performed by Zac Mifsud.

The compulsive, repetitive behaviour of the house keeper, continually re-arranging the chairs, pouring cups of tea and serving biscuits, and from an audience’s point of view suddenly realising the pots on the shelf were multiplying! This role played by Claudie Frock.

Also the compulsive, repetitive behaviour of one other, changing the settings on the electronic device on the wall after marching around the room, performed by Lawrence English (if my memory serves me right, otherwise apologies).

The actions of the performers and all concerned conceiving and creating this presentation certainly indicated that there was an understanding and perhaps personal experiences were built into the way it all unfolded.

It was scary at times watching the performance as it was so easy to see a part of oneself portrayed, as we are all victims of repetitive behaviour whether it is visiting cemeteries on Mother’s Day grieving old losses of family, or participating in annual Anzac Day ceremonies, Boxing Day sales etc: The stuff, the memories, the actions that binds us individuals together.

Colourful deep wrap around scenery, ghostly appearances of Lydian’s Radio Heart in the forest including the Jacaranda trees in full bloom fading, just as ones memory of a beautiful dream that on wakening fades but one desperately tries to recall, fed the imagination.

Certainly when one attends a performance, then the anticipation of it is based on being challenged/informed/educated in our thinking processes or of simply being entertained. I believe My Radio Heart achieves both.

Certainly the audience was engrossed by it all and it was fascinating to me that at the end of the performance that no one realised it had ended until a single round of applause rang out and then everyone else joined in.

Well done to the artists and creative talents of the team that made the performance possible. Certainly an extremely high standard has been set by them that others will find hard to follow.

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Frances Ponopoulos

The play opened with the main protagonist Mat pining for his departed parents.  I immediately started thinking about ageing carers of young people with disabilities facing the issue of who will care for their children when they (the parents) are gone.
But as the play moved along, I forgot about disabilities.  The themes the play addressed were relevant to everyone – love, loss, hope, and even seeking comfort in continuity when things get rough.
I thoroughly enjoyed this play and loved the way Mat and his Avatars moved in, out of and around a virtual world the audience was also part of, thanks to some very clever staging.  The final scene, when Mat managed to transform his grief into a new hope – finding love – brought tears to my eyes.

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David Ledson

The play Radio Heart is music made into a story. It is the story of the characters playing the parts. One is looking for love and the other who is looking for his parents and Zac who helps them to find them.

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Maree Ledson

A play by Rosie Dennis of Urban Theatre Projects commissioned by NORPA, featuring Tralala Blip, a Northern Rivers band, specialising in electronic sound and light effects and having members with disabilities. It was great to be able to see this production written and directed by Rosie, in her own home base The Bankstown Arts Centre. It was a rainy night but we were kept dry by the overhanging verandas whilst waiting to go into the theatre and were treated to a lovely display of lights including one of a heart between trees in the garden courtyard.

Inside the theatre the set seemed to fit the performance space like a glove and the theatre had all the infrastructure in place for the audio- visual technologies which were used to such good effect in this play.

The play was a collaborative effort between Rosie and her cast and crew which aimed to highlight the plight of people living with a physical or mental disability to find love and acceptance in our society. It is also about coming to terms with loss and bereavement.

It concerned three young men with a disability and as a result living in a group home situation with a carer/house mother and house father played by Claudia Frock (who wore wonderful frocks) and Randalf Reimann (co-sound designer and performing member of Tralala Blip).

The lives of the young men were controlled or limited. One ‘Gideon’ played by Lydian Dunbar (Performer with Tralala Blip), was just looking for love and wore a sign saying this around his neck. He also wore a ‘Radio Heart’ hung there by his friend played by Tralala Blip performer Zac Misfud. Zac wore a black motorbike helmet which he took off in order to put on his ‘Virtual Reality’ glasses with which he could connect Gideon with the girl of his dreams. She (Phoebe Rose, performer and member of Tralala Blip) was in a beautiful tree filled garden or forest setting, cleverly achieved, through projection onto the walls of the set.

Less successful was Zac’s attempt to ‘bring back’ the parents of the other young man (Matthew Daymond, technowiz and performer of Tralala Blip). They appeared for a while in a beautiful beach setting, but faded into the sea, leaving their son alone sitting at the table in the group house, at the end of the play.

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12-15 March (Carriageworks)

Visit Carriageworks here

David Cranston

I had mixed feelings about writing a review on this performance so decided to write it broadly along the lines of page 2 of the local “Torch” newspaper, “The Good and the Bad,” starting first with “The Bad,” (contrary to the way the “Torch” does.)

The “Bad”

One may think that any presentation or performance made to an audience should be “believable” and “achievable” in ones imagination. I believe the attempt to reclaim the Swastika was believable, yes, but achievable no.

The Swastika, Horseshoe and Black Cat were all symbols of good luck. The Swastika while brilliant in its concept for the Nazis, brought no good luck to anyone.

The only way to reclaim the Swastika would be to go back to its original form and history and its similar shape used in Buddhism. Even so, reclaiming would probably not occur in our lifetime unless some unforseen event changed our perceptions of the symbol.

At times I was unable to understand what the actors were saying. If it were deliberate, then it did not help the performance. If it were normal, then fair enough.

Was the performance about reclaiming the Swastika or a combination of that and the actors learning how to develop/create their performance including how to meet the audiences needs also understanding the audience’s thoughts and expectations about the performance?

Reclaiming the Swastika seemed to get a bit lost in the story.

Why did the actors have to work behind the curtain s/scenery? Again, was I watching the performance or the creation of a performance?

My general belief is that if one has to use what would be termed “offensive language” in public that in theatre, if it used it becomes more acceptable, but can be an indicator that the story behind the performance is weak.

The “Good”

Loved the elephant head costume of Ganesh and his Godlike voice. A good conversation starter if he were to catch a train early one morning wearing it, and walk through the carriages identifying himself as an Indian God and say “I am reclaiming the Swastika. Would those persons carrying the Swastika please return it to me now.” A crazy thought but could be fun and scary if he found any.

I loved the train scene where it became believable in my imagination, offerings of goods to family and friends that were normally unavailable plus the German language and text interpretation. It took me there. Excellent!

Also well done to the actors speaking German as a second language.

The strong emotion and strong language including an implosion by the Director who was working in what can only be described as a difficult and testing environment. Believable!

A great performance by the actors who were mostly, I assume, either physically or mentally disadvantaged. Easy for me to comment/criticise but put me up against these days and they would win every time.

A great performance at the end by (was it Mark?) playing hide and seek. How he must have felt and how we could feel for him when the Director left without telling!

Overall, while the performance was a bit all over the place, it was memorable for its content, dealing with specific situations and the energy of the actors especially including the director!

Explanatory note:

On reflection, after writing the above review, the question arose: “Would I recommend this performance to anyone?

Yes, but I would strongly assert that any information and/or media reviews be read first to gain a better understanding of what the performance was all about.

I did not do this and as a result my understanding and enjoyment of the performance and my review may have been compromised.

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Frances Ponopoulos

A key sub-plot of ‘Ganesh versus the Third Reich’ is the crimes against people with disabilities committed during Germany’s Nazi era.  The vehicle is a play within a play, allowing the audience to come behind the scenes while the actors discuss, rehearse and thrash out their parts, their inter-relationships skilfully exposing various levels of human ego, frailty, cruelty, pain, and compassion.  As if this dramatic tension is not enough, the ‘director’ (David Woods) confronts the audience directly about their own (potential) prejudices towards people living with disabilities.
I was totally transfixed by Simon Laherty’s various stage presences – as ‘himself’, as one of Nazi Mengele’s victims, and later when he donned the costume of Hitler.  Scott Price’s character was powerful in his deep reflection and brazen honesty about what the actors were doing and the pitfalls they faced.  Scott’s ultimate, visceral reaction to David’s cruel taunts took my breath away. Brian Tilley was Ganesh in those scenes where he donned the elephant mask in his quest to recover the Hindu swastika symbol that was mis-appropriated by the Nazis. And Mark Deans took the power of silence to a completely new level.

I loved this play and would see it again in a flash given the chance.

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Dean Lloyd

Strange. Weird. Abstract. Mind Boggling. These are but a few words and phrases to describe Ganesh VS the Third Reich in its simplest form. The show is performed as a play within a play, an idea that may seem interesting however I believe it to be fairly clichéd. The inner play revolves around the idea that the swastika was originally an Indian symbol for prosperity, and that Ganesh, the Indian god, returns to Earth in order to reclaim the symbol from the Nazi’s. There is however a second story running throughout the play and that is of the performers and the stage director producing the actual play, whilst the play is being performed. Personally, the play itself was lacking in overall direction, straying between story and ‘real life’ erratically and without warning.

The play however has some shining points in which I found quite unique and were the strongest parts of the performance.

There was an inspired use of plastic curtains, shadows and lighting that really pushed the story forward and forced the audience to use their imagination. For example, at night, a dark plastic curtain with thousands of tiny holes would be drawn across the background and a light would be shone behind it. This would expel thousands of tiny lights towards the viewers and give off the illusion of the night sky and its stars.

One of the few scenes in which encompasses the inner play was a tense on the edge of your seat thriller where a Jewish character is trying to travel by train to Berlin and knows minimal Deutsch. To create the illusion of a train, a very large plastic curtain with 3 see through cut outs was drawn along the stage. Behind this curtain was a series of tales with chairs placed on top in order to create the illusion of seats on a train as the audience looks in through the windows. This method has an extremely profound impact during the scene in which for duration of the scene, actually sucked you into the performance. The Jewish character is confronted by a German salesman who strikes up a conversation and the ensuing struggle is more than engaging, forcing me to literally bite at my nails. However this level of intensity and impact is only held throughout very few scenes of the play and is very disappointing. If Ganesh VS the Third Reich focused more on the actual play, rather than the story surrounding the inner performance, then it would have been a far more enjoyable experience.

I believe that this play had a fair deal of potential left in it that could’ve been tapped into if only it had more focus, especially on the way it tells its story. If only it had reduced the amount of ‘real life’ scenes and aimed it more towards the actual inner performance of Ganesh’s journey to Berlin, then it could’ve been a great play.

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Gaele Sobott

Following its premiere at the Melbourne Festival in 2011, Ganesh versus the Third Reich toured 18 countries before its long overdue Sydney debut at Carriageworks on the 12th March 2014.

The play starts with actor, Mark Deans, sitting on a bench upstage. He is framed by huge concrete walls, the space is immense, the props minimal. The neon lighting is bleak. Brian Tilley, Simon Laherty, Scott Price and Luke Ryan appear at different points and we realize that the actors are in rehearsal exploring the process of developing and producing the central performance of Ganesh. This is a play within a play.

Ganesh, the elephant-head god, is sent by Shiva on a dangerous journey through Nazi Germany to reclaim the traditional symbol of the swastika. He must return it to its rightful place before Shiva, who is so enraged by the cruelty of the human race, annihilates all human beings.

Narrator, Luke Ryan, tells how Ganesh got his elephant head. He is supported by shadow-puppet style animation projected onto one of the plastic screens that form the backdrops to the play. The scene is set for a fairytale.

Brian Tilley plays Ganesh, wearing a really impressive full head elephant mask. He meets Levi (Simon Laverty), a Jewish man who has avoided the gas chambers because of his ‘mongolism’.  Dr Mengele, the Angel of Death, is about to experiment on both of them in the name of scientific research. We are presented with the very disturbing subtext of a culture that regards people with physical and mental impairment as freaks that should be disposed of.

Ganesh and Levi escape thanks to Ganesh’s super powers. Their journey takes them through the semi-transparent plastic backdrops, printed with starry night skies and dark forests, layered in varied combinations to produce depth of field. The stage lighting creates shadow, silhouettes, soft focus, which contribute to the pathos and the gothic nature of the narrative, underscored by strong musical compositions. It is dark, fantastical and unsettling.

Unfortunately when Ganesh finds Hitler (Simon Laherty) and the swastika, the narrative suffers a frustrating and sudden loss of momentum.

The other play continues on as Brian Tilley, the creator of the story of Ganesh, fights to defend the integrity of his creation and the rights of the other actors against attacks from the director (devised by David Woods but played by Luke Ryan).

The actors voice their various concerns. Scott Price adamantly believes that Simon Laherty, who is not Jewish and knows nothing about Judaism, has no right to play the part of Levi. He questions the play’s use of Hindu cultural icons. Scott also questions whether the production should be using actors like Mark, who Scott says doesn’t understand the difference between fact and fiction.

Four of the characters/actors are identified as cognitively impaired. The director stands out as the lithe, muscular physical embodiment of a Hitler Youth. He treats the actors with kindness at times but this gives way to condescension and contempt, eventually exploding into violence, when he loses patience with their limitations, perhaps their resistance, in regard to what he wants them to do in rehearsal. At one point the director faces the real audience and asks an imaginary audience why they come to a play like Ganesh. Is it to watch a ‘Freak Show’?

The play ends with betrayal.  Rehearsals have finished and the director wants to go home. Mark is waiting for his mother to pick him up.  Instead of waiting with him, the director pretends to play hide and seek. Mark hides under the table and the director sneaks out the door. His work is done. He has no reason to socialize with Mark.

I cried as the audience clapped. I cried because beyond the conscious exploration of power and attitudes to disability, I sensed patronisation. I also cried because of the immense unarticulated but very apparent tenderness and love between Scott, Simon and Mark. This play is very much about our humanity. Regrettably because it took three years for Ganesh to get to Sydney, I saw the more recent Back to Back play, Super Discount, first.  It has the same structure, the same metadrama, it’s almost the same play but lacks the enriching multi-layered depth of Ganesh. Perhaps the originality and even the integrity of Tim Sharp’s Laser Beak Man, which was the inspiration for Super Discount, was lost in development and production.  Whatever happened seeing Super Discount first took some of the shine off Ganesh Versus the Third Reich – a disturbing, harrowing yet tender creation. I look forward with some anxiety to Back to Back’s next production.

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Maree Ledson

Ganesh Versus the Third Reich by Back to Back Theatre Company based in Geelong has toured to sixteen countries in four continents since its premier at the Melbourne Arts Festival in 2011 and I was privileged to be able to see it at Carriageworks last Saturday night. This venue at night was a new and exciting experience for me, brightly lit and abuzz with people in the foyer.

I also had a chance to revisit Christian Boltanksi’s giant art installation Chance. The play Ganesh Versus the Third Reich is also about chance. The chance that birth has handed out. The chance that we have an extra chromosome, the chance that our chromosomes carry a genetic abnormality. The chance that all is not right at our birth and that will affect our subsequent development.

There is also the chance of when and where we are born. In the play it was the chance of being born a Jew or being regarded as defective or subnormal by those in charge of Germany at the time, namely the Nazi Party. It is also about the chance for Ganesh, the Hindu god with the elephant head, son of Parvarti, the mother Goddess, to redeem and restore the Swastika symbol from the Nazis and Hitler to its place within the Hindu religion. It is also about chances taken by the actors and producers of the Back to Back Theatre Company to put on this wonderful, daring and challenging play.

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David Ledson

Ganesh Versus the Third Reich is about the Hindu god Ganesh and the Nazis. It is about what is fact and what is fiction, what is true and what is not necessarily true. The world as it is seen by different people at different times.

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14 Feb-29 March (Griffin Theatre)

Visit Griffin Theatre Company here

Dean Lloyd

Jump for Jordan is a play that explores many aspects and challenges in the lives of Middle Eastern migrants and how they and their families come to terms with their new lives in Australia. The play takes an interesting step in telling it’s story through three distinctive segments which intertwine around Sofia, the main character, and her family and lover. This does become a little tiresome when you have to figure out which story arc to remember but overall, it was an interesting story telling choice.

Through the eyes of a traditional ‘Australian’ who’s more accustomed to the culture of this country, seeing the way the characters act initially strikes me as over the top. However once the story began to unfold and the past of everyone, I began to empathize with them and this became a largely enjoyable experience of the play.

Whilst a large portion of the play is focused on the communication between the characters, a fair portion is also dealt with in a multilingual fashion. To combat the confusion of the audience, both languages are expressed in English whilst the characters act in a bemused fashion at each other’s foreign language. This was a very clever and enjoyable way to transform ordinary dialog into awkward conversations that could be fully understood by the audience.

Overall, Jump for Jordan was wholly satisfying play with an enjoyable conclusion. It creates a mixed bag of emotions ranging from dark humor all the way to sadness, however the true message of the play shines through strongly and thus, I could easily recommend this play to anyone.

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Gaele Sobott

Jump for Jordan opened at the SBW Stables in Darlinghurst, home to the Griffin Theatre Company since 1980. It’s an old building, originally a stable and later a taxi garage, a gymnasium, then Nimrod Theatre and the Loft. The Seaborn Broughton Walford Foundation has owned the premises since 1986. The only access to the stage is via a steep staircase, which makes it very difficult for wheelchair users or people with mobility issues to see the play.

So if you can get up the stairs, the space is intimate, the set consists of a simple living room with beige carpet. By the window is a large mound of sand that spills across the carpet. An American song written in the 20s, The Sheikh of Araby, plays, an indication that Orientalism may be challenged. The lights fade to black and Jump for Jordan explodes from the darkness in a noisy domestic scene between a mother and her two daughters. There is high emotion, a lot yelling and plenty of angst.

The play is about the experiences of a Jordanian/Palestinian/Australian family. Sophie (Alice Ansara) is gay living in Glebe with her Anglo Australian girlfriend, Sam (Anna Houston). She is battling to get through her university studies in archeology, working in retail and lying to her mother, Mara (Doris Younane), who cannot get over the shame of Sophie leaving their Campbelltown home before marrying. Sheridan Harbridge plays Sophie’s younger sister, Loren, who is about to get married. Aunt Azza (Camilla Ah Kin) is the maternal aunt who flies in from Jordan for the wedding.

There are a number of narrative threads to the story, perhaps too many to do justice to each one. An old house key connecting the protagonists to their history, the Nakba, and the Palestinian ‘right to return’, paternal aunt Layla and the father, Sahir (Sal Sharah), killed in separate incidents in a refugee camp in Lebanon, the coming to Australia from Jordan and the explanation as to why Sophie and Loren don’t speak Arabic, why the mother feels betrayed, Loren marrying for all the wrong reasons, Sam’s childhood with her trucker father and more. These narratives are plaited together by an effective use of lighting, non-linear juxtapositions of imagination, flashback, fantasy, daydreams and story telling. Sometimes the sand in the living room takes us back to Jordan and other times it is the late father’s dream block of land in Campbelltown. Sahir was a gentle Palestinian man in search of peace. In his quest to build a new life in Australia, he refused to speak Arabic, speaking English to his wife and daughters. He is the only male character and appears in Sophie’s thoughts or some may view him as a ghost. His character is very believable but also an essential narrative device in telling and pulling together some of the threads.

It is really refreshing to watch a cast of feisty woman characters and a story written from the perspective of the Arab diaspora, in this case Christian.

There is always a danger with writing against dominant representation and critiquing community that the characters and storylines become stereotypical and the butt of mainstream humour. There are some borderline moments in the play, but these are redeemed by the ongoing development of the characters and moments of calm sensitivity. Loren decides to call off the wedding. Mara doesn’t totally disown Sophie and starts to teach her Arabic by mail, Sophie takes ownership of her relationship by introducing Sam as her partner to sister Loren. Aunt Azza turns out to be a perceptive, independent woman despite initially being framed in the sisters’ imagination as a farcical stereotype of a militant Arab. The actors contribute to the success of the script by very spirited, often humorous and at times subtle performances.

It is evident that the writer, Donna Abela, has thought hard about representing diversity within the context of ‘new Australian work’. In relation to her role as a playwright, she stated last year in The Guardian, ‘I’ve got the rudiments in my tool belt, my eye on a wider horizon, and infinite hope that my best vehicles are yet to be built.’

As a board member and cofounder of the Powerhouse Youth Theatre, now in Fairfield, Donna is very aware of the importance of developing authentic Western Sydney voices. Keeping in mind that authenticity is not just in the detail of the writing. It is also in the direction, the production of the work that the subtleties of representation are wrought. For example, accents and dialectical variations – the way English is spoken within different Western Sydney communities. It is vital to get it right.

Jump for Jordan won the Griffin Award 2013. It was therefore directed by the Company’s Iain Sinclair and premiered at the Stables. It would be great to see more of this type of theatre written, produced and performed in Western Sydney. It would be even better still to see more independent performing spaces in Western Sydney that will foster this possibility.

After the applause died down, and as I clambered down the stairs, I may be wrong but I thought I heard Dolly Paton singing Cat Steven’s Peace Train with Ladysmith Black Mambazo harmonizing…

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David Cranston

An old culture story in a new world.

I liked the way the husband/father embraced the new life and opportunities he visualised and created for his family after fleeing from the brutality of his old world.

Unfortunately his wife did not share his vision causing considerable pain for both himself and her. Understandable and emotionally involving.

I also liked the way their children were influenced by the aunty (the perceived terrorist) to live their own life their way despite the mothers’ efforts trying to make them conform to the old ways.

Whilst the visibility was poor in the front of the stage in some scenes and did detract from the performance, it was enjoyable and thought provoking.

I wonder from the writers/actors/and others point of view whether the timing of the performance of the play especially the theme playing an integral part of the performance involving the two gay girls coming to terms with their love for one another, was timed brilliantly to coincide with Mardi Gras coming this weekend. Is it 1st March?

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David Ledson

This play was an accurate account of the situation of this family from Palestine and now living in Australia.

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Maree Ledson

The play Jump for Jordan, written by Donna Abela and performed by The Griffin Theatre Company in the old Stables Theatre, Nimrod St. Kings Cross, was very upfront, stark and confronting in its setting.

The set was the corner of a room with a table partly covered by a pile or drift of sand coming in through a partly open sliding window, through which vegetation could be seen. Various characters entered through a doorway in the adjacent wall. A picture on the wall near the doorway showed the red rock formations of Petra in Jordan, which Sophia dreamed of visiting.

The main character Sophia, a young woman wearing knee high rolled up trousers, a tee shirt and vest entered from the other end of the stage, which was near the steep stairs which we the audience had to climb to get to the small theatre space (difficult for those with mobility problems).

Sophia was returning to the family home in Campbelltown, after having left it three years before to live in Glebe near Sydney University, where she was studying archaeology. Her mother had written asking her to come home for her younger sister’s wedding and to be there when her Auntie Azza arrived uninvited from Jordan.

The mother was determined to present a united and traditional image of her family to her sister, who spoke no English, or very little as it turned out. Azza had a dual personality or image as represented by two costume changes, one a fully kitted guerrilla fighter and the other, real one of a modern, glamorous Arabic woman in tight black trousers, black sandals and red satin blouse. Sophia too had to change into a modest skirt and long sleeved blouse on the instructions of her mother in order to meet Azza (and her mother’s expectations.)

Azza though had other ideas and a box of memories of their dead sister Leila who had fought and died in the war of Liberation in Palestine. Sophia she said reminded her of Leila. Sophia’s father was less involved in the politics of the past and more engaged in and inspired by his new life in Australia. He even grew Australian native plants in his garden including waratahs, which he explained were very difficult to grow. His wife did not understand his passion for these Australian plants.

Also in Sophia’s life in Glebe and very pivotal to it was her partner Sam whom she was in a lesbian relationship, not recognised or acknowledged by her family who had never met Sam. Her mother gave her instructions to change Sam’s name to an Arabic one when talking to her auntie about her. Sam was of Celtic/Scots-Irish extraction and was also studying archaeology, more successfully than Sophia who was failing subjects repeatedly because of her conflicted, difficult family life.

The younger daughter eventually realised she was marrying an unsuitable man she did not love to please her mother and called off the wedding. Meanwhile Aunt Azza had managed to communicate sufficiently with Sophia to invite her Jordan at her expense to stay with her and had given her the key to the old family home in Palestine, symbolic of the family’s and her wish to return there one day.

Sam who had left Sophia to go off on a trip into the centre of Australia with her truckie father, feeling their relationship was over returned to their one bedroom flat in Glebe where Sophia’s sister joined them, as she was starting out on a new phase of her life. The picture on the wall was replaced by the key to the house in Palestine, representing Sophia’s new goal, now that Petra was becoming a reality for her and Sam

Like Shadow King and King Lear, Jump for Jordan used as a symbol of Sophia’s conflict and confusion an English classic Alice in Wonderland in the form of an Arabic edition of it which had been much loved and used by Leila in her life in Jordan. Azza presented it to Sophia who described it to her as she would an artefact from an archaeological dig, something she and Sam did at various times. I felt it was an allusion to Sophia’s life in Australia, a wonderland to her and her family.

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Frances Panopoulos

As a second generation Australian, stories about living between two cultures are all too familiar, so when the play opened it was a bit like a 1980/90s time-warp – I wondered about the clichés to come.  As the play unfolded, I thought about our need to keep telling the same story, with all of the major themes still relevant to newer migrants from different parts of the world.  The story’s freshness came from the way the timeline unfolded – the interplay between past and present, and the vivid glimpses into the characters’ dream-states and imaginations.

The staging was unique, with a huge mound of sand pouring in from the window, signifying the link to the past (middle-eastern desert) and symbolically the burial of hopes and dreams under an oppressive mass so out of place in a domestic setting.  In other scenes, the actors climbed to the top of the mound to signify hope and triumph.  However, the sand’s placement also interfered with some of the key scenes – when the actors were sitting on the ground – making their actions invisible to audience members further back.

Sophie (Alice Ansara) – the neurotic Arab-Australian woman trapped between two cultures – was at times unconvincing in her emotional range.  However she did shine in the frequent comic scenes.  My favourite scene was the beautifully acted confrontation between the older women – Aunt Azza (Camilla Ah Kin) and Mara (Doris Younane) – where old wounds and bitterness were aired, punctuated at the end by the line ‘rotting in your own self pity’.  Playing the dead father, Sal Sharah’s most poignant moment came as he mourned the destruction of his dream Australian native garden by his bitter wife.  At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Lauren’s (Sheridan Harbridge) portrayal of the Arab-Australian Bridezilla was very entertaining and well played.

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9 Jan–23 March (Carriageworks)

Visit Carriageworks here 

Maree Ledson

The artwork Chance I found monumental in its dimensions and proportions, the huge scaffolding framework and the belt of blown up newborn babies faces rolling through it, stopping at intervals with ‘a bell’ drawing our attention to individual faces within the continuum acknowledging the fact that each is the face of a unique individual, formed by the chance and conception of birth. As my husband would say, “You pays your money and you take your chance.” The next part of the installation Last News From Humans. Digital counters tallying in a 24 hour period births and deaths around the globe I found chilling as births outstrip deaths almost three to one, reminding me how fast earth’s population is growing each day. The third part Be New in which  the viewer is invited to make a new face at the touch of a button from disassembled old and new ones is amusing and perplexing as the results are really ‘chance’ for good or bad.

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Frances Panopoulos

I love the Carriageworks architecture so I appreciated the way Boltanski’s giant metallic installation filled the foyer space.  The digital counters showing numbers of births and deaths in huge red letters made me think about over-population and the ever-growing numbers of children born into poverty around the world.

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Between Destiny and Chance- Gaele Sobott

I’m a sucker for lines, angles, scaffolding and industrial aesthetic – so I love French contemporary artist, Christian Boltanski’s installation, Chance.  

A filmstrip of more and more unique but similar photographs of babies, taken from Polish newspapers, travels through rollers, a printing press, an assembly line. Digital numbers ticking over at one end, 6 people born every second and at the other end 4 people die every second.  ‘The fact is . . . it is not important to die.’

By chance one photograph is chosen and displayed on a computer screen. By chance our DNA is compiled and we are born with certain features and characteristics. Images are projected onto two screens, composites in three parts of old people and babies, the forehead, the nose, the mouth. It’s a game. Press a button, if  by chance the features match, you win a prize. Black and white, grainy pictures of people – police state, someone is watching, ID photos, surveillance, voyeuse?  I walk away.

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I had some difficulty commenting on this Installation as it was somewhat meaningless to me except for “Last News from Humans” the counting of births and deaths on the screens at each end. Scary imbalance now but nature will take care of that in the future as always.

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David Cranston

Having said that, if one were to view the Installation in conjunction with the Program including the conversation between the artist Christian Boltanski and Lisa Havilah “Chance” became more interesting and thought provoking challenging one to form their own opinions about chance versus right

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The Shadow King
Tom E Lewis & Michael Kantor
9-26 Jan (Sydney Festival)

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David Cranston

Wow! World class performance. Clarity of speech, the passion of the actors, easy to follow story and involving one to feel the outcomes of actions and consequences.

The background pictures of aboriginal land and homes transported you to another world where events unfolded of a classic Shakespearian drama but blending Shakespeare with an Aboriginal perspective and language.

Relevant and inspiring, old stories in a modern world: Give me more!

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Dean Lloyd

The Shadow King is a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’, although portrayed with an indigenous twist.

Tom E. Lewis as King Lear and Jimi Bani as Edmund are the two stand out performances for me. Lewis’s mercurial portrayal of the king keeps the audience on their toes, with sudden changes in emotion from ecstasy to severe depression. Bani portrays Edmund as a sadistic, cruel and malevolent man and pulls this off far more than convincingly with his performance, with his eerie maniacal laughter that rings in your mind well after the show has finished. There was one main downfall to the play and that was the lack of emotional connection between the characters and thus, less empathy could be felt by the audience. During climactic scenes towards the plays end, the dramatic build up lead to a less than impactful conclusion.

Although there were weak points to the performance, the overall production as a whole was more than enjoyable and I highly recommend it to any enthusiastic theatre goer.

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Cecilia Balamoan

It was an interesting piece, I’ll give it that. A re-make of King Lear based in Australia, with an Aboriginal cast and a set covered in red sand. For majority of the play my attention was caught, although somewhere in the transfer from the Elizabethan era to modern day, outback Australia I feel that concept was lost in context. The plot lacked the complexity and intrigue of the original purely because of what had been taken away from it. I couldn’t feel for the characters because it seemed to me that they had no real inevitable human flaws. Where did the greed exactly arise after the first scene? The suggestion of omnipresent wealth was replaced with projections of shacks due for a rubbish removal. The social commentary was at first steady but then almost entirely collapsed into a plethora of “he said, she said, yadda, yadda.”. I found the main roles became easily persuaded only for the artificial conspiracy to continue – because plays end easily that way. There were many things I felt needed working on although the play did not entirely fail to impress me. The rotating stage which played as almost every setting was extremely effective, along with the red sand that was covered in traditional aboriginal drawings. The band was on stage and acted as King Lear’s posse – the first source of conflict, they were comic relief. Finally, my favourite part: the Aboriginal singing. Sweet and flawless (not that I would know anyway…). Goose-bump worthy. It truly topped the most dramatic scenes. In summation, ‘The Shadow King’ was indeed worth watching, although I do not believe it is a play which allows much to talk about afterward.

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Maree Ledson

Coming late into the theatre at Carriageworks because of technical difficulties they had been experiencing I was not prepared for the scene set before me of a floor level stage covered in red desert sand on which a young and old indigenous woman sat weaving baskets whilst a tall young man drew line patterns in the sand with a stick. I knew then this was not going to be a conventional telling of the story of King Lear. The central prop was a huge machine, a mining juggernaut over the top of which came King Lear in cowboy gear, wearing a crown which he threw down into the sand after he had given away his land to his treacherous daughters and banished the third true, loyal one. It was King Lear in a new form and language part Shakespeare, part indigenous, telling of the age old struggle between good and evil, of how power and greed destroy. This time the money from mining, destroying the lives of native Australians. The acting was superb, the story confronting and harrowing. This needs to be seen more by people here and overseas so we all get to understand what is happening to this land and its people. Us.

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David Ledson

They took a white fella legend, King Lear and made it their own. Telling it in their own words, in their own way to tell the story of their land and the people who live there and what has happened to them and is still happening today.

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Frances Panopoulos

The revolving stage was like a living, heaving thing in itself – from the screen at the top, the actors propped precariously on the slope, to the cave and gaol backstage and the sand below – a space that wonderfully, dynamically conveyed the central theme: ‘the land owns us’.  Punching through this landscape, Tom Lewis’ brilliant portrayal of the troubled king was a roller-coaster ride of physical and emotional energy – anger, pride, vulnerability, madness, grief – right down to his lifeless foot as it trailed a thick line in the sand while his spirit floated lightly away on the screen above.  The mourning chants conveyed powerful universal emotions, opening up the physical space – the theatre – in a way the spoken word (even Shakespeare’s) could not.  As I walked out into the old industrial space, noticing the white dust under my feet, the play’s rendering of both mental and physical landscapes rippled silently, like an ancient shadow, on my journey home.

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