27 January 2018

Review: Strangers in Between

Strangers in Between
Cameron Lukey and Don't Be Down Productions
in association with fortyfivedownstairs and the Seymour Centre
25 January 2018
to 11 February

Seymour Centre season 14 February to 2 March

Strangers in Between. Wil King and Simon Burke. Photo by Sarah Walker

2005 is already so long ago that there's a generation who have no idea how we communicated – let alone met people and dated; let alone that we used to date – without smart phones.

Strangers in Between by Tommy Murphy (Holding the Man) won the 2006 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Best Play. Set in 2005 in Kings Cross in Sydney, it's connected to time and place and could almost feel historic, but director Daniel Lammin uses the nostalgia to support the script and characters and lets its story feel a part of now.

Teenager Shane (Wil King) has fled up the Hume Highway from small city Goulburn to Kings Cross in Sydney. He's working in a bottle shop and as terrified of area's reputation of violence and fear as he is desperate for any friendship, guidance and connection. In 2005, Grindr is still at least four years away and unimaginable, mobile phones and home computers are expensive, and Australia Post is  reliable. The only way to meet people is in real life and Shane awkwardly befriends slightly-older Will (Guy Simon; who also doubles as Shane's brother) and a-bit-more-older Peter (Simon Burke) when they come into the bottle shop.

A lot of the humour comes from remembering the time – and often relies on knowing Kings Cross and small town Australia – and from Shane's naive and earnest attitude to sex, cheap food and laundromats. The many laughs about Shane's ignorance are grounded in empathy and the tone is balanced by ensuring that, despite the inevitable dark revelations, assumptions about age and power are also gently confronted.

The shiny-streamer backdrop design places it in the Cross but doesn't always support the tone. For a work that's set in homes and so about the personal, the design felt like it was hinting that it was going to move into the the club and tourist side of the suburb, which locals avoid. But the final image is perfect.

Lammin's comparison to Armistead Maupin's "logical family" is clear and there's room for more ambiguity, but sometimes celebration is the best choice.

25 January 2018

Review: Nassim

Arts Centre Melbourne
23 January 2018
Fairfax Studio
to 28 January

Nassim Soleimanpour

 روزی روزگاری

Nassim Soleimanpour's new work Nassim opened at the Edinburgh Festival last year and we are so lucky to have it at Arts Centre Melbourne this week. He wrote White Rabbit Red Rabbit , which is all anyone who has seen Rabbit needs to know.

Thirty-seven-year-old Soleimanpour is from Iran. He now lives in Berlin and is best known for his 2010 White Rabbit Red Rabbit. A performer only performs it once. They get the script when they walk onto the stage in front of the audience. He wrote it in Iran and posted it to the world because he couldn't get a passport. For once, the world – at least our theatre world – listened and it's been translated from Farsi into 25 languages and been performed all over the place by famously known, respected and/or loved performers. The author finally saw a production in 2013, in Brisbane.

As the Rabbit experience is so dependent on performer and audience discovering the text at the same time, writing anything about it is almost unfair.

Nassim is more developed than Rabbit but it is similar in that the performer gets the script when they walk onto the stage. And saying anything about it is almost unfair.

But it's wonderful. I'm smiling as I think about it.

It's about family and home and language and story and how little it takes to feel connected and dismiss any notions of difference.

And never think that it's gimmick theatre. The structure is remarkable and the emotion is real.

On opening night, performer Alison Bell was as nervous as is expected, and much of the experience is being with the performer as they become comfortable with the audience – who also relax and realise that they are part of the experience and not faceless watchers in the dark. As the performer begins to enjoy the experience of having no idea of what's about to happen, the audience switch from being so grateful that they are not on stage to, maybe, wishing that they were.

Especially as there is another person making the performance: Nassim Soleimanpour.

You've missed Alison Bell and Benjamin Law, but Charlie Pickering, Nakkiah Lui, Catherine McClements and Denise Scott are on for the rest of the week.

This is theatre that connects and celebrates and a mini community is formed from each performance; it's our shared experience with the performer and playwright. I know that sometime this year I will meet a stranger who was there, and we will become friends as we discover we were both saw this performance and begin to talk about it.

08 January 2018

Interview: Kate Valk, The Wooster Group

The Sydney Festival opens this week; I wish I were there.
6–28 January

Kate Valk. The Town Hall Affair. Photo by Zbigniew Bzymek

Late last year, I spoke to actor Kate Valk from New York's The Wooster Group about The Town Hall Affair (7–13 January), second-wave feminism and why it's vital that we still talk about second-wave feminism.

Interview in The Music.