Theatre review: HYSTERICA

I’m popping out a couple of extra posts this month as Melbourne Fringe is on and we all need to get out and support the performing arts in Melbourne…go on…

Women have always made history in equal measure to men, but with only about 0.5% of them traditionally appearing on the historical records, their contributions were often forgotten – that is until women started to rewrite the records…

In Melbourne Fringe show, HYSTERICA, actors Tess Parker and Mary Steuten deliver a piece of historical revisionism through monologue to tell the stories of four extraordinary women – Alice Anderson, business woman, garage proprietor and motor mechanic (1897-1926); Joy Hester, artist and member of the Angry Penguins movement and the Heidi Circle integral to the development of Australian Modernism (1920-1960); Elizabeth Gould (1804-1841), botanical artist and illustrator, much of whose work is believed to have been attributed to her husband naturalist and author John Gould (sigh); and the more contemporary story of Dawn Faizey-Webster who developed locked in syndrome after suffering a brainstem stroke that left her only able to communicate by blinking her left eye. Faizey-Webster still went on to complete a degree, a Masters and commence a doctorate.

Despite challenges with the shows lighting (the lighting deck got drenched in yesterdays downpour so the actors had to work under fluorescent strip lighting to avoid electrocuting anyone), Parker and Steuten put on thought-provoking performances that made me want to find out more about the characters they inhabited. Tess Parker’s portraits of Alice Anderson and Elizabeth Gould were particularly expressive and engaging.

HYSTERICA is showing at Theatre Works new venue, the Explosives Factory which is down a back alley and up a flight of stairs into a warehouse space in St Kilda. Running 4-8th October, tonight is the final show, so get in quick.

I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther

Rupi Kaur

Theatre review: No Ball Games Allowed

Good poetry tackles big ideas, cuts out the unnecessary and makes careful word choices to create powerful imagery and elicit emotion in the reader. It is also often a little elusive to allow us to bring our own meaning and perceptions to a piece. Good theatre is dialectical in the broadest sense and combines sight and sound to engage and challenge us. It makes us think long after we see it.

two actors on stage looking at photos projected onto a mirror

From its haunting opening to its dramatic conclusion No Ball Games Allowed written by Kristen Smyth and directed by Kitan Petkovski brings the elements of good poetry and theatre together beautifully.

There are only two actors on the stage (Smyth and Mia Tuco), one young, one older, identically dressed in drab clothing that obscures their gender and identity. The set is parred back to almost nothing, the central focus a continuous drip of water falling from high up to a grate in the floor.

I suspect setting this postdramatic theatre during the Blitz in 1941 London was carefully considered. Locating the piece during a time when the Nazi party viewed any kind of individuality as a punishable offense and sent thousands of queer people to concentration camps to endure unspeakable atrocities draws the audiences attention to the themes of discrimination and prejudice that run through it.

In one scene, a young woman is assaulted and the phrase ‘Make the bitch beg’ is hurled repeatedly at the audience, eliciting the fear such an experience imposes. In another, a mother punishes her thirteen year old son for dressing up in her clothes. She wants him to be a strong man because ‘women aren’t safe’. She cannot see or accept her son for who he is. Her own fears blind her to her son’s confusion and struggle with his identity. At one point the mother even tries to blackmail her son into being the vision of a man she had for him, but you cannot substitute money for love or identity.

Repetition draws the audiences attention to the multiple meanings within the piece. At one point the actors tell one another repeatedly ‘I love you’. It highlights the affection between the characters and at the same time the fact that sometimes people are confused about what love is and how to express it appropriately.

The two actors play multiple characters during the lyrical vignettes, yet I was also left with a sense that on one level they were one and the same. A person speaking to themselves across time in an effort to make sense of the hostile world they found themselves in. A world that rejected the very essence of who they were. The affection, tenderness, and at times affirmation, expressed between the actors on stage helps provide the audience relief from the bleakness of the set and themes explored.

No Ball Games Allowed rejects the idea of a simple, logical, causal representation, instead using conflicting, contested and irreconcilable multiple logics to deliver a powerful, mesmerising and thought provoking piece of theatre that will stay with me for some time. It was clear that the writer, director and actors were in harmony, supported by a music composition (Robert Downie and Rachel Lewindon) that magnified the intense, emotive piece.

No Ball Games Allowed is on at Theatre Works in St Kilda until next Saturday 9th April. Get a ticket, the show is worthy of a full house every night.

Images: all images by Cameron Grant

Be careful who you hate, it could be someone you love

wording on billboards across the USA by Gay Day