February 17, 2016

Excellent new theatre works worth seeking out in carnival of culture

Adelaide Fringe

by Henry Naylor
The Arch, Holden Street Theatre Company
In association with Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh
February 10. Until March 13.

The Last Time I Saw Richard
by Cat Commander
The Bakehouse.
February 16. Until Feb 23.

Red Ink
by Duncan Graham
Tuxedo Cat, Perske Pavillion
February 16. Until Feb 23.

It is not yet “mad March” in Adelaide and already the Fringe, the gargantuan, carnivalesque doppelganger to the Festival has roared into action. For artists and producers it is a Darwinian struggle in an uncurated program of more than 1100 events. In theatre alone there are 151 listings and getting noticed in a mixed ruck of comedy, carny spectacle and hyperactive PR is difficult. Nonetheless, this year, like many previously, offers excellent new Australian work; green shoots which promise the future.

At Tuxedo Cat, Duncan Graham’s new play Red Ink features a woman police officer, the mother of a squealing toddler, a checkout operator and a mentally disturbed young man calling himself Stalin. Crisply directed by Shannon Mackowski, Graham’s deft script investigates a sequence of events that leads from a moment of irritation about a packet of Sao biscuits in a supermarket queue to a tragic over-reaction. Fast-paced, shrewdly observed, capably performed (Matthew Gregan is excellent as the man) Red Ink is a theatrical cracker.

The Last Time I Saw Richard is an absorbing new work from Melbourne playwright Cat Commander. Set in a series of hotel rooms over eleven years, it explores a quasi- erotic friendship between April, 27 and Richard, 39. They are corporate strolling players, working as mandatory training session facilitators and hanging out in each other’s hotel rooms. Richard (Charles Mayer) is a struggling actor, always auditioning – informercials, hospital TV soaps – ever optimistic for the big break in LA. April (Elizabeth Hay) is brittle, elusive, harbouring regrets and resisting intimacy.

Ably directed by Craig Behenna and engagingly performed by both actors, the play is a series of brief encounters, conversations, confessions, confrontations, and emotional intimacies which form an unexpected continuity for April even after she marries someone else. Designed by Behenna, Matt Crook and Brad Williams, using simple, brightly backlit screens, this is an assured comedy of awkward manners. Cat Commander writes lively, funny dialogue capturing the anxieties, follies and ambivalence of contemporary relationships.

Martha Lott, enterprising director at Holden Street Theatres, has again funded top-notch international productions from the most recent Edinburgh Fringe. Included is Echoes, written and directed by Henry Naylor and featuring excellent performances by Filipa Bracanca and Felicity Houlbrooke as Samira and Tillie, two English women from different centuries. Both from Ipswich one is a teenage jihadist encouraged by a friend to become a slave bride to ISIS in Rakka, the other is in a 19th century arranged marriage to a sadistic army officer in Afghanistan. The dual monologues make vivid, confronting and timely theatre.

“Excellent new theatre works worth seeking out in carnival of culture” The Australian , February 18, 2016, p.15.

Murray Bramwell

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