BWW REVIEW: Two Decades After Their First Collaboration, 4 Playwrights And A Composer Rejoin To Reassess The State Australia As They Ride The Rails With ANTHEM
Thursday 16th January 2020, 7pm, Roslyn Packer Theatre
Under Susie Dee's direction, playwrights Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, and Christos Tsiolkas and composer and musical director Irine Vela's ANTHEM weaves a series of stories together to reflect the struggles of Australians not often truly seen in mainstream media. A 21st century follow up to their 1998 work WHO'S AFRAID OF THE WORKING CLASS, the new ANTHEM may be Melbourne centric in its landmarks, but it holds a universality applicable across the country.
The program informs that the writers took Melbourne trains to the ends of the lines and back again to find their inspiration and get a gauge of the state of the nation. The result is the four stories of UNCENSORED (Andrew Bovell), 7-11, A CHEMIST WAREHOUSE...A LOVE STORY (Melissa Reeves), BROTHERS AND SISTERS (Christos Tsiolkas), and TERROR (Patricia Cornelius) and a score RESISTANCE (Irine Vela), that are woven together using a cast of twelve plus two instrumentalists. Marg Horwell's design neatly greets the audience with three raised thrust platforms emerging out of easily recognizable as train station concourse stairs complete with water damage to the concrete. The black timber station benches soon transform into an expression of the metro train carriages seen in Melbourne and other locations along the journeys.The sub-stories range in style and magnitude. The poems of UNCENSORED use the entire cast as a chorus, sharing lines that express the predictability and repetition of the daily commute while also conveying that even though most people probably feel the same about their situation, they never interact with each other. 7-11, A CHEMIST WAREHOUSE... A LOVE STORY provides absurd comedy interludes as Loki (Sahil Saluja), and eventually ex-girlfriend Lisa (Erin Jean Norvill), fight capitalism and mental health issues on an increasing scale as his initial problem of trying to extract a fair wages payment from his old boss Faris (Tony Nikolakopoulos) is unsuccessful. A larger layered story with the highest level of movement plays out in BROTHERS AND SISTERS as half-siblings that share the same mother, Cam (Reef Ireland), Malik (Osamah Sami) and Joelle (Carly Sheppard) terrorize the occupants of the train as they head into the city to see their half-brother Jamie (Thuso Lekwape). The female centric TERROR includes a range of stories of women at different stages of their lives, each battling financial situations that seem to be more linked by their gender than anything else from the Asian cleaner Chi (Amanda Ma) and her fallen former employer Elaine (Maude Davey) to the struggling single mother (Eva Seymour) and the middle class mother (Norvill) that takes pity on her and the busker Charity (Ruci Kaisila) who rides the rails all day singing and rattling a cup. The expressions are well crafted, ensuring that the essence of the characters is quickly established while ensuring that they retain a complexity of reality and truth. Dee's direction manages the woven storylines well ensuring the return of plot lines is easily followed, aided by Horwell's costume design that transforms a performer through their various focus characters and scene fillers. There is a delightful choreography of movement to convey crowds and imply a much bigger cast than the dozen actors. Musicians Jenny M. Thomas (Violin) and Dan Witton (Double Bass) present Vela's compositions that help color the stories, from reflective to amusing, bold to subtle with additional vocals provided Ruci Kaisila as Charity and Maria Mercedes as Athena, the Greek Resistance fighter. ANTHEM is an enlightening and entertaining work that provokes reflection on where Australia is and where it is going. The characters are recognizable in the depth that if you've sat on public transport, you've probably seen characters that look like those presented as expressed in the observations of the morning and afternoon commute in UNCENSORED but the other stories of ANTHEM delve into finding out the truth behind these strangers and telling their stories. ANTHEM also challenges the audience to consider how they ride the rails. Will they continue to hide behind screens and avoid human connection? Will they continue to judge other people without knowing their story? Will they continue to allow adverse events to occur or will they speak up for those that can't? Unfortunately ANTHEM had a very limited run for SYDNEY FESTIVAL but it will be presented as part of Perth Festival and hopefully someone may bring it back to Sydney so that more audiences and experience the work.
Photos: Victor Frankovski