Leopardskin – Michael McStay and the twist on everything. (Theatre Review)
26 March – 6 April, Jackrabbit Theatre at KXT
Kings Cross Theatre. You can grab your tickets here.
Images: Clare Hawley
Michael McStay is one of those very ‘now’ young people who understand parody harbours the potential to inform a politics of social structure through the way that it denaturalizes culturally embedded practises relating to gender, race and other social containments. His play Leopardskin is a masterclass in pop cultural reference, subversively parodied inside theatre leaching in and off contemporary and historical media culture. Not specifically politically correct, Leopardskin becomes a valuable avenue for a politically motivated study of culture and organisations and how this culture is subverted by a paradoxical undoing of previously loved tropes that parody makes possible. For example, I’m not the audience for a Frank Cho parody of his Milo Manara’s parody, but when Emma Kew as Officer Beaks leans over the stage ah-la-Sipder Gwen (complete with the eyes from behind) it had me in hysterics. Michael McStay honours Cho, but also transforms the Event away from the clutches of an anti-feminist elite keyboard warrior. It’s all very clever, very Judith Butler, very Michel Foucault, and above all else, very very ‘now.’
Parody we might be more familiar with includes that which nominates gender as performative, such as drag, has limits to its ability to create subversive platform. Ironically, the more it is ‘accepted’ the less subversive it becomes. At this juncture, comes Michael McStay with Leopardskin. It is in his characters parodic administrations that we gain a deeper understanding of agency in a variety of performativity’s. Michael McStay takes many tropes and jumbles them up. Not creating something new, but to offer them fresh to a thereby altered audience. Twisted (as it were) and reproduced, packed and delivered, Leopardskin turns my assumptions on themselves and engages me in the possibility of ‘seeing’ the familiar in a new way.
However, keeping with the clever theme, Michael McStay holds his ‘in and out of fashion’ cultural referencing lightly, moving it through time and various incarnations of ‘cool.’ He is very well supported by superb direction from Samantha Young who calls forth strong performances and manages a cohesion that is essential to a uniform sense of Leoparskin as an entity. Leopardskin, though written with great wit and style, is a play in danger of going off to an unknown world into which the audience cannot follow. Michael McStay is greatly assisted here by a director who understands and relishes his work. In turn, Samantha Young has assembled a cast who are able to pull off many delicately woven cultural commentaries successfully consolidated into single characters. Of particular note is Travis Jeffery who incorporates many successful archetypes of several genres into his own meta/duplicate characters Dick Tims and Giuseppe Monterverdi. With such a strong cast and great crew, Leopardskin gives one the tantalising sense something important is taking place even if I can’t properly know it.
None of the fast-paced enormity of Leopardskin would be possible without the supportive work of a strongly assembled crew. Lighting design by team effort Martin Kinnane and Jasmine Rizk is beautifully timed, adding to the comic flare of the writing. Ben Pierpoint gives the play its gravitas with on point sound design. (Lights and sound work together particularly well in a very funny carnival scene) Costume is the one constancies of the show, aptly drawn into the fabric of the cultural themes by Samantha Young and all of it is held together by Michaela Savina as stage manager.
However, it’s really the performances in Leopardskin that strike at the heart of this exciting new Australian work. Guy O’Grady creates the linchpin upon which the show’s antics are held together and in this he shows great skill as the mercurial Luka Maxwell. His sidekick Zoe Jensen as Val Desmond puts in a clever performance that handles its multiple twists and turns with finesse. Ella Watson-Russell is a genuine commanding powerhouse as Olive Darling. The aforementioned Travis Jeffry as Dick Tims and Giuseppe Monterverdi is a delight to witness. Emma Kew is particularly strong, fully transforming to play a variety of characters as is Nick Gell who brings the house down more than once. Comic timing from the team is flawless, and essential, because many of the jokes could fly by if it wasn’t for the careful delivery and well managed patience of the cast. Everyone appears to be having a wonderful time with the production, without losing professionalism or the seriousness commitment to a great show necessitates.
It all bodes very well for Jackrabbit Theatre who have ‘taken over’ KXT for a few months. Their first production, Wrath was a good first entry, and backed up by Leopardskin, it looks like we are in for a lot of happy times while they own the space. Above all, however, it is a thrill to see so many Australian works and so many young creatives getting a strong showing on one of Sydney’s most prominent indie stages.