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Vaanie Krishnan

Vaanie Krishnan

Contributor

Vaanie (she/her) is an emerging critic and theatre lover from Sydney. She has written for ArtsHub, Indian Down Under, Theatre Thoughts AU and recently started her own review blog Theatre Enthusiast AU. She brings her experience as an Indian classical dancer and member of the South Asian diaspora to her critical analysis of theatre. 

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Articles (1)

S Shakthidaran: “It's impossible to make something that pleases everyone”

S Shakthidaran: “It's impossible to make something that pleases everyone”

It’s been over a week since S Shakthidaran opened his latest collaboration with Eamon Flack at Belvoir St Theatre, The Jungle and the Sea (playing at Belvoir St Theatre until Dec 18, 2022), the much-anticipated follow-up to Counting and Cracking, to praise from critics and audiences alike. And funnily enough, Shakthidaran’s life actually shares a lot of similarities with my own. We are both Tamil, Hindu and have mothers that were heavily involved in the classical artforms of our culture.  Almost everyone in our community learnt how to sing, dance or play an instrument. Our weekends were filled with music concerts and Arangetrams – derived from the Tamil word for stage (‘arangu’) and ascent (‘etram’), meaning to ascend the stage – some of which were held by Shakthi’s mother through Lingalayam Dance Company. As Shakthi reminds me, this is a “cultural habit that is built up over a couple of a hundred years.” Art for us is for everyone, by everyone – but here in Australia, it is often just for the community.  Every night of Counting and Cracking, Sri Lankan and South Asian audience members would tell Shakthi how surprised they were to see all these other people love the story. “I came to realise that a lot of migrants are their full selves at home or inside their own community, and then when they're out in wider community, or in public in Australian life, they put on a mask and perform a simulated version of themselves.” With so much to unpack, naturally I started at the centre o

Listings and reviews (29)

Grease

Grease

3 out of 5 stars

Few musical references are as iconic as those from Grease. A simple "rama lama lama" or "a wop ba-ba lu-bop a wop bam boom!" may invoke joyful nostalgia, transporting you back to the first time you witnessed John Travolta's gyrating hips or “our” Olivia Newton-John's sweet Sandy smile. For me, it takes me back to my own high school musical experience. With my Pink Lady jacket and Pink Lady sunglasses, the Grease stage is where I first forged my life-long love affair with musical theatre and the passionate community that came with it. That is what musicals are forged on: passion – and this production of Grease: the Musical at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre has an infectious amount of it. Before the 1978 film adaptation cemented Grease’s place in the global pop culture consciousness, this show set in the working-class youth subculture of 1950s Chicago was first staged in 1971. Like any rebellious teen tale, Grease tapped into the angst of young people of the time; it had a '50s style and a '70s attitude. Everyone wanted to be as cool as Kenickie (played here with delectable zeal by Keanu Gonzalez, who has also appeared in Hamilton and West Side Story), as bold as Rizzo (the eye-catching triple threat Mackenzie Dunn, as seen in Hairspray), or as sweet as the nervous Doody (Tom Davis). There were definitely elements of my high school production that built my confidence, brought me out of my shell, and changed my perspective – but the plot wasn't one of them. The musical numbers were jo

West Side Story on Sydney Harbour

West Side Story on Sydney Harbour

4 out of 5 stars

Whether arriving via a luxurious water taxi or taking a leisurely stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens, the journey to Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour is as picturesque as the setting itself. Each year, a vibrant theatrical hub emerges, complete with a five-storey pop-up bar and dining venue with a variety of offerings, ranging from cheerful pizzas, hotdogs and pies to decadent three-course feasts. This annual event embodies the very essence of spectacle, and this year's performance of West Side Story (which makes an anticipated return to Mrs Macquries Chair after its 2019 debut) wows us while compelling us to wrestle with the stark relevance of its themes, both to Australia’s own history and the turf wars at play globally. Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical masterpiece West Side Story debuted on Broadway in 1957 and most recently got the Hollywood treatment by Steven Speilberg, to seven Oscar nominations. It’s a modern take on Shakepeare’s well-known tale of star crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, set in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, during the 1950s. The Jets, a gang of All-American boys, are in a turf war with the Sharks, the new Puerto Rican immigrants on the block. When Maria (Nina Korbe) – the sister of the Sharks’ leader, Bernardo (Manuel Stark Santos) – and Tony (Billy Bourchier), a former Jet, lock eyes at the local dance, the rivalries escalate. You might assume that the open-air ambiance would diminish the impact of the ove

The Swell

The Swell

3 out of 5 stars

A chance meeting, an accident, a job offer, a split-second judgement – we make decisions every day that have the potential to change the course of our lives. In The Swell, which debuted at the UK’s Orange Tree Theatre in 2023, award-winning playwright Isley Lynn expertly navigates the audience through a queer love triangle spanning 30 years and the decisions that change three lives forever. It comes to Australia’s last remaining pub theatre at The Old Fitz courtesy of Akimbo + Co.  The play jumps between the past – where we see young Annie (Jessical Bell of The Wasp and Consent) introduce her new fiance Bel (Alexandra Keddie) to her childhood friend Flo (Monique Salle of The Lovers and The Deb) – and the present day, where the trio is played by Fiona Press, Katherine Hopwood Poulsen and Deborah Jones. Salle’s Flo is a dynamic, care-free surfer who has seen the world. Over time, she inspires the anxious and sheltered Bel to consider how she might live her life differently – this sets off a series of life-changing betrayals and secrets, which are slowly unveiled.  For the twist alone, this show is definitely worth your time! Lynn’s script compassionately paints complex and flawed female characters across two different stages of life. These characters express layered experiences of love, joy, betrayal, pain, anxiety, embarrassment, and gracious acceptance – and this cast of actors give every moment its justice. However, the audience’s ability to engage with these uninhibited an

Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful Things

3 out of 5 stars

We are all struggling with something. Sometimes the struggle is external, and sometimes it’s our own selves that we battle daily. Often, the only solace we find is in knowing that others are also grappling with something. In recent years, the internet has become a place where anyone can find their community, or at least a space to anonymously offload. There are hundreds of blogs and Reddit threads where countless people seek advice on everything from recovering from grief to the best cities to visit in Spain. The age-old saying "you never know what someone else is going through" is vividly portrayed in the stage adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's popular book, Tiny Beautiful Things, created by Nia Vardalos (of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame). The book (full title Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar) is a compilation of entries from the anonymous advice column  Strayed wrote under the pseudonym Sugar for the online literary magazine The Rumpus from 2010 to 2012, which garnered a cult following. The play's strength lies in moments where the storytelling shifts to focus on living through the unthinkable... eliciting tears from many in the audience. Premiering off-Broadway at The Public Theatre in December 2016, the play caught audiences’ attention due to Strayed's popularity from the film adaptation of her 2012 memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, produced by Reese Witherspoon, and directed by Thomas Kail (of Hamilton fame). It playe

A’amar

A’amar

4 out of 5 stars

It starts with a request to take off your shoes, a custom that is common in many cultures in the Asian subcontinent, especially before entering someone’s home. The Lennox Studio at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres has been transformed into Melbourne-based Palestinian artist Aseel Tayah’s home – two elongated digital screens frame a kitchen benchtop, on which sits the ingredients to make the aromatic dish known as Maqluba (in Arabic it translates to “upside-down”).  In front of the bench are four rows of long, set tables with cushioned floor seating. As we enter, the smells from the olives, zaatar, Jerusalem bread and rummaniyeh (a brown lentil stew) are overwhelming our senses. It is from this place of home, accompanied by two talented friends – Meena Shamaly on the guitar and Camille El Feghali on the Qanun (an Arabic string instrument) and the Arabian flute – that Tayah begins her story.  She sings of the olive trees that used to flank her home in Gaza, her mum’s bread, the zaatar and soft cheese that kept them warm in the winter. She tells stories of the friendships formed over bread and salt. There is a trepidation in her storytelling, a quivering lip that enters every planned story, a consequence of the news she must reckon with daily. She doesn’t ignore it, she says her inner thoughts out loud: “Do I tell you of the beauty of my culture like I planned? How can I do that when every day it is being destroyed?”  There is no preaching here, no sides, just the reality and the

Mutiara

Mutiara

3 out of 5 stars

Australia’s colonial history is so vast and poorly documented that we are constantly uncovering lost stories. One such story is about the people of the Saltwater Country in the west Kimberley. For thousands of years, the region’s First Nations community collected and engraved pearl shells for ceremony. They represented the creative energy of the Dreaming. When the pearling industry of the north was established in the early 19th century, an influx of Malay workers brought in to man the boats changed the community of Broome forever.  In the world-premiere of Mutiara, a trio of co-choreographers and performers – Dalisa Pigram (from Broome) of Indigenous intercultural dance theatre company Marrugeku, along with Soultari Amin Farid and Zee Zunnur (both from Singapore) – have worked together with visual artist Abdul-Rahman Abdullah and composer Safuan Johari.  Marrugeku’s task-based improvisational practice captures the lost histories of Broome’s pearl divers. Through movement, video projections and spoken word in various languages, the dancers take the audience on a journey informed by grandfather and ex-pearl diver Ahmat Bin Fadal’s lived experience (who is also a collaborator on this performance).  Ethereal lighting by Kelsey Lee mimics the glow of the sun shining through to the ocean floor, highlighting a mound of pearl shells on the stage and a collection of long ropes that hang from the centre of the ceiling. Projected onto the ropes is video footage of the ocean and the lugg

Tiddas

Tiddas

3 out of 5 stars

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that women, regardless of race, age or social class, need other women. Throughout history and across various cultures, women have discovered solace, support and resilience in their connection with each other. Those who have experienced the power of a strong female friendship will understand the unique fulfilment that this type of companionship can provide – distinct from a romantic relationship – and that the pain of a friendship loss can sometimes surpass that of a romantic break up.  The bond among women is so profoundly rooted in our collective history that it's unsurprising that one of the oldest continuing cultures in the world, that of the First Nations people of Australia, has a designated name for it. Tidda (pronounced “Ti-da”), is an Aboriginal word for ‘sisters’ that describes a sense of sisterhood amongst all women. Aboriginal author and playwright Anita Heiss brings the word to life in her play Tiddas, based on her novel of the same name, which is playing at Belvoir St Theatre as part of Sydney Festival’s Blak Out program. There was resounding laughter abound on opening night, the sound of being seen. The play follows five tiddas who grew up together in Mudgee, and now live in different parts of “Brisvegas”. Nadine is a successful author who is just about to buy a Queenslander with her husband; Izzy is going to be the first Blak woman with her own TV show, “Australia’s Oprah”; Xanthe is happily married but struggling to fall p

The Hello Girls

The Hello Girls

4 out of 5 stars

It was in the 2016 film Hidden Figures that many of us first learnt about the black, female mathematicians that helped America achieve its quest to be the first country to land a man on the moon. Those who are familiar with America’s history will know that before black women were given any respect or rights, they first had to be given to white women (a familiar story across the world, actually). There are countless important stories from throughout history that track the path to the rights that women and minority genders have today, and many of them have gone untold. In The Hello Girls, Cara Reichel and Peter Mills endeavour to tell just one. Based on the 2017 book The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers by Elizabeth Cobbs, this new musical (first staged in New York in 2018) ventures for a modern take on the long unacknowledged female switchboard operators in World War I. It follows the first female chief operator, Grace Banker (Rhianna Mccourt) and her team of intelligent and ambitious women. There’s the determined Suzanne Prevot (Kira Leiva), the french savant Louise Lebreton (Kaitlin Nihill), the steadfast Berta Hunt (Kaori Maeda-Judge) and Helen Hill (Nikola Gucciardo) who is a long way from home. The musical follows their entry into service with the army, their fight to be on the frontlines, and their post-war battle for recognition and veteran status. The songs are soaring, impassioned calls to action... Along the way they find allies who (with a lot of convinci

Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus / Wolverine

Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus / Wolverine

4 out of 5 stars

It’s outside along the ex-industrial wharf that is home to Sydney Dance Company (and Sydney Festival’s Thirsty Mile festival hub) where we first see performer Sandrine Lescourant (aka Mufasa) stumble out of the boot of an old, beat-up car. The back window is patched together with a garbage bag; the driver, Max (Maxime Jerry Fraisse), has a sporty swag about him as a dance track booms from his car radio. The music is heavy on featured samples, with lines of poetry like “I am flesh, I am flesh” cut over modern synth-based dance music.  Mufasa sizes up the audience, begins popping, falling, and writhing fluidly around on the concrete. At some point she realises that her self-expression is exposing, and begins to put on a masculine mask, mimicking Max’s stance and nonchalance. Is this the performative masculinity that patriarchy has created? The double bill presented by Sydney Festival is unafraid to play into gender stereotypes to make a statement.  Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus (Hope Hunt) is Belfast-born choreographer Oona Doherty’s 2016 masterpiece on the cages of masculinity. The poignancy of Doherty’s work is in the way she projects the male middle class experience on a woman’s body, and incorporates modern urban dance styles with contemporary movement. Performer Mufasa beautifully embodies the hyper-masculine caricature that males are forced into. Her control of physical and facial expression is mesmerising, graceful and heartfelt with and without the aid of the

Wicked

Wicked

4 out of 5 stars

I was in Year 9 when I first saw the video on Youtube of Idina Menzel performing ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked at the 2004 Tony Awards. It was the first time that I could watch an original Broadway cast perform a new musical – and as a young musical theatre enthusiast, I was captivated. What was this song? Who was this character? Why was she green? Menzel went on to win a Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical that year and then moved beyond the stage, permeating the zeitgeist on screens everywhere through Disney properties. But before there was Frozen’s Elsa, there was Elphaba. Before she told girls everywhere that “the cold never bothered me anyway,” she told us that “everyone deserves a chance to fly.” Like me, Elphaba was different – the antithesis to the perfectly blonde G(a)linda the Good. She was awkward, misunderstood, judged for her skin colour, and trying to figure out where she belonged. Twenty years after it opened on Broadway, Elphaba’s journey to find herself through justice, self-love, and friendship still resonates. The new cast surpasses expectations by infusing their own unique interpretations into these fan favourite characters Wicked is one of the longest running musicals in the world, and Sydney’s 20th anniversary production has been a much-anticipated affair. Based on Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the musical shares the untold story of the mysterious Wicked Witch of the West, who is revered and fe

Miss Saigon review

Miss Saigon review

3 out of 5 stars

From the moment it was announced that Opera Australia was bringing Cameron Mackintosh’s 2014 West End revival of Miss Saigon to Australia, there has been considerable discourse in the theatre community. The criticism was to be expected – the controversy has its own Wikipedia page – and the musical has a complicated legacy.  Set towards the end of the Vietnam war, the story follows Kim (Abigail Adriano), a recently orphaned teenager taken in by a hustling brothel-owner known only as The Engineer (Seann Miley Moore). On her first night as a sex worker her services are offered to soft-spoken American GI Chris (Nigel Huckle) as an “almost virgin”. Unexpectedly, they fall in love – but a misunderstanding leads Chris to break his promise of taking Kim to America when US forces are pulled out of the country. Kim is left in Vietnam to await Chris’s return and care for their son, whom Chris is unaware even exists. Ultimately, she gives up her child, believing that only America can give him a life worth living. This production is a visual delight offering strong performances that are sure to make these actors stars... If the story sounds familiar, it’s because it’s based on Puccini’s equally controversial 1904 opera, Madama Butterfly (which Opera Australia also recently staged on Sydney Harbour to critical acclaim). Created by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, who are predominantly known for Les Misérables, Miss Saigon debuted on the West End in 1989. With its tragic, doomed l

Driftwood the Musical

Driftwood the Musical

3 out of 5 stars

When my parents immigrated to Australia in the 1980s, the modern mobile phone hadn’t been developed yet. To call home to their families, my parents would diligently save so that they could make one 15-minute phone call a month. In that small window of time, they would have to explain an entire life – a life that looked, smelt and tasted completely different to the one they left behind. Before international phone calls were possible, they would write letters.  Australia, a nation in some ways built on immigration (and invasion) is filled with generational stories like this – people that chose to leave loved ones behind in the hopes of a better and brighter future for their families. For some people, however, it wasn’t a choice. During World War II, many migrants were forced to flee their homes and separate from their families without an address to write back to. Driftwood The Musical is not concerned with telling the many stories of those displaced in WWII, it is focused on telling just one family's story. Based on Eva de Jong-Duldig’s memoir Driftwood: Escape and Survival Through Art and the original stage play by Jane Bodie, Driftwood the Musical recounts the journey of Austrian artists Slawa (Tania de Jong) and Karl Duldig (Anton Berezin) and their daughter Eva (Bridget Costello) as they flee an invaded Austria to Switzerland, seek refuge in Singapore and then finally find a home in Australia. Along the way they must part with Slawa’s sister Rella (the impressive Michaela B