Cherry Smoke - KXT on Broadway (NSW)
Directed by Charlie Vaux. Written by James McManus.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
KXT on Broadway, Ultimo March 24 – April 8, 2023
- A brutal, yet familiar telling of intergenerational poverty and violence awaits at Sydney's newest theatre space on Broadway -
KXT on Broadway is officially open! The much loved theatre company that champions independent theatre right in the heart of Sydney has finally opened its doors on Broadway. It’s a stretch from the Great White Way, but a much needed presence in Sydney’s sluggishly recovering theatre scene.
Committing to their traverse staging, the space is much higher, air-conditioned and has - Director’s, hold your breaths - four possible entrances! The venue itself sits in what was the National Bank of Australasia back in the day, with the vault of the bank being turned into The Vault art space. Massive applause has to go to the KXT bAKEHOUSE team for their tireless effort in bringing this to life.
Of course, whilst I was honoured to be invited to see the new theatre, there was a show to be witnessed. Tonight’s viewing was from the newest independent theatre company, CrissCross Productions, who presented James McManus’ Cherry Smoke in all its bloodiness and brutality.
Photos by Abraham de Souza
After a quick welcome to the space from bAKEHOUSE’s Co-Artistic Directors Suzanne Millar and John Harrison, we were quickly thrown into the boxing ring set in a long-forgotten, yet somehow all-too-familiar, backtown of Pennsylvania, America.
Fish (Tom Dawson) promises his brother Duffy (Fraser Crane) that he will get them out of their impoverished lifestyle brought on by their belligerent and drunken father. With nothing but his fists as that way out, McManus covers everything from abuse, to intergenerational poverty and broken systems that extinguish even the most hopeful of sparks.
Director Charlie Vaux utilises the new KXT space well, creating seamless entrances that glide swiftly between past and present. Consisting of predominantly two-handed scenes, (a Drama teacher’s dream) Vaux has worked closely with his actors to create an intimacy amongst the often pessimistic undertones. Using Jasmin Borovsky’s lighting design and Sohame Apte’s simple set effectively, we were softly guided between the character’s younger selves as they discover first kisses, create lifelong nicknames, and throw themselves against the wall to gain some semblance of safety.
All four performers give everything to their characters, sharpening the edges of each
I would be remiss to not make mention of the spectacular timing between Borovsky’s lighting design and Johnny Yang’s sound design led by stage, Christopher Starnawski that created the most believable effects of fireworks in this new setting. *Chef’s Kiss*
Paralleling Fish and Duffy’s life are their partners Cherry (Meg Hyeronimus) and Bug (Alice Barbara) who both come with their own anchors. Cherry’s ferocious attitude and love overshadows Fish’s world, and the stage for that matter. Whereas Bug’s tenderness and yearning for a maternal nurture brings a brittleness to the intense tale being told.
All four performers give everything to their characters, sharpening the edges of each as Fish’s recklessness and brutality to those around him lands him in jail time and again, becoming an ever more broken man. In the largest moments of intensity, the southern accents tended to waver, particularly in Dawson, which jarred and pulled at the times when you most wanted to jump into the world being built. The toxically masculine lines in the script feel sour in today’s modern world, despite the attempts of the CrissCross to highlight the other thematics surrounding the production.
The ending to the piece reads cliche now as we’ve seen this same story told again and again, but it brought me to wonder if we have simply become numb to the harsh truths McManus’ play holds. Have we simply succumbed and accepted that intergenerational poverty fosters abuse and violence, particularly in men? If so, how do we end the cycle?
Director - Charlie Vaux Cast - Tom Dawson (Fish), Meg Hyeronimus (Cherry), Fraser Crane (Duffy), Alice Birbara (Bug)
Producer/Assistant Director - Emily Buxton Marketing Coordinator/Second Assistant Director - Tahlia Merlino Stage Manager - Christopher Starnawski Set Design - Soham Apte Lighting Designer - Jasmin Borsovszky Sound Designer - Johnny Yang Consensual Movement Coordinator - Steven Ljubovic Dialect Coach - Linda Nicholls-Gidley Production Photographer - Abraham de Souza