5 Questions with Zoe Jensen and Alex Malone

Zoe Jensen

Zoe Jensen

Alex Malone: Threnody is mostly written in verse. Why do you think Michael has written it like this?
Zoe Jensen: I can’t speak for Michael, but my thoughts on this are that it is primarily a story-telling device and one that he has always been particularly interested in. Verse mythologises the mundane by tricking the ear into false expectation, once you establish that push and pull of the play’s rhythm you can disrupt that effectively. It also speaks to an inherent pattern in our bodies, one that some of us suspect echoes in the universe. That’s what the play’s about anyway, a shared song through all people.

We all play different characters in the play. Who’s your favourite character to take on?
I love playing Robert Mason – a navy man out celebrating his daughters 13th birthday at a strip club – because I finally get to showcase my excellent ‘man voice’. Though I’ve harassed my dad, brothers, boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, male friends, male teachers etc over the years with this ‘man voice’, I have never been given the opportunity to do it on stage and I am absolutely thrilled.

If you could meet any woman dead or alive who would it be?
Awesome question! I’m going to answer both of these because it’s so good.

Dead: I would love to have a cup of tea with Ruth Park in her Norfolk Island home. Her novels were my saviour growing up, and they still are today. I would love to collaborate with her on turning her magical stories into films.

Alive: I would also love to PART-AY hard with Madonna! She is such an absolute Ledge, and the Queen (sorry Beyonce) and I adore every album she has ever released. We would be best friends and there would be so much champagne.

In the play, Virginia has her first drink. What was the first drink of alcohol you ever had?
Apart from the little sips of Drambuie my Mum forced on us at Xmas dinners, my first proper drink was some old red goon. I was fourteen and staying at a friends house and her parents went out for dinner leaving us alone for a few hours. We decided to try some of their red goon, had two cups each, pretended we were drunk and then got bored and went to bed. In the morning we both also tried to outdo each other with our hangovers. Obviously fake as well. Ahh those were the days.

This is the second time you have worked with Michael this year. How do the two shows relate or differ?
Though the two shows are quite different in style/genre (Bright Those Claws was a quick-paced farcical comedy, Threnody is a poetic tragedy), I think they are quite similar in regards to theme. In fact these same themes come up very often in Michael’s work! Both plays deal with a kind of dark spirituality and both ask a lot of religious questions, primarily to do with the ambivalence of God. Both of the lead characters are tragic romantic figures whose descent we witness throughout the course of the show. This figure is surrounded by characters who seem to have a story-telling compulsion, which infects us as performers! We are so excited to tell this story!

Alex Malone

Alex Malone

Zoe Jensen: What do you think Sydney audiences will enjoy the most about Threnody?
I think audiences will really enjoy this play because its sexy, rude, funny and written in verse. It’s not often, or ever really, that you see plays written in verse that aren’t classics. The language is clever, poetic and performed by six really great actresses. What’s not to like?

Why do you think our director has cast all-women when there are both male and female roles available?
The thing that’s most prevalent in Threnody is the female chorus. Five girls tell the story of a young girl, Virginia, and narrate her encounters as she leaves her house for the first time. Even though all of us transform into other characters (male and female) and interact with Virginia, the chorus of women propel the story. This provides a female insight into how she feels and why she makes the decisions she does, and most importantly, how she perceives the other people she comes into contact with.

One of your characters in Threnody is an old grumpy male bus driver, how do you relate to him?
I don’t! I’m not old, male, and I’ve never driven a bus but if you see me before my morning coffee I am grumpy! I’m having a lot of fun playing someone so different to me. I think I want to get my bus license now though…

When was the first time you went to party and what was your experience of it?
I can’t remember exactly what or when my first party was but I remember a New Years Eve party near the end of High School. I think it was Toga themed and little Seventeen year old Alex drank way too much vodka. We’ve all been drunk in a toga at some point…

How do you relate to the strong ‘loss of innocence’ theme in Threnody?
I think young kids today, especially girls, find themselves constantly under social pressure to grow up faster than kids in past generations. I know I definitely felt pressure to look and act a certain way when I was going through school, and that was with technology that was nowhere near as advanced as it is now. I think this play really highlights the loss of innocence as we follow Virginia’s first encounter with a man and with society. Threnody also focuses on the contrary opinion of keeping kids too sheltered and what that might do to their development. Threnody is paired on the Old Fitz stage with Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, which is also about kids growing up fast. I think this is a really important subject to be discussing and seeing on our stages.

Zoe Jensen and Alex Malone are appearing in Threnody by Michael McStay.
Dates: 27 September – 8 October, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Pedal & Castles (House Of Sand)

houseofsandVenue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 20 – 24, 2016
Creator: Eliza Sanders
Director: Charles Sanders
Cast: Eliza Sanders

Theatre review
Pedal and Castles are a pairing of individual pieces that demonstrate the genius talent of Eliza Sanders, whose boundless exploration into performance and theatre creation that deliver experiences that are full of joy, surprise and wonder. Amalgamating the clichéd triple threat of singing, dancing and acting, Sanders redefines the stage artist into a singular agent with capacities limited only by imagination. Her multi-disciplinary skills are showcased perfectly in both works, along with the most inventive approach to writing and choreography for a style of show that is striking for its effortless originality and distinctive sense of beauty.

These are not simply stories, but abstract expressions that find a purpose in time without the reliance on logic and narrative. In tandem with brother Charles Sanders’ direction, the siblings’ ability to move us, to cease our attention and connect with our emotions, without the use of anything remotely formulaic or conventional, is evidence that a purity of intention and an instinctive acuity are at play here.

Eliza Sanders’ physical presence is that of a dancer’s, all discipline and agility, but her personality refuses to be subservient, the combination of which results in a powerful state of being that puts on stage, the very vibrancy of life itself. Without the distraction of reason, we are in direct contact with a living, breathing and in this case, enthralling, organism, whose various representations of our complex existence, draw us into a state of sharing, listening and acknowledgement, that seems to make life that much more meaningful. Observing Sanders is to be at one with nature, and the resonance she provides, is akin to the excitement one receives when enraptured in the vision of early spring’s blossoming flowers.

Where there is no need to ask why, we abandon the past and the future, to stay firmly in the now. Eliza and Charles Sanders are important artists who give us an alternate view of the world. Knowledge and experience are limitless, and in art, we can find catalysts to help us grow. The language in Pedal and Castles is not a translatable version of the familiar, but a different course of communication for arriving at somewhere new. The danger of becoming small and narrow is ever-present, but when art does its job well, we are shown the way to emancipation, and we must take every step that leads us there.

www.houseofsand.org

Review: Remembering Pirates (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darloVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 16 – Oct 16, 2016
Playwright: Christopher Harley
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Robert Alexander, Fraser Crane, Emma Palmer, Simon London, Stephen Multari
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
The stories we tell can either be fictional or factual, and things that happen in our lives can be real or imagined. These concepts reflect our reliance on dichotomies, and a tendency to think of the world in black and white binary terms. Christopher Harley’s play is certainly not just one thing or another. It might be about dreams, faith or rationality. It could also be about family, childhood and illness. A strange narrative, with a simplicity that allows us to interpret and understand it however we choose. Remembering Pirates is hard to engage with. Its characters are distant, humourless, and with emotions that seem plastic despite their intensity. Without a doubt, fantastic ideas can be detected in all of its dramatic moments, but we react with nonchalance, maybe because its need for mystery causes it to keep too much hidden from us.

There is much to admire in how the production works with both surreal and naturalistic elements, blurring the boundaries between the two, to formulate a world that keeps us guessing. Its dreamlike atmosphere is created well, albeit somewhat monotonously. The play has the potential to grow very ominous and menacing, but its sojourns into darker territory are few and far between. Actor Simon London leads the cast with impressive presence and commitment. His effortless charisma keeps us from becoming too alienated from the peculiar protagonist, successfully retaining our attention through his several mystifying junctures.

Delusions are purely solitary experiences. When two people share the same, it becomes reality. Truth is a shifting entity in Remembering Pirates, and we often find ourselves kept outside of its hallucinatory indulgences. It is not clear if participants in the making of the show are able to find a unified vision for their project, but what they do make accessible needs greater depth and poignancy to accompany the big themes being discussed. Fantasy can always be found at the theatre, but it needs to be more than fanciful, before it can fuel our soul and give us what we truly need from art.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: The Drover’s Wife (Belvoir St Theatre)

belvoirVenue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 17 – Oct 16, 2016
Playwright: Leah Purcell
Director: Leticia Cáceres
Cast: Tony Cogin, Mark Coles Smith, Benedict Hardie, Will McDonald, Leah Purcell
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
In Leah Purcell’s The Drover’s Wife, race relations in Australia are placed front and centre, and we have nowhere to hide from its confrontations. 1893 is in some ways a long time ago, but in Aboriginal terms especially, we can still think of the story as a contemporary one. The invasion is ongoing, and the carnage, although better disguised, still persists. The cruelty and brutality demonstrated in Purcell’s play is a necessary point of discussion for our nation. Turning abstract into flesh, we look into the face of horror, and any denial of responsibility is impossible. When Molly meets Yadaka, revelations are made about identity and how it is constructed or understood in Australia. We watch fanatic bigotry in action at its extremes, and relate it to what we know to happen today, and can only react with despondence and anger.

It is a powerful piece of writing, unforgiving and unrelenting in its accusations, balanced by a sensitive incorporation of grace and compassion in its depictions. What Leticia Cáceres brings to the stage as director, is cuttingly honest but with a lucid rationality that prevents us from feeling alienated by its outrage. The relationship between Molly and Yadaka is a tricky one that goes through drastic transformations, and the production’s ability to portray it with authenticity, convincing at every point, is deeply impressive and the linchpin to its success. As actor, Purcell’s formidable presence is captivating, and Mark Coles Smith, as Yadaka, is equally compelling, with a dynamic and empathetic approach that mesmerises. Tony Cogin and Benedict Hardie play a range of objectionable and revolting characters who are thoroughly disturbing, but it must be said that their work is remarkably bold, and brilliantly conceived.

A statement that promises redress is made at the play’s end, but what it represents is not an optimistic prophecy. What we have instead, is a continuing process of struggle and suffering that generations of Aboriginal people are enduring. The Drover’s Wife wants us to look at the injustices of 1893 and recognise that, although much has changed in over a hundred years, much of the same remains. A dominant foreign culture exists on this land that requires the subjugation of our native communities. European colonisation, at its very foundations, disallows any room for its oppressed to gain autonomy or sovereignty, unless we begin to acknowledge the need for a radical dismantling of systems. The damage may be severe, but we must believe that reparations are possible, and the urgency for them to occur cannot be overstated.

www.belvoir.com.au

Review: Crocodile Tears (Brevity Theatre)

brevityVenue: Tatler Sydney (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 21 & 28, 2016
Playwright: Olivia O’Flynn
Director: Alexander Butt
Cast: Olivia O’Flynn

Theatre review
Tilly Devine was a legendary personality of the Sydney underworld. Violent and ruthless, the Darlinghurst madam is brought back to life in Olivia O’Flynn’s short play Crocodile Tears, which cashes in on the glamorous mystique of clandestine criminality. It is an archetypal bad girl story that appeals to our curiosity and thirst for sordid details on things we never dare experience first-hand. Although severely condensed, the play is a powerful representation of Devine’s heyday that offers glimpses into her notorious exploits, and the impulses behind them. For a monologue, O’Flynn makes the right decision to keep the work brief, but its drama prompts many questions that leave us wanting more.

O’Flynn’s own vibrant interpretation of the role builds a strong and satisfying narrative, but there is a significant distance between the actor’s youthful qualities and Devine’s much darker, seedy existence that never really gets breached. We hear amazing tales that inspire wild imaginary visions, but the activity we actually see on stage is subdued by comparison. Nevertheless, the production is an entertaining one that delivers energy and amusement in abundance.

Only a narrow scope of historical figures is ever remembered. Myths are perpetuated to serve dominant ideologies, and subversive types are conveniently forgotten. Modern Australia is built, uniquely, on the backs of many indecorous women and men, and much as we try to wipe away our ignoble past, its presence can never be denied. Tilly Devine may have left us a long time ago, and the memory of her legacy continues to fade away, but human nature will continue its replication of experience, warts and all, generation after generation.

www.brevitytheatre.com.au

Review: 4 Minutes 12 Seconds (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Sep 13 – Oct 8, 2016
Playwright: James Fritz
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: Kate Cheel, Felix Johnson, Danielle King, Jeremy Waters
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
There is a monster in the house, and we need to know where he has come from. Jack is seventeen and, to his parents, suddenly no longer a boy, but a strange being whose abhorrent behaviour towards his ex-girlfriend shocks the family to its very foundations. James Fritz’s 4 Minutes 12 Seconds is about the parenting of boys, the evolving nature of sex, and most of all, it is about misogyny; all examined against a backdrop of today’s advanced state of information technology. There are few things that can be definitively termed “new”, but the current proliferation of pornography is unprecedented. We have a level of access that permits anyone, children and teenagers included, unrestricted consumption, and unlike anything we had known before, an unimaginable ease in its production and distribution by any individual.

Jack is from a generation where sex education is derived almost entirely from the limitless abyss of our internet. Their personalities and sexualities are not shaped by anything considered or cautious, but the exact opposite. Where we used to rely on the constrictions of tradition and religion to help us navigate the always tricky process of teaching intimacy, the unpoliceable world wide web is now imposing itself on unsupervised youngsters, who open themselves up to every undeniable putridity that we have let free in cyberspace. Where a separation had existed between real sex and fantasy, is now a hazardous conflation indistinguishable to the young ones. What used to be titillating in the darkest recesses of our mind but never to be realised, is now thought of as normal. A culture of subjecting women to humiliation and violation is no longer containable in fictional pornography. What was once taboo and rigorously concealed is now part of the sexual DNA of young heterosexual men. If rape pornography is the only kind that can excite, what happens in real life between men and women can only be tragic.

Fritz’s play explains a problem that can appear in any aspirational middle-class home. Through nuanced and revelatory descriptions of how parents think and act in this modern world, we are able to make sense of the objectionable ways in which young adults behave. Each of Fritz’s characters, whether or not they appear on stage, are manifested with stunning detail, and the psychological accuracy of his work prohibits us from any possible denial of the sad state of affairs we are currently living through. The transformations we observe in Di and David, as they come to terms with their son’s actions, is absolute drama, powerful and compelling. The plot in 4 Minutes 12 Seconds is scintillating at every turn. Provocatively entertaining, but also relentless in its need to challenge and inform. It is a play of the now, and essential for all.

This production, helmed by director Craig Baldwin, is as engrossing as any work of theatre one could wish for. All its moments are replete with emotion and energy, keeping us deeply involved in both its sentimental and intellectual dimensions. Danielle King’s outstanding performance as Di insists that we invest completely in her conundrums. The actor’s incisive humour wins us over from her first line of dialogue, and sustains our empathy with unmitigated authenticity even when her struggles with morality become tenuous. Also wonderful is Jeremy Waters in the role of David, whose portrayals of both good and evil, resonate with such immense honesty and truth, that our humanity refuses to let us detach from his reality, even when the going gets very tough. Design aspects of the show are also remarkable. Baldwin’s own work on sound, Hugh O’Connor’s set and Christopher Page’s lights are dynamic, sophisticated and innovative.

There is a lot to love in 4 Minutes 12 Seconds, but its message is dark, dire, and desperate. We can easily say that parents need to do more to prevent our boys from growing up like Jack, but it is incontrovertibly true that the internet’s pervasiveness is a threat to young minds that no one has an impervious solution for. It has always been our duty to provide a shield from harm and corruption, but what we are currently facing is indomitable if our aim is to keep that danger under subjugation. Misinformation is inevitable, but it can be counteracted. Education is the perennial answer to a stronger future, and in this case, the only weapon we have against a force of sheer evil.

www.oldfitztheatre.com | www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Bathhouse: The Musical (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 19 – 23, 2016
Music & Lyrics: Esther Daack, Tim Evanicki
Director: Alex Robson
Cast: Valentino Arico, Marcus Rivera, Alex Robson, Dyan Tai, Lucas Thomson
Image by Priya Prakash

Theatre review
In Esther Daack and Tim Evanicki’s Bathhouse: The Musical, we discover all the goings on in that longstanding institution of the gay experience. Of course, providing a venue for sexual activity is its primary purpose, but where a community exists, a distinct culture can be found, and in this case, a very funny slew of shenanigans is brought to light for both the uninitiated, and the veterans. Its bawdy humour is charming, sharp and surprisingly refreshing, and although deeply conventional, its music is nonetheless enjoyable.

Billy is a smalltown young man in the process of coming out. We follow him as he navigates the dark, mysterious world of the bathhouse, trying to find companions, and more importantly his own sense of self. Performed by Lucas Thomson, the innocent and naive qualities of our protagonist are splendidly conveyed, and through his eyes, an unusual microcosm of human behaviour begins to make sense. The cast begins with unmissable tentativeness, but slowly gain confidence as the show progresses. The production can often feel under-rehearsed, and its performers do seem inexperienced in the specific requirements of the musical’s form and genre, but a vibrant accompanist (Antonio Fernandez on piano) ensures that the show is kept cohesive and jaunty. Alex Robson provides some clever ideas with his direction, but it is his work with live voice over that is truly endearing.

Daack and Evanicki’s creation is ten years old, but the advent of smart phones over this short period, is a factor that plays in our minds through the piece. Life is change, but the need for human connection is an uncompromising constant. Billy went to the baths looking for other souls who may make him feel less alone, but if he had begun his journey today, it is likely that the phone is where he goes most, ironically, to escape solitude. Technology can give us plenty, but flesh is unlikely to be replicated or replaced. The touch of another person, stranger or friend, can at times seem a lot to ask, but life without sex is not an existence anyone of any sexuality, should endure.

www.newtheatre.org.au