5 Questions with Elsie Edgerton-Till

Elsie Edgerton-TillWhat is your favourite swear word?
Drat.

What are you wearing?
Navy corduroy high waisted pants and one deliciously oversized woollen jumper.

What is love?
A long, late Sunday lunch at home with friends and family.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
A co-production between a New Zealand Theatre Company (The Court Theatre) and a Chinese theatre organisation based in Shanghai of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I saw this truly culturally diverse production at the end of its New Zealand season prior to it heading Shangai. I give it a midsummer’s night sky of stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
But of course! A comedy, a tragedy and a murder-mystery: how could it not be?

Elsie Edgerton-Till is directing Book Of Days, at the New Theatre in Newtown.
Show dates: 8 Jul – 9 Aug, 2014
Show venue: New Theatre

Review: The Mercy Seat (Gentle Banana People / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

gentlebananaVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 24 – Jul 5, 2014
Playwright: Neil LaBute
Collaborating directors: Samantha Young, Andrew Wilson, Peter Mountlord, Alistair Wallace
Cast: Rebecca Martin, Patrick Magee
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
This is a love story that is not particularly romantic. It is however, written with a great sense of truth, and is reflective of real experiences in our love lives. Yes, there is some sweetness, but, like in life, the relationship being explored is fraught with issues. We are refused the clichéd and comforting notion of a love that fixes everything. Instead, what Neil LaBute discusses is the inherent difficulties, and there are many of them, when two people get together. The themes in The Mercy Seat are innumerable. Through Abby and Ben, we observe the often ugly complexities of love, relationships and human nature. Theatre does something noble, when it provides difficult revelations.

The production is directed well. Emphasis is placed on the narrative, and it is clear that work has been put into bringing nuances to light. The writing’s intrigue and its structural quirks are materialised beautifully. The unorthodox characters are allowed to be challenging, always fluctuating between  likeable and objectionable. The story is told without convenient heroes and villains, but it communicates successfully, probably because of the way its honesty speaks closely to our deepest feelings. We understand Abby and Ben because their fears are so fundamental and intimate, they leave us nowhere to hide.

Rebecca Martin as Abby is spirited and flashy. The actor is a determined entertainer, and never fails to grab our attention. There is considerable bravery in her work. We feel Martin’s heart on her sleeve, and she portrays a character with very clear intentions and emotions, conveying an internal journey that is complicated, yet coherent and recognisable. The role of Ben is played by Patrick Magee, whose comic timing is impeccable. He delivers the subtle and dark comedy with a gentle assuredness, careful to prevent funny moments from obfuscating his impressively earnest characterisation. Magee is a dynamic performer, and the enthusiasm at which he oscillates light and shade is thoroughly enjoyable. Both actors are able to deliver a wide range of tone and emotion, but both share a common lack in authenticity when playing sadness.  A reason could be the speed and energy at which their performance is pitched. The characters go through very drastic alterations in mood, which is terribly exciting to watch, but evidently difficult to embody. Even though the actors have excellent chemistry throughout the piece, they do not muster up a convincing sexual energy which is important to their tale.

We sometimes cry at the theatre, but those tears are usually shed for the people on stage or for the scenarios that we witness. Seldom do we react emotionally for our own circumstances that a work recalls. The Mercy Seat strikes a chord when you least expect it. The show ends with a little pessimism, along with some idealism. How we choose to proceed is incumbent upon ourselves.

www.sitco.net.au | www.pantsguys.com

Review: Oleanna (Sydney Theatre School / Actors Not Feelers)

Oleanna 4 MEDVenue: Sydney Theatre School (Chippendale NSW), Jun 25 – Jul 6, 2014
Writer: David Mamet
Director: Jerome Pride
Cast: Grace O’Connell, Jerome Pride

Theatre review
David Mamet’s script is powerful, complex and intellectual. It is an anarchic work about anarchy. It makes its point by shattering conventional paradigms of discourse, and uses theatre to discuss politics in a way that would be challenging for any audience. There are many ways that texts can be interpreted, but Mamet’s Oleanna is resilient, with a message that is unyielding. There might be room for some ambivalence in the plot, but what it wishes to say is clear. Anyone taking it on must capitulate to its structure in order for the characters to make sense, and for dramatics to take effect, or risk a show that is unconvincing and nonsensical.

Jerome Pride’s direction handles the play’s concepts carefully. Reverence is paid to the writing, and the results are manifestly impressive. Controversial and sophisticated ideas are expressed with surprising clarity. Daring propositions avoid the curse of sounding like highfalutin abstraction, and are made credible and real. Both actors enthrall with interesting and dimensioned portrayals. The pace and tone of dialogue are perfectly tuned, so that we are gripped from beginning to end. Design elements however, are neglected. There is no need for very much embellishment but the set and costumes are overly basic. The actors’ work would benefit with a more defined sense of space, especially with the cast’s eagerness for movement.

John is played by Pride, who invests in his role, an appealing coupling of impulsiveness and thoughtfulness. We can see him thinking, but we also feel the instinctual timing that he trusts to rely on. The story’s characters are flawed, and we need to be repulsed by them as much as we relate to them but Pride’s creation is endearing, which poses a problem for the production. Perhaps better wardrobe choices could play a part in helping to create a less affable impression.

John’s adversary is Carol, whose development over the course of the play is startling. Grace O’Connell’s performance is not entirely convincing. Some of her creative choices lack authenticity, and we come away slightly confused with the character’s evolution. Nevertheless, O’Connell comes to life after the first act. Her energy and conviction is spellbinding. There is a lot to enjoy in this actor’s work, which is robust yet heavily nuanced.

Mamet’s story gives us important and difficult questions, but it is debatable whether answers are to be found therein. Oleanna deals with the injustices in our lives. It talks about systematic oppression and victimhood, but more significantly it talks about the prospect of dismantling those systems and imagines its alternative. The show’s title refers to a failed utopian state. We always want something better, and in some cases, we know exactly what needs to be improved but the question must always be asked about how we get there. Removing the status quo requires a replacement, but it is human nature that seduces and shapes every new status quo into tomorrow’s conundrum.

www.sydneytheatreschool.com

Review: Richard III (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembletheatreVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jun 24 – Jul 19, 2014.
Also playing at Riverside Theatres (Parramatta NSW). 22 July – 26 July.
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Actors: Danielle Carter, Patrick Dickson, Matt Edgerton, Mark Kilmurry, Amy Mathews, Toni Scanlan

Theatre review
Tales about Machiavellian ambition are timeless. The darkest parts of human nature often relate to our ability to compromise morality in order to satisfy the urges of greed and vanity. Political climates seem to evolve, but shades of betrayal and deceit are persistent. As long as the need for kings and leaders remain, the threat of malice at the highest rungs will always be present.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction of Richard III is colourfully creative, but faithful. His playful style ensures that we are consistently involved with his stage (even when the Shakespearean language becomes challenging) but his artistic liberties are careful to keep original intentions intact. Kilmurry’s creation is a rich theatrical experience that explores the collaborative nature of the art form thoroughly. Cast and creatives are allowed freedom of expression, which in turn encourages a level of audience engagement that is sophisticated, intelligent and surprisingly enjoyable. As leading man, Kilmurry is mesmerising, delightful and appropriately repulsive. He invites us to share his love of the text, and everything within it that is genius and delicious. It is a supremely confident performance by a skilled showman who knows how to steer a vehicle, and we are his trusting happy passengers.

Danielle Carter’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth is enigmatic and very strong. Her impressive presence is utilised effectively, and the solid stillness in her performance contrasts and stands out from a busy production. Carter’s scenes of confrontation with Kilmurry are especially dynamic. The chemistry and timing between both actors are phenomenal, forging moments of gold for fans of high drama. Matt Edgerton plays a total of five characters. This is a tall order, and one of the show’s few misjudged decisions, but Edgerton’s energy and focus are entrancing. This is an adventurous cast with a passion for their work that has elevated a classic play into an event brimming with charm, wit and poignancy. Amy Mathews closes the show with a soliloquy that is heartfelt and starkly genuine, reminding us of the gravity in Richard III‘s story and evils that prevail in our world.

The production’s design and technical aspects are equally accomplished. Set, props and costumes are subtle but evocative, all contributing to the small space an aesthetic that is beautifully au courant. Nicholas Higgins’ lighting and Daryl Wallis’ sound design are sensitively considered, never drawing undue attention to themselves, but consistently adding to the action on stage. Stage manager Rebecca Poulter should also take a bow for the incredibly smooth running of what must be a complicated backstage and control booth, to which we are completely impervious.

Kilmurry is a leader of fabulous talent. His show is brilliantly put together, and everyone he enlists is showcased marvelously. Shakespeare’s work is probably not very much about democracy, but drawing parallels with our own governmental structures is irresistible. It provokes questions about secrecy in high offices, and the trust we lay upon the people we elect. It prompts us to remember the value of irreverence that is so much a part of our national identity, and to cherish our ability in this country to question authority. We must not forget that the bastards do need to be kept honest.

www.ensemble.com.au

5 Questions with Jeremy Waters

jeremywatersWhat is your favourite swear word?
I’m going with fucking. So many pearls to choose from but this seems to be the one that gets the most polish.

What are you wearing?
The JJJ look. Jeans, jumper, jandals. With socks. Classy.

What is love?
A Dog From Hell. (With a little help from Bukowski).

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Torture Is Wrong, And The People Who Love Them (New Theatre). A constellation of stars. Hilarious, challenging, provocative chaos. Do go see it.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Four Places is one of those beautiful pieces of writing that comes along every now and then with the potential to burrow deep into your heart. With painstaking detail, humour and delicacy, the play accumulates a series of reveals to build a story that packs an enormous emotional wallop. I am really hopeful, particularly with the amazing team we have assembled, of giving our audiences an experience that will resonate with them long after they have left the theatre. So, yeah, it should be good!

Jeremy Waters is appearing in Four Places, by Outhouse Theatre Co.
Show dates: 29 Jul – 10 Aug, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery

Review: My Name Is Truda Vitz (Somersault Theatre Company)

TRUDA13Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 25 – Jul 6, 2014
Writer: Olivia Satchell
Director: Pierce Wilcox
Cast: Olivia Satchell
Image by Julia Robertson

Theatre review (of preview performance)
Olivia Satchell’s work is a personal journey of discovery and invention. It is concerned with family history and Satchell’s link with her ancestral past. Truda Vitz is Satchell’s grandmother, and this show obsessively explores her life from memory, investigation, and rigorous fantasy. It becomes clear that lives today can be hollow without acknowledgment of what had come before. Satchell finds meaning and establishes her own identity by thinking about blood relations. She tries to see what her grandmother might have seen, and feel what would have been felt. From an unexplained longing, she makes a connection with the dead in her writing, acting, and through the music of her cello.

Satchell’s performance is quiet but it contains passion. There is not great sadness or elation, but we see the manifestations of a meditative process that is deeply truthful even though a sense of fiction is always present. As an actor, Satchell’s strongest quality is her presence and confident engagement with her audience. The weakest quality of the production is the overly languid tone that persists from beginning to end. Although it only goes for an hour, one cannot help but wish for greater fluctuations in mood and emotion. The show is sincere and thoroughly authentic, but it grows cool where more power could be fabricated.

The sound of Satchell’s cello is sublime. In the small venue, subtleties are easily magnified, and the musical instrument’s every nuance becomes sensationally beautiful. Widely described as being able to produce sounds that are closest to the human voice, it adds a dimension of dialogue to the one woman play. At certain times, it allows us to feel like Satchell is speaking with herself, and at others it represents a voice from the afterworld. The cello’s resonances are mighty, and its incorporation into the fabric of the work shows good creativity and impressive sensitivity.

Life without romance can prove fruitless, but romance itself often seems absurd. My Name Is Truda Vitz is more sweet than bitter; it is lighter than it is dark. Its melancholy is gentle and mild, perhaps an accurate reflection of the artist’s inspiration and inner world. This is theatre that embraces simplicity, in a time when simplicity might be at its loneliest.

www.somersaulttheatre.com