5 Questions with Dominic McDonald

dominicmcdonaldWhat is your favourite swear word?
I prefer swear phrases: God’s fuck! Jessica Christ! Christ on a stick! Christ’s cunt! (Can anyone say, Catholic School boy?)

What are you wearing?
A knowing smile.

What is love?
Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Theatre is like golf, fun to play but no fun to watch.

Is your new show going to be any good?
You do know that I’m in it?

 

 

Dominic McDonald is playing the role of Man in Jennifer Forever by Tara Clark, for Sydney Fringe 2014.
Show dates: 17 – 28 Sep, 2014
Show venue: The Old 505 Theatre

5 Questions with Andrew McGregor

andrewmcgregorWhat is your favourite swear word?
“Fuck it” Cause when I’m afraid of doing something or questioning whether I should do it. “Fuck it” is what makes me carry on.

What are you wearing?
Pink Floyd t-shirt with a Hawaiian shirt over it, and my Batman necklace engraved with WWBD (What would Batman do).

What is love?
Batman.

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
The Book Of Mormon at Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City. There is not enough stars in the world to give to such an amazing performance.

Is your new show going to be any good?
I hope so, I have alot of faith in my fellow performer and friends. We’ve had alot of fun over the past couple months, juggling rehearsals along with uni and work.

Andrew McGregor is performing in Boys’ Life by Howard Korder.
Show dates: 19 – 22 Aug, 2014
Show venue: King Street Theatre

Review: The Bitterness Of Pomegranates (Sydney University Dramatic Society)

sudsVenue: University of Sydney Studio B (Camperdown NSW), Aug 13 – 23, 2014
Director: Julia Clark
Playwright: Julia Clark
Cast: Brendan Colnan, India Cordony, Gabby Florek, Sarah Graham, Max Melzer, Diana Reid, Dominic Scarf

Theatre review
Relationships at home are invariably complex. We tell stories from personal experience, not only because we know them well, but also because of the need for a process of articulation that assists with making sense of the people and issues surrounding us. The Bitterness Of Pomegranates by Julia Clark feels like a disclosure of personal confidences involving characters from the writer’s inner sanctum. Their foibles and circumstances might not be familiar to all, but what connects is the intimacy of family dynamics that most audiences would easily understand.

The highlight of Clark’s script is its element of intrigue, but the play does not manage to keep a sharp focus. It contains several themes and concerns that are not explored at much depth, leaving an impression that mundanity is its greatest interest. The work is structured well, but most scenes feel too delicate, resulting in a show that looks a lot like daily life, without enough theatricality on offer. Fortunately the show manages to keep us engaged, with interesting characters and entertaining relationships that we want to learn more about.

Gabby Florek’s performance as Margaret is surprisingly polished. She brings an authentic presence to the character that helps us believe the world being depicted on stage. Florek is a compelling actor, with a gentle tenacity that helps give the production some gravity. The women in the play lack fire. They all seem dejected, but none display passion or anger. Their lives are not wonderful and they should be louder in their displeasure with the cards they are dealt. We understand that society has the potential to suppress its individuals, but we long to see examples of great women, in life and in theatre, break free of their shackles, preferably with deafening drama.

www.sudsusyd.com

Review: Constellations (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlinghursttheatreVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 8 – Sep 7, 2014
Playwright: Nick Payne
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Emma Palmer, Sam O’Sullivan
Image by Gez Xavier Mansfield

Theatre review (originally published in Auditorium Magazine)
The only constant in life is change, and its only certainty is death. Nick Payne’s Constellations is an exploration into the ways we create and tell stories. Through its inventive format of repetition and shifting perspectives, it relays a tale that is remarkably simple, but because of its adventurous format, the work that results is profound and thought-provoking. The play discusses the nature of time, in relation to the way its plot unfolds and also to astrophysics. Its interest in non-linear temporal expressions is derived from academia, but it raises questions of life choices by actualising on the stage, abstract notions of parallel universes. We see two characters acting out unpredictable duplications of scenes, each time with different motivations and nuances. They prompt us to look at the ways we choose to react to things, at how we make decisions in daily life, and whether or not we are in control of the consequences that befall us.

The work is in part about mortality and its inevitability, but it is also about the elasticity of concepts like fate and destiny. In some ways, the message is an optimistic one, where existence can take a myriad of forms, and circumstances can be altered at some degree by volition. The idea of regret and redress also figures into its themes when we observe its characters, Marianne and Roland, moving through time in all directions, to revisit sequences and reinterpret them with fresh approaches. Payne’s script is as complex as the direction wishes for it to be, and Anthony Skuse is certainly unafraid to extricate depth while he builds a coherent piece that looks on its surface to be a love story. The conceptual aspects of Constellations are realised with exciting clarity, and it surprises with emotional textures that are beautifully rendered. The play moves us on levels of instinct, intellect and sentimentality; a rare experience at the theatre, and seriously rewarding.

Skuse and his cast have brought to the writing, thoughtful range and a vibrant energy that keeps us fascinated and engaged. The experimental style of Payne’s script is successfully restrained so that it is a presence that does not overwhelm. There is sufficient room for a cerebral connection, but we are also encouraged to feel the joy, pleasure, anger, fear and sadness that flows through the rich landscape of human experience being portrayed before us. Skuse’s brilliance lies in his ability to discover layers in the play that appear contradictory, and make them all seem simultaneously truthful. His work has a humorous charm that readily finds its way into lighter sections, and comedy often appears quite out of the blue, without ever feeling clumsy or contrived.

Acting in Constellations is demanding to say the least. The production has us fixated on the couple and gives them nowhere to hide. They have to perform countless transitions that are entirely unnatural, yet must create characters that always feel accurate and believable. Both players succeed wonderfully on these fronts, and furthermore, they are immediately endearing and we hang on to their every word. Emma Palmer is simply glorious. The actor feels so completely alive and truthful on this stage, we cannot help but be mesmerised by the way she develops her character from moment to moment. The production relies heavily on Palmer’s performance and she makes it a breathtaking one. The thorough commitment she gives to every quirky flourish and creative decision is evidence of an artist’s single-minded passion for her art form. Palmer elevates the show from abstract philosophy, and provides a palpable authenticity that is responsible for keeping our attention and emotions invested.

Roland is the supportive boyfriend, the selfish bastard, the saint, and the liar. Sam O’Sullivan is compelling at every stage of his portrayal, and even though his work can be at times a little quiet, he never fails to keep us engrossed as the regular guy who is not always Prince Charming. O’Sullivan has a comic flair that he utilises with refreshing competence whenever possible. The actors are individually strong and they work well together, but the chemistry between the two is sometimes unpersuasive, which means that sparks do not always fly when they need to. On the other hand, we feel a sense of weakness in the characters’ bond, which creates an ominous tension that points to the ever-present threat of their relationship’s possible demise.

Production design is understandably simple. There is something bare bones about the script, which the visuals reflect. The rawness of two people unveiling humanity with intensive honesty is matched by the minimalism of a stage that does not intrude. However, it is worth noting that the venue is fairly large, and allowing the full stage space to be exposed for most of the duration tends to take away from the intimacy that the acting strives for. Set and lighting could have helped reduce the vastness so that the characters are put in greater focus, and be in a position to achieve a stronger connection with the audience. Composer and sound designer Marty Jamieson also creates minimal work but its effect is deceptively powerful. Jamieson never draws attention to himself, but uses simple musical notes to indicate occasional shifts in dramatic tone. His work is sensitive, intuitive and tacitly sublime.

There is no subject more universal than death and illness. Constellations causes an interruption to our lives by making us look at the inevitable end. More than that, it encourages reflection on that journey to death, or to put it less morbidly, the play shines light on what we choose to make out of our every day on earth. Some of us look to the stars to find meaning and to prophesy, but the only predetermined thing that no one is able to escape, is the fact that nothing lasts forever. Each second is full of possibility, and fortunate are those who can uncover the magic that awaits in every twinkling breath.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: Bad Day Insurance (Old 505 Theatre)

old505theatreVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 6 – 24, 2014
Playwright: Lisa Chappell
Director: Drew Fairley
Cast: Lisa Chappell, Sarah Hynter

Theatre review
The quote, “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die,” has been attributed to different sources, including Nelson Mandela. In Bad Day Insurance, two elderly women spend their days in each other’s company, secluded from the world except for people on telephones who ask for insurance payouts due to having a bad day for all kinds of reasons. Esther and Mavis have to listen to these first world complaints every waking moment, and we soon get the impression that their state of torture would have been for a lot more than a few years. They are watched over by an invisible non-human entity named Boob, who exercises absolute control over these women, although we wonder if, like many of our gods, its existence is entirely in their minds. Esther and Mavis are grey haired and grey skinned, having waited an inordinately long time in their “call centre” (they sleep and work there) for an inscrutable something, or perhaps simply for their days at Bad Day Insurance to come to an end. They are trapped, and we wonder why. We wonder if they have imprisoned themselves and are punishing each other for something that had happened. We never hear the other end of the phone lines, and they do not ring on their own accord. The women verbalise a “ring ring” if a call arrives to taunt the other.

Lisa Chappell’s script is humorous, but its more striking feature is its strange darkness. The mystery and intrigue that Chappell creates is riveting, and her brand of empathetic absurdity brings out an unexpected compassion in the viewing experience. There are many loose ends to the piece, but meaningful details are peppered throughout so that our imagination is kept busy. We are entertained by a lot of silliness, but at the same time, we are completely engrossed on a cerebral level, seduced by all its somber resonances that point to something deeper that wants to be unearthed.

Performances by Chappell and Sarah Hynter are flawless. The actors are energetic, mischievous and magnetic, with a consummate professionalism that easily convinces us that all bases are covered. We are taken on a ride that involves laughter, surprise, curiosity, terror and poignancy. Under the directorship of Drew Fairley who provides a sensitive, nuanced third eye, the production they have created is a prime example of how showbusiness and art can collude to communicate something enjoyable, disarming and very clever. Talent of this calibre is a rare and beautiful thing, and to see Chappell and Hynter invent something that moves us on so many levels, is awe-inspiring.

Freedom is prized by everyone. It is not available to all, but in places like Australia, it is certainly within reach. Understanding how to attain that emancipation depends largely on an understanding of one’s own circumstances. Bad Day Insurance shows us that we almost never see the completeness of our lives. There are always annoyances, disappointments and pains that hold our attention, and we are always waiting for something to facilitate a release. Esther and Mavis have suffered an eternity. Prisoners of fear, despair and defeat, they have formed a hellish life, unaware of their power for creating better days for themselves. They fail to see that the locks enslaving them require keys that only they can manufacture. This is a show about our freedom, and it challenges us to seize it.

www.lisachappell.net

Review: Fragments Of I Am: 18 Scenes & A Song (The Nest)

fragmentsVenue: The Nest (Alexandria NSW), Aug 7 – 9, 2014
Devisers: Ryan Carter, Jes Dalton, Hayley Sullivan, Sam Trotman
Cast: Ryan Carter, Jes Dalton, Hayley Sullivan, Sam Trotman

Theatre review
A narrative requires a sense of coherence, and coherence can in turn, be subjective. Fragments of I Am: 18 Scenes & A Song is an experimental work without a clear overarching story, but what its three performers portray over nineteen scenes can be construed as something that forms a persuasive whole. There is nothing to prevent us from interpreting each performer’s work as singular characters, but we can also think of them acting in altogether different roles at each appearance, considering the drastic transformations that can happen from one moment to another. On this experimental stage, we are free to choose how we read, and what we deem to be relevant would probably be based on personal judgments, although it is noteworthy that in the freedom of form explored here, nothing is wrong and everything is right, no matter what approach we choose.

There is a lot of anxiety in the piece. The artists’ youthful need to explore meanings in life and art contains a sense of urgency and desperation that makes for thoughtful theatre as well as satisfying entertainment. Their interest in boundaries, confines and limits ensures an expression that feels fresh and creative, although the sense of transgression that one expects from such themes is slightly tame in this production. We anticipate something more in the vein of Gina Pane and Marina Abramović’s legacies but they never venture that far, perhaps this is where theatre and performance art diverge. We are impressed however, by the unorthodox warehouse-like venue they have chosen, and their barely-there wardrobe on the occasion of Sydney’s chilliest winter nights.

The cast’s execution of their own text and ideas is quietly accomplished. There is a sense of ease to the team’s presentation that results from having established clearly what they wish to achieve but their show feels strangely subdued. There is a wildness that feels too contained, although their depiction of mundanity is beautifully manipulated to look bizarre and alienated. The ordinariness of daily life is brought into question, and we are encouraged to examine our concepts of normality with a new distrust for things that are usually axiomatic.

The work is concerned with violence and human connection. Permeating all the action is a sense of loneliness that often results in brutality of some description. To make the statement that we are a species characterised by self-destruction is grim but honest. Asserting that our modern inhumanity comes from an inability to understand one another, is poignant and powerful.

www.ink361.com/thenestcreativespace

Review: Joan, Again (Subtlenuance / Sydney Independent Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 5 – 23, 2014
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Kit Bennett, Jamie Collette, Ted Crosby, Kitty Hopwood, Lynden Jones, Sylvia Keays, Bonnie Kellett, David Kirkham, Helen Tonkin
Images by Katy Green Loughrey, Liam O’Keefe, Daniela Giorgi

Theatre review (originally published at Auditorium Magazine)
Paul Gilchrist’s new script is deeply philosophical. It asks many big questions, all of which affects our lives, but most do not come easily into daily discourse. These are themes that can be difficult to communicate, for despite their universality, the diversity in beliefs often means that unexpected conflict may result. Also, these concepts of truth, religion, spirituality, death, identity, gender, kinship, time, and so forth, are constantly shifting and elusive, and therefore impossible to resolve. Conversation without resolution or agreement is always a challenge in polite society, which means that many of these piquant parts of life are left to the likes of academics and artists to explore at depth. Indeed, it is a responsibility of art to think about these matters, and to present to us, perspectives that may challenge our own.

Through the landscape of war, and the appearance of a woman claiming to be Joan of Arc ten years after her famed execution, Gilchrist’s play asks political, social and personal questions and unpacks modern day attitudes about, well, everything. The script is always loaded with meaning, and while it might be difficult to discover the author’s own beliefs in every line, we are consistently provoked to react with our own judgment and ideology. Not much happens in the story, but our intellect is exhausted by its end. The strength of the writing is in its ability to expose the incoherence and injustices of our world, without obvious agenda or tiresome pontification. Gilchrist’s work has many delightfully sharp lines that need to be revisited if only to commit to memory, but more significantly, it is concentrated with analysis and poignancy that speak volumes of truth that its characters struggle to navigate.

Gilchrist’s direction creates a dynamic theatre with distinct and colourful personalities that keep us fascinated. Moments of comedy and drama are executed with precision, so that the show varies regularly in tone, and is kept at a comfortable pace. Acting as both playwright and director allows a very specific interpretation of the text, but it also raises issues for performance. There is a lack of organic energy in the piece, and chemistry between players is laboured. The cast does not always find a mode of articulation that feels genuine. When interpretations are reproduced from preconceived ideas instead of more fundamental and experiential processes, characters are less unconvincing and their stories can become difficult to decipher. Gilchrist’s direction also needs to have greater confidence and commitment in his comedy that is too often underplayed, which is a shame as there is potential for much bigger laughs in his writing. By the same token, the profundity of his script needs greater emphasis as they can be quite elaborate. A writer mulls over their work over long periods, and to condense that vision into two or three hours for an audience that arrives with only a blank slate, requires a very fresh pair of eyes. Gilchrist expresses himself marvelously but one wonders if an intermediary would provide more effective elucidation.

Kit Bennett plays Therese, a young woman of very few words who suffers from the indignity of being tagged the “village idiot”. Her performance is remembered for a level of authenticity that her colleagues do not manage. Bennett encourages intrigue and empathy, forming a connection with the audience that is strangely persistent. She speaks little but her presence is always strong and her reactions meticulous. One wonders if it is the lack of lines that provides her the freedom to create something that is more personal and with more truth as an actor. Gilchrist has crafted a brilliantly complex role with Therese. She is surprising, almost disarmingly so, but her contradictions actually feel very realistic.

Joan is central to much of the narrative, and Sylvia Keays brings to it an ambiguous zen-like quality that works interestingly on levels of narrative and philosophy but we are left craving for a deeper understanding of her character’s psychology and motivations. Keays is at her most compelling when soliloquising, showing an excellent affiliation with the writing and themes. There is a defiance that seems slightly mild but her lack of aggression makes for a more textured and unanticipated experience of the character. Also charming is Lynden Jones whose subtle yet biting portrayal of Cardinal Theobald grabs our attention at every appearance. The irony in his lines could be performed more extravagantly but the creepy hypocrisy that seeps through Jones’ every pore is sickeningly irresistible.

Helen Tonkin as Isabelle, delivers a memorable and moving speech about lives lost at war. The play’s antiwar sentiment is strong. It discusses the damage worn by societies as a result of combat, and the meanings we derive from manufacturing war heroes. In honouring the dead and those who return victorious, we face the inevitably of assigning glory to destruction, but responding with an antithetical passivity and apathy is unwise. The pursuit of peace may be the greatest vocation of humankind, and the quest for it may never appear within easy reach, but there simply is no responsibility more noble, and no undertaking more necessary than the attainment of justice and fairness for all.

www.sitco.net.au | www.subtlenuance.com