Review: Heathers (Snowqueen Productions / Working Management)

hayesVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), July 16 – Aug 9, 2015
Book, Music and Lyrics: Laurence O’Keefe, Kevin Murphy (based on the screenplay by Daniel Waters)
Director: Trevor Ashley
Choreographer: Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Jaz Flowers, Lucy Maunder, Stephen Madsen, Erin Clare, Libby Asciak, Vincent Hooper, Jakob Ambrose, Lauren McKenna, Mitchell Hicks, Michelle Barr, Rebecca Hetherington, Stephen McDowell
Image by Kurt Sneddon

Theatre review
The film Heathers is a cult favourite from 1988 that surprised viewers, with its dark approach to the teen movie genre that had been in vogue at the time. What appeared on the surface to look like standard fare about high school hierarchies and puppy love turned out to be fascinatingly morbid. Its exploration of teenage angst in a plot that discussed suicide and murder preempted today’s attention of school shootings and other massacres of the kind. Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s musical version is a much more frivolous interpretation of events in the movie, although it is noteworthy that stories and characters are largely kept intact. Most of the songs are well-written, but they range from comical to sentimental, with very few occasions for the macabre that the original film was successful at generating.

Accordingly, Trevor Ashley’s direction of the work is hugely comedic, with meticulous focus on amplifying every funny moment. His style is deafeningly camp, which is not unsuitable for the production, but that distinctively loud tone of presentation tends to play on a single level with little variation, and allows for scarce instances of complexity. The first act in particular, is relentlessly raucous. We cannot help being engaged, but the story feels empty. The writing does not seem to provide sufficient space for tension to build, and the central character Veronica is not given a realistic chance at making a strong enough connection with her audience for the narrative to work as well as it does in the film. Additionally, the leads do not have the same superstar charisma of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater to keep us spellbound, but Jaz Flowers and Stephen Madsens’ accomplished singing does a good job of moving the show along.

Act Two is a marked improvement, with more compelling plot twists and greater disparity between scenes. Supporting performers impress in their solos, including Lauren McKenna as Ms. Fleming, the flamboyant high school teacher whose intentions to help the students are more self-serving than altruistic. McKenna is inventive, confident and very effervescent in her cheeky depiction of the faux hippy woman. Vincent Hooper plays the Sweeneys (senior and junior) with outstanding energy and enthusiasm. The performer embraces the bawdy style of humour and creates hilarious exaggerations of the American jock, which delivers some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Heathers the musical is amusing at every point, with many entertaining sequences of choreography and effective comedy. It does however, miss the opportunity for creating greater tension and poignancy with its resonant subject matter. The teenagers in Heathers grow up too fast. Their loss of innocence requires deeper exploration, but as in real life, we brush aside their concerns too easily.

Review: Detroit (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darlo2Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jul 17 – Aug 16, 2015
Playwright: Lisa D’Amour
Director: Ross McGregor
Cast: Lisa Chappell, Ronald Falk, Claire Lovering, James O’Connell, Ed Wightman
Image by Gez Xavier Mansfield

Theatre review
When people hit “rock bottom”, they are forced to evaluate values, and in the case of Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, an opportunity to build a new life presents itself at the most troubling of times. Sharon and Kenny are ex-junkies trying to get their act together, but no easy solution exists, and all we see is their struggle to make every day count. The story is one of resilience, about the human ability to make the best out of nothing, and ironically, also about our tendencies at making the worst out of what we do have. The script is a surprising and quirky one, with an unusual sense of humour that begins unassumingly but gains momentum with every scene, leading to an explosive conclusion that ties up the many loose ends that it scatters along the way.

The production begins almost too enthusiastically, with actors keen to entertain while establishing a context that should probably look and feel more pedestrian at that early stage. Performances by the very striking women of the cast are consistently animated, which works well when subtexts are being communicated, but at other times can come across overly farcical. Dark social comedies require a delicate balance, but early comic moments tend to obscure the atmosphere of depression that the play wishes to convey. As the plot progresses into a wild and surreal space, the extravagant performances become congruous, and very engaging indeed. Ed Wightman’s tender portrayal of Ben provides the authentic centre of the production. His plight is readily identifiable, and the actor wins our empathy with a subtle vulnerability that he makes perceivable in between charming interpretations of comic sequences. Addict in recovery, Sharon is played by the exuberant Claire Lovering who is delightfully funny in every scene, but the ambiguity of her character prevents us from achieving an understanding of her circumstances with sufficient depth.

The show is amusing, and unpredictable, with scenes flowing into each other with little indication of what is about to occur next. There is a polish to the production that makes viewing pleasurable, but for all its dramatic events, it does not seem to be able to provoke much thought about its grave themes of poverty and social decay. Detroit, the city, has been going through ruinous transformations, of which great lessons are certainly attainable, and staging a work with the same name only raises expectations for considerable profundity. There is much to be explored in this play named Detroit, but on this occasion, some of it remains uncovered.

5 Questions with Samantha Young and Aaron Tsindos

Samantha Young

Samantha Young

Aaron Tsindos: Where did you come up with the idea for space cats?
Samantha Young: This is where I mention you right? So we were doing The LoveBirds up at Darwin Festival in 2012 (a cabaret written/directed/performed/everythinged by the divine Simone Page Jones) and we decided one lunch break to annoy Simone by putting on a show that was the direct opposite of hers. So we decided cats were the opposite of birds and somehow space was the opposite of love, at least aesthetically. And we all laughed a lot. Anyway, then I just never got over it.

Have you done much work in cabaret and musical theatre?
Yessum, actually not musical theatre because those guys are next level talented. However I’m increasingly passionate about creating cabarets because they sit at the intersecting centre of a lovely venn diagram of theatre, sex, politics and music. I have been writing, directing and performing in cabarets since 2009.

Where did you first meet Aaron and how impressed were you with him?
We met in Adelaide in a self contained apartment the day before LoveBirds rehearsals started. Over the next couple of months I learnt that you; like milkshakes, talk a lot, were realllly into GoT at the time and that was so boring for me, had tight hips and would do almost anything for money. I realised we would be lifelong friends when I paid you $100 to eat a golf ball sized globe of Wasabi and you did it even though we had dancing rehearsals all afternoon. That was a good day for me.

What’s your favourite/ideal cat? Be specific.
I hate cats. I don’t know why I’m making a musical about cats. My ideal cat is a dog.

If you could be any kind of cat what would it be? (The cat can have super powers)
A dog with a pink glittery coat, that could sing like a sweet coloratura soprano and would roam the streets of Rome, busking for my supper.

Aaron Tsindos

Aaron Tsindos

Samantha Young: What was your first impression of me?
Aaron Tsindos: The first time I met you was during a cabaret/musical (Lovebirds) for the Adelaide Fringe. You would often talk of how you would spill food on yourself regularly and I discovered this to be true. One time you offered to pay me $60 to eat a MASSIVE chunk of wasabi – I did it and we have been friends ever since. I also love you and you’re a pretty good friend… I guess….
*Sam’s edit: It was $100 Aaron, I remember because it was $100 from me and $100 from Simone so you were rolling in the fat dollar billz*

What is your honest opinion of wearing metallic lycra bodysuits?
I’ve worn some pretty crazy costumes before. Basically I have no integrity left, so my honest opinion about wearing lycra is… I’m fine with it.

Is your headshot reeeaaallly what you look like?
My headshot is fairly close to what I look like. I’m way better front on. My profile is intense…

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
I’m not 100% sure where all the lonely people come from. There is a place called Lonesome town where the broken hearts stay. So it might be there? I dunno. Ask Eleanor Rigby.

Why would anyone make a show about cats in space?
I think that there is a space cat in all of us. You have tapped into the zeitgeist of cats, the soul of cats and found a beautiful universe filled with passion and ecstasy. You may just be the only one who is sensitive enough to hear the little space cats in all of us; sometimes they tell me to burn things.

Samantha Young is directing Aaron Tsindos in Brevity Theatre’s Space Cats.
Dates: 25 July, 2015
Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre

5 Questions with Claire Lovering and James O’Connell

Claire Lovering

Claire Lovering

James O’Connell: Who is Claire Lovering?
Claire Lovering: Well, there’s a Claire Lovering in Arizona that plays soccer a lot and tweets about it. There’s a physiotherapist called Claire Lovering who lives in Perth. There’s a Claire Lovering in England, I sometimes get her emails about her son’s Summer Cricket Schedule and last month she organized a clown for his tenth Birthday Party. She seems like a really great Claire Lovering. There’s also an actor called Claire Lovering in Sydney who writes strange answers to questionnaires about herself. I’m the physiotherapist.

Word on the street is that you’re the cast go to for baked goods. What kind of tasty treats have you been whipping up through rehearsals?
Thanks James. That’s correct. I have been baking a lot. I like to make bliss balls, which you’ve named “Clairy Balls”. Cheers for that. I also like to experiment with making these whacky granola bars… I’ll throw in all sorts of crazy ingredients in a pot and then I’ll press it into a tin and fob it off as a slice of sorts. It’s a well-known fact that I’m what Jerry Springer would call “a feeder”.

Tell us about Mazzy Star, Hooters and panic attacks in the condiments aisle?
Ah, you mean how I like to procrastinate by conducting extended improvisations in character? So to “try” heroin, I listened to Mazzy Star (heroin music, apparently) for three hours lying on a furry blanket. It went well, thanks for asking. For a white trash American dining experience we went to Hooters of Parramatta in costume and ate buffalo shrimp and drank Budweiser beers. It went well, thanks for asking. I also did a food shop in character. Sharon is “crazy broke” but that doesn’t stop her from trying to host a barbeque for the neighbours. So I went to Coles in costume with Sharon’s shopping list and set an appropriate budget and went through aisle by aisle putting everything in my trolley for her dinner. By the time I got to the mustards Sharon had no money left and was crouched under the trolley having a panic attack. So yeah, it went well, thanks for asking.

You saw Detroit at the National Theatre in London. Tell us about that and how you then felt being cast in the Australian premiere.
Yes, I saw Detroit back in 2012 when I was in London. I was blown away by the naturalism of Lisa D’Amour’s writing and the detailed complexity of the characters. I also remember thinking that Sharon would be a great role to play. She’s hilarious, a dreamer, an idealist, but also so vulnerable; we meet her at a pivotal time in her life where things could go either way for her. She’s in a dangerous place in her addiction recovery and a danger to herself and others. An opportunity to work on that range of material in one role doesn’t come along for actors all that often. So you can imagine my utter delight that three years after first seeing the production I have the privilege of playing her in the Australian première. No pressure.

Favourite line in the play?
There’s a moment in the play where there’s a silence and then Sharon starts singing “Don’t stop believing” to everyone but she gets the words wrong. I’m enjoying it far too much and expecting a cut back note any day now.

James O'Connell

James O’Connell

Claire Lovering: Your character Kenny talks about Strawberry Shortcake. Do you like biscuits? If so, have you been happy with the selection provided so far?
James O’Connell: When I hear Strawberry Shortcake my mind goes straight to the 80’s toys and cartoons. I think Kenny was a secret Strawberry Shortcake fan and maybe even kept a doll under his bed though he’d never admit it. I love biscuits. I devoured the cast rehearsal allocation and then some. The selection was good – you can’t go wrong with assorted creams, but I’m hoping the in-season selection might step up a bit. Wouldn’t it be great to do a show sponsored by the Byron Bay Cookie Co? More white choc and macadamias than I’d know what do with!

I hear you’ve quit sugar. How’s that going for you?
Great follow up question. My partner and I did the 8-week thing that we kind of turned into a 6.2 week thing. That said, I’m totally off the soft drink and Milo and that’s a big step for me. I was a 30-block full strength kind of guy and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I feel there’s a lot of judgment around soft drink consumption, if you’re struggling with it or embracing it I hear you. No one wants to admit they are a guzzler but all that black gold on the shelves of Coles and Woolies must be going somewhere! And Milo who knew that was full of sugar? I was devastated. In the play Kenny’s grappling to stay off heroin and crack, I’m substituting Coke and Milo.

You have enjoyed many television appearances since graduating from VCA in 2012. Is there a common theme amongst those guest roles?
Stalker, meth cook, shonky mechanic, convict, homeless man and facially disfigured returned soldier. You need it? I got it. I’ve spent a lot of time in make up trucks getting covered in grime. Getting a bit serious for a minute – I never judge a character. I’m interested in that person, what makes them tick and what, if anything, went wrong. Like Sharon says to Mary in Detroit -‘I’m as beautiful on the inside as you’. I love playing people up against it, putting myself in their shoes and understanding what in their lives has landed them where they are. Circumstances we are exposed to and choices we make are the only thing that separates us as people and I think that had I been exposed to the same circumstances and made the same choices I would absolutely be in the same place as the characters I play. I’m all about respect and empathy for people in a hard place. All that aside, I’m really chuffed to be playing the issue free romantic lead heartthrob in Detroit. Um…

How do you make your poached eggs taste “so special”?
Well the trick to poached eggs is a decent slug of vinegar in water that is bubbling but not boiling. That is, you want some small bubbles rising from the bottom, not a full hectic bubble fest on the surface. Create a whirlpool and ease your egg in from a small bowl. The slight movement in the water will better form your eggs and stop them sticking. Also have 50 cent playing in the background, it helps.

If you could have a Milo with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
I met Vanilla Ice on a plane in 1986. Then in 1992 I went on Mimi McPherson’s (Elle’s sister) whale watching boat. I also saw Kevin Rudd having a coffee in Canberra once, we didn’t speak but I’m pretty sure he felt my presence. Anyway what I’m getting at is that the bar is set pretty high. I’m going to have to go with Jesus on this one though – they’re pretty sure he actually lived right? I’ve got a few questions for him and I’d love him to turn some water into Milo for me. Or John Snow, not the actor, like the actual John Snow. Wait, is he dead or alive?

Claire Lovering and James O’Connell will be appearing in Detroit by Lisa D’Amour.
Dates: 17 July – 16 August, 2015
Venue: Eternity Playhouse

Review: The Cherry Orchard (The Depot Theatre)

depotVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jul 15 – Aug 1, 2015
Playwright: Anton Chekhov
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Jane Angharad, Anne Brito, Myles Burgin, Leo Domigan, David Jeffrey, Justine Kacir, Theo Kokkinidis, Dave Kirkham, Emily McGowan, Roger Smith, James Smithers, Cherrie Whalen-David
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Interest in Anton Chekhov’s plays have not waned over the last century. In Australia, not a year goes by without several productions materialising from his famous scripts, and at every outing, we seem unable to keep from arguing endlessly about them. Chekhov is classic, but he is also divisive. Theatre lovers tend to have strong personal conceptions about the meanings derived from his oeuvre, and when it comes to how his writing should be presented, opinions can get quite strong. Art is many things, and when we try to put restrictions on what it encompasses, we need to be vigilant about what is excluded. So perhaps, art is everything. Replication and imitation are thought of as transgressive in the creation of art, yet originality is hardly ever seen. In the theatre especially, we are constantly making references and quotations, almost to the point where we have given up on the importance of making something new.

Julie Baz’s rendering of The Cherry Orchard is interested in the ideas of the script. It is clear that although those ideas have already been shared many times, this production considers them to still be relevant and significant. There is a considerable chasm however, between Moscow in 1904 and Sydney today, and finding parallels between contexts is a challenge, and slightly tenuous, when the show is presented with a sense of reverence, which seems to aim for an experience that is about recreating and re-enacting, rather than reinventing. The result often looks like an historical artefact, with meanings that are not immediately resonant.

Live performances are most successful when there is an energetic exchange between the action on stage and the illusory passivity of its audience. A show takes into account how it is being perceived, and leaving that to chance is an unwise gamble. Much of this production seems to take place in a bubble. The cast is not uniformly strong, and we often feel kept at arm’s length, either by a lack of confidence or a mistaken notion that performance is a one-way street. Moments of frisson occur when the actors allow themselves a more spontaneous and creative space of expression. David Jeffrey as Lopakhin rejects preconceived notions of “what Chekhov must have been” and plays his role from a more honest point of departure. With the simple intention of portraying a colourful character, and an astute awareness about his part’s contribution to the narrative’s effectiveness, Jeffrey is able to form a strong presence on stage and fosters a connection with the viewer. Also fascinating is Roger Smith, who plays the 87 year-old Firs with charming idiosyncrasy and warmth. His looks to be a vaudeville inspired style of presentation, but it works well for a role that situates slightly outside of the main storyline, and the actor takes every one of his opportunities to entertain.

There is value in creating faithful interpretations of classics, but trying to get things right from a vast distance of time and space is hard, and then making it meaningful to an audience for which it was not intended, is also problematic. The Cherry Orchard is about the changing of times, but the production seems trapped in a past that we have only read about or imagined. It manages to locate moments of truth when Chekhov’s writing turns to diatribe, but it is not consistently genuine. The Buddhists and the New Ageists often prescribe placing focus on the here and now, and that belief is perfectly suited to the theatre. Magic does happen on stage, but we have to be there to set it off.

Review: War Crimes (ATYP)

atypVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jul 15 – Aug 1, 2015
Director: Alex Evans
Playwright: Angelia Betzien
Cast: Hannah Cox, Holly Fraser, Charlotte Hazzard, Odetta Quinn, Jane Watt
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Art allows some of the most sensitive and intelligent of our community a platform to articulate their concerns about the world we share. Discussion on matters of social importance have become increasingly controlled by governing parties and mainstream media, leaving the arts to be one of the few avenues remaining, where ideas affecting us all can be exchanged thoughtfully and generously. Angelia Betzein’s War Crimes is not overtly political, but it is deeply interested in the state of affairs on the land that we share. Through the experiences of 5 young women at the end of their schooling days, we examine life in a regional town and its inhabitants’ troubling relationship with issues of poverty, misogyny, homophobia and racism, the four key controversies in modern discourse. Betzein’s writing draws inspiration from the language of our underprivileged youth but captured within a frame of poetry and emotional luxuriance, it communicates a gritty realism through a familiar theatrical structure that helps us understand the distant microcosm being deconstructed.

Direction by Alex Evans creates a landscape that confronts us with its brutality, but introduces disarming episodes of tenderness that move us, often unexpectedly. Evans is extraordinarily detailed with his portrayal of characters and relationships, and it is the depth and subtlety of the universal human experience being uncovered that is the most enjoyable feature of the production. Although his work with the team of actors is utterly outstanding, his control of atmosphere through collaborative efforts with technical designers should not go unremarked. Lights by Alex Berlage are imaginative and dynamic, creating a vista that is earthy yet sophisticated, and with plenty of variation between scenes to keep our eyes captivated. Tom Hogan’s intuitive sound work embraces the action on stage to help amplify the impact and significance being developed at each moment. Scene transitions rely on Hogan’s ability to manipulate our mood and level of engagement, so that shifts in time and place are established seamlessly.

The performances in War Crimes are impressive. We marvel at the five actors’ ability to appear so powerfully present, and their enthusiasm to share these concepts and stories is gloriously magnetic. Jane Watt is sensational in both her roles; a teenage troublemaker and a middle-aged Iraqi are both vividly portrayed with an exuberance that shows a courageous talent. Watt’s tendency for risky artistic choices is a real joy to behold and her energy is often called upon to bring vibrancy to the stage. One of the play’s most poignant moment comes from Hannah Cox, who as Jordan, professes her love by recreating cave drawings for the object of her desire. The surrender of her self in the hope for Jade’s reciprocation is unbelievably delicate and honest, and within those several seconds of stage time, all eyes are on her quivering facial features while we feel the intensity and clarity of her pure and transcendental love.

In order for our lives to be made better, it is important that we take a good hard look at our problems. It is easy to revel in self-delusion, and to be lied to. We cannot rely on powerful groups to give us the truth, as it is often to their advantage that the plight of the underprivileged is kept under wraps. The ruling and upper classes will maintain the status quo by the continued oppression of others, so we must gather information from alternate sources, such as the participants of independent theatre. War Crimes paints a picture of contemporary Australia that is at once ugly and beautiful. It has a harsh accuracy that can make it a bitter pill to swallow, but if we want the awful truth, this is just the kind of remedy we need more of.

5 Questions with Nicola James and Natalie Freeman

Nicola James

Nicola James

Natalie Freeman: Tell me about Golden Jam Productions, how did that start?
Nicola James: Golden Jam started as a catalyst for me to put on a short play that I wrote last year. So I decided to start an independent theatre company so that I could produce it and get it up. And also going into the future it is something that I want to use to produce new work and great work that hasn’t be done for a while and deserves to be put on. It is also place for me to showcase myself and other emerging actors, to give them an amazing platform to do their work because it is quite hard to get a break in this crazy industry.

Why the Old Fitz?
I’ve seen quite a few shows at the Old Fitz over the years and I think it is an amazing space. And it is a great space for weird and wonderful work because it is attached to a pub and so it has that kind of playful drinking atmosphere which means you can really let loose and play to an appreciative if somewhat boozed crowd.

If you weren’t an actor/producer/director/writer what would you be?
I’ve actually been asked this question a couple of times recently, and it may sound lame, but this is what I would be doing. This is the thing that if you asked me 5 years ago ‘if I could do anything what would I do?’ – this is it. So I’ve already done the things I wouldn’t be doing, and now I’m finally doing that thing that I’ve always wanted to.

What motivates you to act?
The reason I act and the reason I make theatre is because being a human is a challenging and wonderful and hilarious thing and I think that if we don’t take time to look back on that and to share that experience with other people then we are missing the point of life.

For a long time you worked in bars, including managing a bar. So what is your drink of choice? If there is one drink that you could have for the rest of your life what would it be?
One drink to end all drinks? I’m a beer girl, through and through and I’m a beer nerd so I love my craft beer. But in saying that, now that it’s colder I’m drinking a tonne of red wine and I’m back on the whiskey (how apt) but there is nothing better than a straight up, peaty, smokey whiskey – Yum!

Natalie Freeman

Natalie Freeman

Nicola James: So how did you get involved with Golden Jam Productions?
Natalie Freeman: Well, I went to college with Nicola who is the head honcho at Golden Jam. We always wanted to work together but we didn’t get to do that much together while we were studying. We have a lot of things in common, we’re the same age, we’re both really motivated to put on some really interesting work and just get out there post college. We both definitely did not want to be sitting out there waiting for and agent or a casting director to call.

Why these two plays?
We’ll they are certainly challenging and I wanted a challenge. They are both about the extremes, they go to a depth of human desire that I really wanted to explore. There is a lost of lust, and of wanting something more out of life. That feeling of “Is this it?” They’re both beautiful pieces in their own different ways. They are difficult texts that you really have to work at and the there is a real emotional necessity that you need to grab onto as well. So getting into these works is quite visceral, you need to invest your whole body and mind into it. And that’s the kind of theatre I like to do!

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Dark chocolate, chips and Game Of Thrones. There is always some period drama or fantasy that I’ll get into. I like escaping into other worlds.

What would be your dream role?
I think it would probably be Shakespeare, I don’t want to choose one, but it would be one of the female leads. It’s similar to these pieces that we’re doing. It would be a woman that has a lot of power, a lot of lust. I want to be on stage baring that. Also Lady Bracknell would be a lot of fun, I‘m not old enough but I think I could do her voice!

What’s your favourite lunch food?
I don’t know, I love food! Fish and chips? Or getting a BBQ chicken and salad. I think that’s what I’d choose?

Nicola James and Natalie Freeman will be appearing in Like Whiskey On The Breath Of A Drunk You Love / Lunch by Andrew Bovell and Steven Berkoff.
Dates: 21 – 25 July, 2015
Venue: The Old Fitz Theatre