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

Review: Edmond (Two Peas)

twopeas1Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 15 – 26, 2015
Playwright: David Mamet
Director: Glen Hamilton
Cast: Tara Clark, Cheyne Fynn, Naomi Livingstone, Oleg Pupovac

Theatre review
David Mamet’s Edmond is a despicable human being. All the worst qualities a person can have are found in one awful character, who happens to hate everything and everyone, including or maybe, especially, himself. It is a simple premise for a play but a confronting one. Mamet’s conceit is extreme, almost cartoonish in its approach, which is necessary for preventing the play from ever becoming realistic and hence, plainly unbelievable. There is a tendency for the work to portray Edmond as being an everyday person, and for us to be able to identify with characteristics that he displays, but it is arguable whether the context is too alienating for audiences to be able to connect in a meaningful way.

Direction of the production is slightly surreal, and also slightly quirky. It understands the fantastical quality of the text, but does not explore its concepts with enough theatricality to prevent the play from being weighed down by a conventional realism that struggles to provide drama and excitement that could elevate a script that is persistently bleak. The repetitiveness of the plot induces a numbness in our response, which the direction allows to take effect instead of finding ways to shock us with every subsequent scene as the writing intends. In the title role is Oleg Pupovac who shows good conviction and focus, but the decision to play Edmond as an essentially unassuming guy is questionable. One is reminded of Mary Harron’s 2000 film American Psycho, and the effectiveness of its flamboyant style in establishing a quality of enthrallment within the outlandish and disturbing environment being portrayed. Although uncomfortably mild, Pupovac’s interpretation does create an interesting juxtaposition between normalcy and atrocity that is quite remarkable. The rest of the cast is required to play a large assortment of undesirables, which paves the way for a very playful stage, and correspondingly, it is when performances are daring and wild that we become engaged. Naomi Livingstone’s versatility and vibrancy help her breathe life into her characters, and her animated expressiveness strikes a resonant balance with Mamet’s writing to deliver several memorable moments.

Edmond builds to a conclusion that attempts to make sense of its own overwhelming violence and insanity, but the production seems to deflate before that crucial point, and what should have been a significant revelation is lost in an air of ambiguity. Without a pointedly communicated moral, we are left to consult our own values to achieve an understanding of the preposterous situations that had been witnessed, which means that new perspectives are probably not gained by many. Audiences are willing to participate in stories that involve challenging content and ideas, but we expect a greater than usual pay off in their aftermath. There are lots of horrible people in Edmond, and it is undeniable that the same horrible behaviour exists in real life, but encountering them voluntarily at the theatre needs to be more purposeful than catching a glimpse of silver lining.


Review: Of Mice And Men (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjove2Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 9 – Aug 1, 2015
Playwright: John Steinbeck
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Andre de Vanny, Andrew Henry, Anna Houston, Anthony Gooley, Charles Allen, Christopher Stollery, John McNeill, Laurence Coy, Terry Serio, Tom Stokes
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Lennie’s intellectual disability in Of Mice And Men reveals the forgotten innocence inherent in all of humanity. His experience of the world is one that everyone can identify with, but the virtuous purity that he exemplifies is utterly absent from our daily adult lives. Unlike Lennie, we have grown too complicated and are often dishonest in the way we treat one another and ourselves. Few of us can remain idealists, and even though John Steinbeck’s play inspires the longing for a simpler and truer existence, the inevitability of its demise is also exposed. We question the corruptness that we allow in, and meditate upon the dynamics in our communities that instigate these unfortunate states of affairs. Most people are good, but when we come together, bad situations easily arise. Of Mice And Men looks at a group of men, bound by poverty and by dreams, and their journey towards a calamitous fate.

This production, directed by Iain Sinclair, is a near flawless rendering of Steinbeck’s 78 year-old text. Beautifully realised by a brilliant design team (Michael Hankin is production designer, with Nate Edmondson on sound, and lights by Sian James-Holland ), the show feels rich with authenticity and provides our senses with a satisfying approximation of how Northern America must have been at the Great Depression. Sinclair’s consummate control of atmospherics delivers a transportative pleasure that pulls us into the emotions and actions of characters that are a world away from our current realities. Each personality is conveyed with compelling idiosyncrasy, and chemistry between every actor in every scene is calibrated just right, so that stories and events are convincing and splendidly detailed.

The cast is uniformly strong, with a sense of egalitarianism in the ensemble that supports the play’s themes of camaraderie and community. Andrew Henry is sensitive, tender, and unquestionably touching as Lennie. His work is performative but also heartfelt, so that the audience’s engagement with his creation is much more than skin deep. Instead of applying a basic treatment to a simple character, Henry’s approach is meticulously inventive and the results are as entertaining as they are moving. The other leading man of the piece is Anthony Gooley, who fills the stage with charisma and a magnetic energy that is impressively dramatic. In the role of George, his empathy for Lennie is depicted powerfully, which is key to the plot’s effectiveness, but the final scene requires greater pathos from the actor for a more explosive conclusion. Charles Allen and Laurence Coy play smaller roles but are individually captivating. They generate theatrical magic with deeply nuanced interpretations of identity and sentimentality, both enthralling in their moments of eminence.

Classics resonate through the years because they encapsulate something true and universal that time is unable to diminish. Of Mice And Men represents our belief in justice, and the right of all persons to seek improvements for their circumstances. It appeals to our need to define right and wrong, and that desire to understand the differences between. Most of all, it serves as a reminder that we should strive to be better people, and to avoid the complacent and inferior, even if it requires going against every tide.


Review: Ghost Stories (Sydney Opera House)

ghoststories1Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jul 8 – Aug 15, 2015
Playwright: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Director: Peter J. Snee
Cast: Tim Franklin, John Gregg, Lynden Jones, Aleks Mikić, Ben Wood

Theatre review
Horror movies have existed since the dawn of film technology in the 1890’s. It is a genre of storytelling that has always existed, and as such, should be thought of as integral to the way we communicate as a species, yet live theatre does not seem to have embraced that particular mode of presentation. Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories adopts for an assembled crowd, the tradition of telling scary tales of the paranormal, with the intention of fascinating our senses and entertaining us. The work aims simply to frighten and thrill, so the script is tailored precisely for that purpose. It does not add much else to the experience, but its unpretentious simplicity helps it achieve an unusual show format that is refreshing and often very scary indeed.

Peter J. Snee’s direction cleverly manipulates all audio and visual cues in the venue to create the familiar sensations one derives from the horror genre. Unlike film though, we seem to require less extreme stimuli to respond with fear in live theatre. Thankfully, Snee does not push our limits too much, and the experience he provides never becomes unbearable. His design team (comprising Phil Shearer on production design, Christopher Page on lights, and Lana Kristensen on sound) does an excellent job of fulfilling its brief of creating a relentless air of skin-crawling foreboding that keeps tensions high, and when appropriate, shock us with powerful effects that literally make us jump.

There is a glaring lack of gender and ethnic diversity in the piece, but its all male cast is an accomplished one, with Lynden Jones’ performance as Professor Goodman providing the show with an inviting and dynamic energy. The actor is charmingly compelling, with an ability to turn the outlandish contexts believable, and a warmth that engages us for the entire duration, even when the plot starts to lose its resonance in its final moments.

Ghost Stories is a rare form of entertainment in the live arena, but it certainly does what it says on the bottle. The scares diminish with time, perhaps because of our acclimation to the production’s provocations, but on the occasions that it is effective, few things are quite as electrifying. There are many ways to have frivolous fun at the theatre, but choosing a night of horror over yet another musical is more than a novel option.


Review: Love And Information (Sydney Theatre Company / Malthouse Theatre)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jul 9 – Aug 15, 2015
Playwright: Caryl Churchill
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Marco Chiappi, Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman, Anthony Taufa, Ursula Yovich, Alison Whyte, Harry Greenwood
Images by Pia Johnson

Theatre review
Caryl Churchill’s Love And Information is a 90 minute play, composed entirely of very short sequences that look to be extracts from a wide range of stories running the gamut of genres in conventional theatre. Each independent bite-sized piece, not matter how small, provides enough for us to make sense of events taking place in the moment, but the scenes do no immediately relate to one another. Except, it is human nature to make meaning regardless of what is being scrutinised, and we form voluntary interpretations about the things we see. In the case of Churchill’s very fascinating work, we are seduced into intellectual overdrive, almost like reading a mystery, piecing together clues that may or may not be, to find a consolidation of significance. A great work of art is one that helps its viewer see a true picture of themselves, and their place within a social universe. The moral of Churchill’s stories is a fluid one, and we take from them what is intimate to us as individuals, and as such, it can be seen that the writer has used abstraction to successfully facilitate a kind of self-awareness in the viewer’s sense of being and identity.

The work makes a statement about contemporary times, and our environment of obsessive information technology. If modernity is sick, attention deficit disorder would be one of its chief ailments. We are incessantly seeking out information from all sources, like an addict with no ability of discernment. We find out small bits about everything, with no regard for relevance, and certainly no capacity for any depth. As our social and physical spaces become increasingly congested, our attention is compelled to be dispersed into a multitude of directions, all of the time, and this might be a case of “resistance is futile”, as we cannot be sure if we have any choice in the matter, or if indeed, we are able to withdraw into any alternatives. The play talks about choices, especially the lack thereof, and toys with the concept of hiding as a solution, but it is clear that we are what we are.

Director Kip Williams gives us all that we wish from a stage production, in spite of a missing story. The production is emotionally appealing, as it carefully emulates the sentimental journey of a narrative-driven plot, with all its intrigue, comedy, surprises and poignancies. Williams makes us respond accordingly even though there are no characters to follow. The thoroughly experimental nature of the work is no impediment at all to a satisfying experience for any audience with even just a minutiae of sophistication. Additionally, the work’s cerebral aspects might be unusually dynamic, but they are accessible to most. The production is an engaging one that inspires questions at every step of the way, and we read it at any level of competency that suits us personally.

Lighting designer Paul Jackson gives each distinct chapter and verse, a personality and beauty that captivate us, while assisting our subconscious to understand all that is being conveyed. Our visual attention is masterfully controlled so that we are kept firmly within the unusual plot trajectories that unfurl. Music and sound by The Sweats are a key feature that binds each aspect of the production to present a surprisingly coherent whole. The soundscape dictates the pace of the piece from beginning to end, and tells us quite directly how to respond at all times in our participation just outside the stage’s fourth wall. The technical proficiencies of Love And Information is extraordinary. There is nothing else that calls for as many scene and character changes, with what must be over one or two hundred entrances and exits, all flawlessly executed with an unbelievable fluency and grace. Stage Manager Lisa Osborn’s abilities are truly remarkable.

Also proficient is the diverse cast of eight, every one unique in appearance and style, yet tightly unified in the vision they aim to concoct and the energy they bring to the stage. The accuracy required of them both in terms of the technical and the artistic are simply unbelievable and they deliver with astounding dexterity. Predictably, the funnier actors leave a greater impression, and while Glenn Hazeldine’s comedy is only allowed flashes of brilliance in a play with lightning speed transitions, the actor never misses with any of his punchlines no matter how subtle. Anita Hegh too, is memorable for creating laughter at will, and her effortless charm is one that grabs hold of our attention and convinces us of everything being communicated. The play has philosophy seeping through every pore, and Ursula Yovich gives them a sublime gravity, whether the topic be death or infidelity.

A distillation of the theatregoing experience would probably reveal two fundamental elements; entertainment and meaning. When art is challenging, it helps us discover new things and prevents our existences from turning empty, but entertainment is always the easier ticket to purchase. While not mutually exclusive, they rarely meet as equals. In Love And Information, the two come as an explosive package. Philosophically and intellectually enthralling, it is similarly exciting and joyful from a perspective of pure amusement. There are better sources of fun and frivolity of course, but here is a rare and monumental leap in the evolution of the theatrical arts. If this is experimental, the real event that it paves way for, will be nothing less than revolutionary.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au | www.malthousetheatre.com.au

Review: Grace (Pulse Group Theatre)

GRACE 1Venue: Pulse Group Theatre (Redfern NSW), July 7 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Craig Wright
Director: Billy Milionis
Cast: Joseph Addabbo, Dudley Hogarth, Jeremy Shadlow, Nikki Waterhouse

Theatre review
Fanatically religious people are probably the most grating of all. Their narrow-mindedness and refusal to engage in intelligent conversation are frustrating, and their need to convert others’ beliefs to match their own is most infuriating, and sometimes dangerous. At the centre of Craig Wright’s Grace is Steve, an evangelical Christian man who relies on a blind faith that reveals itself to be nothing more than stupidity. Wright’s story is surprisingly textured, but much of the dialogue comes across cheesey and tends also, to be quite long-winded. His characters are initially interesting, but they prove to be too simple and obvious, and his humour lacks an acerbic bite that the themes require.

The production is not a sufficiently dynamic or imaginative one, but it is clear to see that focus is placed squarely on the craft of acting, and the cast is accomplished on many fronts. Dudley Hogarth appears in only two scenes but is memorable for the intense sentimentality that he moves us with. The performances are intent on finding authenticity, but guided by a need to establish a thorough naturalism, scenes can be uncommunicative even though an atmosphere of honesty is always present. Actors often look like they are performing at each other, and without a more presentational style, the audience is not consistently engaged. There is a lot of effort put into exploring emotions of characters, which often translates with too much self-indulgence. The cast seems to feel their stories powerfully, but they need to include us in those narratives, and not keep those ideas and poignancies to themselves. We might not be written into the text, but the audience is present, and we must be integrated further into the theatrical experience.

Like the “Christian Freaks” of the play, the production is lost in a single-mindedness that prevents us from getting closer. Like the zealots too, there is a passion on this stage that impresses. One of the messages in Grace is about diversity and plurality, and the importance of a generous spirit in our social lives. Congregating at the theatre remains an important element of any civilisation. For an hour or two, we are joined to find a moment of unity and peace, and hopefully leave with greater optimism about the world we temporarily occupy, but it is those on stage who have the greater responsibility of turning the mundane into magic, all in extraordinary style and exceptional grace.


Review: The Typists (Company Of Rogues)

companyofroguesVenue: Exchange Hotel (Balmain NSW), July 8 – 24, 2015
Playwright: Murray Schisgal
Director: Hannah Strout
Cast: Jena Prince, Goldele Rayment
Image by Maylei Hunt

Theatre review
Work should not only be about survival and paying bills, but for those of us in the 9 to 5 lifestyle, being caught up in everything that is menial and petty, the meaning of life can become quite abysmal. No child grows up wishing for endless days of nothing but toil, yet the vast majority fall into all-consuming occupations that are neither enriching nor satisfying, beyond the monetary payments it offers. Murray Schisgal’s The Typists is a 1963 anthropological examination of modernity that more than stands the test of time. It might even be seen to have gained relevance over the years. The context of the writing is painfully realistic, but its approach is absurd, twisted, and ridiculously funny. Schisgal tells a lot of obvious truths, making us come face to face with the conundrum that hovers around us everyday.

Hannah Strout’s inspired direction of the piece is thoughtful, dynamic and wonderfully captivating. She finds impetus from the themes being discussed, and uses it to manufacture theatrical sequences that appeal to our minds and senses. Strout’s creation is an engrossing show that speaks intimately to each person’s lived experience. We are fascinated by the spectacles she builds on stage, but more than that, what seems bizarre on the surface resonates with a surprising depth. The marriage between the madness being presented and the irrationality of our daily truths, is a sensational meeting that is thoroughly exciting, while being undeniably and palpably dark.

Beautifully lit by Kevin Ng, the production is a resourceful one that creates atmosphere and punchy tonal variations with a minimal technical structure. Space is cleverly transformed to serve the purpose of the narrative and to establish a language of dramatic flamboyance. Kirby Medway’s music is often seamlessly introduced to evoke emotional responses, and to maintain the show’s comedic quality as well as its heightened style of expression. Also accomplished are performances by Jena Prince and Goldele Rayment, both artistic and earnest in their focus, even though early scenes are initiated with a stiffness that takes more time than necessary to warm up. Nevertheless, the duo make a very funny team, but it must be noted that their attention never strays away from the poignancies of the piece. Prince and Rayment’s passion for the work is genuine, infectious, and very engaging, making attendance of the play very pleasurable indeed.

People are never fully conscious of their actions and behaviour, and it takes artists to step on the brakes and bring to the fore, all that is left in oblivion. The Typists warns against wasting life and time. It is a wake up call that applies to everyone who forgets to examine choices made in the past and the present, and questions our failure to take charge of the future. In all its hilarious pessimism, the show makes the point that fate is in our hands if we decide to take its reins.