5 Questions with Emily McGowan and Theo Kokkinidis

Emily McGowan

Emily McGowan

Theo Kokkinidis: What has been your most favorite on stage moment?
Emily McGowan: This would probably be from when I was studying at university. In the final year of my degree, each student got the chance to put on a 20 minute short play of our choosing. It could pretty much be anything under the sun. Now, I have an air about me that says young innocent girl, and I often get cast in roles in that category. I decided to put on an original work all about sex, and how the over sexualisation of society is ruining our ability to have proper functioning relationships, which was a little different from what people were used to seeing me do. Lot’s of strange physical stuff happened during the performance, and I even bit off my co-star’s ear. Which was awesome! I had fake blood oozing down my face for about 5 minutes during the show. I think my favorite on stage moment would be the silence from the audience (who were mostly close friends and family, my grandma too) where people didn’t know how to react.

Do you have a ‘guilty pleasure’ movie, tv show or song that most of your friends wouldn’t know you liked?
Ooh, this is a hard one. And not because I don’t have any guilty pleasure shows, but because I probably have too many to choose just one. I think that in an age where there are so many reality TV shows it’s hard to escape watching them. I used to be so vigilant in not watching them, as I feel it takes jobs away from hard working actors and isn’t exactly promoting engaging or thought provoking, new and exciting material. Instead it just replays the same format of material week after week. However, having said that, there is one reality TV show I have come to love in the past year and I don’t exactly know why. It’s… get ready for it… Dance Moms. There it is, massive cringe moment and you all now know my guilty pleasure.

What has been the best thing about working on The Cherry Orchard production so far?
There have been so many things. But the best part would be working with a group of people who work so hard and do it all for the love of the art. Rehearsing at The Depot Theatre and watching the theatre get built around us is so exciting. I feel like every time we arrive at rehearsal, David (who’s building it all) has made so much progress. It’s come together so quickly. These people love what they do, and do it because they love it. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

What do you feel is the most difficult part about working on the text of a Chekhov Play?
Chekhov writes in a very interesting way, where characters seem to repeat themselves quite a lot. Whether it be phrases, thoughts or even words, words are repeated, repeated again and again (see what I did there?). The challenges have ranged from simply learning the lines and remembering what order they come in, to finding the thought behind the line and why my character chooses to repeat some specific phrases.

How do you relax after a long day?
Getting into my pyjamas, making a delicious dinner, and sitting on the couch with my boyfriend.

Theo Kokkinidis

Theo Kokkinidis

Emily McGowan: What is your favorite post late night rehearsal snack?
Theo Kokkinidis: If I have any crackers in the pantry after getting home late, I am eating them without question. If not, then it’s a glass of red wine and a Woody Allen movie to make up for the snack.

What was it that first drew you to The Cherry Orchard and made you want to be involved in this project?
Chekhov’s plays have just attracted me ever since I first read them. There can be very little happening in the scene, but there’s so much going on within the characters and it’s fun to discover and work with that. Also, the fact that this is going to be a new venue is bloody exciting.

What is the thing that’s most similar between yourself and your character Peter Trofimov?
Oh boy, too much. He’s a man with a lot of passion and he sometimes doesn’t know what to do with it. Probably the most similar thing though is that he sometimes talks a lot longer than he should and as a lot of my friends know, that’s something I do often.

Being a Russian play, what do you find to be the hardest Russian word/name to pronounce? Please write it as it’s written and it’s spoken.
To be honest it’s my own name in the play, Peter Trofimov. I had an idea of what it sounded like when I read it before rehearsals started, but my emphasis was wrong. Peter is pronounced Pyeh-tyah and Trofimov is Troh-FEE-moff

What is the most embarrassing moment that you have ever had on stage?
My most embarrassing moment is actually also my most favorite moment on stage. I was a poor man about to give my huge speech to the villain which inevitably leads to his prosecution. It was about a page or two of dialogue, it started well of the first sentence or so, but then I just blanked. I improvised for a few seconds giving the general gist of what I was saying, until I just decided to yell out to my stage partner “What do you think of that!”. He caught on right away and continued on with his lines. The reason it’s also my favorite is because no one in the audience knew I screwed up and my partner was completely connected to me and knew what was going on.

Emily McGowan and Theo Kokkinidis will be appearing in The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov.
Dates: 15 Jul – 1 Aug, 2015
Venue: The Depot Theatre

5 Questions with Marine Grangier and Jamie Collette

Marine Grangier

Marine Grangier

Jamie Collette: How did you become involved with this production?
Marine Grangier: I was checking australianstagejobs.com.au because I was about to finish working on my previous production and saw Tom’s audition ad for The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged). I have read about that play before and was so grateful someone was staging it in Sydney that I just emailed Tom to say THANK YOU for doing it while letting him know that if he was looking for a stage manager I’d seriously be willing. Turned out he was and I got on board!

What’s it like stage managing 37 plays at once?
It’s like having severe ADD (attention deficit disorder). One moment I’m putting nail polish on severed (plastic) fingers and the next I’m building sock puppets. I must say I’m quite happy the original performers chose to cut down the number of actors from 1122 to 3 though.

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play and why?
I’d say As You Like It for its shocking modernity and Rosalind’s character. First time I heard her say things like “you may as soon make her that you love believe it, which I warrant she is apter to do than to confess she does” and “Sell when you can, you are not for all markets” I couldn’t believe this was written about 400 years ago. Shakespeare may not have had actresses to play his female roles but he created gold material for actresses nowadays.

What’s the best reason for people to come see The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged)?
You’ll be able to brag about your extensive knowledge of the Bard afterwards and nobody will know you’ve only watched Baz Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet. “Shakespeare? Yeah I’ve seen all his plays. My favourite? King John of course.”

What’s your favourite Shakespearean insult?
I immediately thought about “Thou art a villain” which cuts through BS and is uttered in our production, but after some research I must say “Thou art a general offence” and “my wife is a hobby horse” score quite high on both horrible and funny scales.

Jamie Collette

Jamie Collette

Marine Grangier: How did you first discover this show and what were your first impressions?
Jamie Collette: I first saw The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the opera house when I was 13, starring Darren Gilshenan, Erik Thompson and Damian Callinan, and I remember it being the most fun audience experience I had ever had. I knew then that I wanted to be in that show some day, and twelve years later here I am.

Which character, out of the 1122 in The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged), do you enjoy playing most in the show and why?
I think my favorite character to play has to be Macbeth, in our authentically Scottish rendition of the Scottish Play. Without too many spoilers, let’s say it involves near indecipherable accents, men in skirts, and a fight scene involving clubs from everyone’s favorite Scottish sport!

Moment of truth, did you find Shakespeare boring at school?
I have to confess, I was a huge Shakespeare nerd from an incredibly young age. I had read almost all the plays before I turned 13, and after seeing the show in 2003, I quickly made sure I read all the rest, even King John and All’s Well That Ends Well (which holds a special place in my heart). One of my life missions is to make Shakespeare and all classical text more accessible and enjoyable for kids.

I’m magically turning into a philanthropic producer who asks you which show you’d like to put on, what do you chose and which role do you shotgun?
I have had a production of Antony And Cleopatra rattling around in my brain for a few years that I’d love to execute, but the role I’d most love to play currently is Edmund from King Lear (for whom my older brother is named.)

What do you think Willy would think if he sat in the Genesian Theatre on July the 11th?
“I can’t believe they brought me back for this /
I ne’er did think that I should be so mock’d /
This play’s my work, yet all is gone amiss /
I tell you now, these actors are all f***’d. /
For never better reason could be found /
T’ Return my rotting corpse unto the ground.”

Marine Grangier will be Stage Managing and Jamie Collette will be appearing in The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Dates: 11 July – 8 August, 2015
Venue: The Genesian Theatre

Review: Avenue Q (Enmore Theatre)

avenueqVenue: Enmore Theatre (Newtown NSW), from Jul 2 – 18, 2015
Music and lyrics: Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx
Book: Jeff Whitty
Director: Jo Turner
Cast: Shauntelle Benjamin, Julia Dray, Kimberley Hodgson, Madeleine Jones, Owen Little, Matthew Predny, Nicholas Richard, Justin Smith, Riley Sutton, Rowena Vilar

Theatre review
On Avenue Q, everyone is struggling with the challenges of life, and all have quirks that lead them to feeling marginalised by society at some point, but they are a community that provides support to each other, no matter their differences. They embrace the diversity of their street, and never fail to put judgements aside, for a song and a dance, and more than a few laughs. It has been 12 years since the show’s original première off-Broadway, and the bona fide hit is now a well-oiled machine, tuned to perfection. The script is clever and engaging, with punchlines that never fail, and the songs are all witty and extraordinarily catchy.

Jo Turner’s direction for this Sydney run, is lively, mischievous, and surprisingly moving. He is conscious of the brand’s gently subversive nature, and speaks politically at appropriate moments, but it is his emphasis on the show’s joyful comedy and its sentimental poignancies that cuts through strongest. Every moment seems meaningful, and while not always deep, Turner consistently draws from us powerful emotional responses, both light and dark. The stage is kept active and busy, so that our senses are keenly enthralled, but our attention is focused on a tightly woven plot, relayed with crystal clarity, as is its range of characters.

A strong Australian cast is at the production’s helm, with Matthew Predny’s work as vocalist, puppeteer and actor leaving the greatest impression for his two roles, Princeton and Rod. Charming, effervescent and impossibly sweet, we devour everything that he offers up, and are amazed by all that he is capable of. Also compelling is Madeleine Jones as Kate Monster, whose big dreams remind us of forgotten idealism and who touches us with her tender youth and innocence. Jones’ portrayal is passionate, with thrilling vocals that gain control of our emotions with ease. It is a very warm presence that the team brings to the stage, making us all feel like everything’s A-OK, and we want to know how to get to Avenue Q… how to get to Avenue Q.

www.facebook.com/AvenueQSydney

Review: The Dapto Chaser (Apocalypse Theatre Company / Griffin Theatre Company)

apocalypseVenue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 1 – 25, 2015
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Glynn Nicholas
Cast: Danny Adcock, Noel Hodda, Jamie Oxenbould, Richard Sydenham
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Stories can have universal appeal, or they can be culturally specific. The two are not mutually exclusive, but it is a tall order to expect any work of the theatre to be able to explore unusual themes and contexts at great depth, while still being able to speak to everyone. Mary Rachel Brown’s The Dapto Chaser is not a work that can enthral every kind of audience, but it certainly represents a segment of society that is rarely seen on our stages, even if their existence in real life is ubiquitous and undeniable. Four men entrenched in the world of greyhound racing, staking their lives on the ambiguous divide between skill and chance. At its core, the work is about poverty and kinship, and although it can be seen as being critical of gambling, and does portray its addictive qualities as such, great care is taken to provide a sense of accuracy to the lives it depicts. The experiences resonate with a documentary-like truth, but without a watered down presentation, the play is not palatable to all.

Human resilience and the popular notion of the Aussie battler doing it tough, are expressed thoroughly and fluently by director Glynn Nicholas, who brings to the stage a microcosm of a disadvantaged family that is rarely revealed at such powerful and intimate detail. An invisible fifth character, the dog at the symbolic centre of its entire narrative, is given presence by a hint of deftly generated magical realism, but it is the hyper realistic delivery of very domestic scenarios that impress.

Four actors, all perfectly cast, each giving spectacular performances that leave no imaginable room for improvement. Richard Sydenham is flamboyant and wild as Cess Sinclair. He plays the role big and broad, but his comedy is cunningly subtle and genuinely funny. With a less than attractive character at hand, Sydenham brings to the fore unexpected tenderness and humanity at every opportunity, and we cannot help but surrender our empathy to his marvellous work. Jimmy is the younger Sinclair, more vulnerable and much less boisterous. Played by Jamie Oxenbould, whose authenticity on every level is disarmingly incredible. Oxenbould seems to refuse any glimpse of the actor, allowing us only to see the character he embodies. The show is unquestionably heightened in its naturalism, and the actor makes good dramatic use of his lines to highlight the story’s poignancies, but his creation is entirely believable, and at many points, captivating in its emotional sensitivity.

We all know the pain that comes with blood that flows thicker than water, and most of us understand the struggles of falling short at life’s promises, but our stories are not all the same. Diversity in media and the arts is a serious concern, and we must guard against the conformism that comes from a twisted misunderstanding of democracy that is determined to produce a universal blandness. On one hand, our tall poppy mindset persists, and on the other, our middle class aspirations keep our cultural cringes in check. What is generally acceptable, becomes narrower by the minute. Small stories are necessary, because it is in the deep excavation of a singular site, that the most meaningful inspirations can surface, even if they are not immediately accessible to every Tom, Dick and Harry.

www.apocalypsetheatrecompany.comwww.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Charles Allen and Anna Houston

Anna Houston

Anna Houston

Charles Allen: How do you prepare to play a character that isn’t even given a name in the play, you are only referred to as Curley’s Wife?
Anna Houston: I work like a script detective … what clues are in Steinbeck’s script, his novel? Then I broaden the scope to look at the time period she came from. That helps with filling in the gaps about domestic life, socio economics, education, and so on. The rest is imagination and intuition. So much of what you bring to a role is intuitive, emotional. That’s the fun stuff. I also found a beautiful letter that Steinbeck wrote to Claire Luce, the first actress to play Curley’s Wife on Broadway in 1937. In it, he discusses her background, her motivations and desires. That letter does a lot to restore her dignity and humanity.

Curley’s Wife wants to be a star in the movies… which would you choose, being a star on stage or in the movies?
Can I do both, please? I think I’ll go with being a star on stage, paid movie star money.

5 words you’d use to describe working with a cast of 10 actors.
A noisy explosion of creativity.

Favourite down time activity on your days off from acting?
Sleeping.

Why should people see Of Mice And Men?
Because it’s Steinbeck! It’s gritty, heart breaking and timeless. It’s epic on the most intimate and vulnerable scale. And the artists at the helm of this production are at the top of their game. Excellent direction, design and performances. It deserves a damn big audience!

Charles Allen

Charles Allen

Anna Houston: Of Mice And Men is controversial for its language and the social environment surrounding its only African American character Crooks, how do you feel playing a role like that?
Charles Allen: Well, that comes down to separating the ego of the actor from the behavior of the character. I feel fine especially considering playing such a character requires me to stretch as an actor.

Crooks likes to read a lot of books, which book have you read recently that you really enjoyed?
I’m into Memoirs Of A Dutiful Daughter right now and I am really enjoying that.

Which actors inspire you?
My friend and fellow actor Mark Nassar. He isn’t well known but I’d put him in the ring with any actor past or present.

You are currently based in Brisbane… what is the first touristy thing you’ve done in Sydney?
Take a picture of the Opera House.

Why should people see Of Mice And Men?
Because it’s an atypical love story that is destined for tragedy. It uses simple characters to tell a complex story. It’s beautiful.

Anna Houston and Charles Allen will be appearing in Spot For Jove Theatre’s Of Mice And Men/em> by John Steinbeck.
Dates: 9 – 25 July, 2015
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: Men (Red Line Productions)

redline1Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 30 – Jul 25, 2015
Playwright: Brendan Cowell
Director: Jessica Tuckwell
Cast: Cheree Cassidy, Sean Hawkins, Ben O’Toole, Jamie Timony
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
There are three men in the play, each representing a negative aspect of machismo. One is the narcissist, another is the brute, and the weakling makes the trio. Brendan Cowell’s script is filled with insecurity and angst about modern maleness. Set within an indeterminate but claustrophobic context, Jules, Bob and Guy are aggressive expressions of all that we think is wrong with boys and men in Western societies today. It is a real challenge creating a story with no likable characters, but the author’s own presence is strong in the piece, and his self-effacing approach is an appealing one. Cowell achieves a fine balance between manufacturing objectionable scenarios and dialogue, with a critical undercurrent that gives us the freedom to indulge in the often politically incorrect humour. Despite its coarse demeanour and brash tonalities, Men is deeply poetic, with a strange and tragic beauty accentuated by the hopelessness that it depicts.

Jessica Tuckwell’s direction of the work brings a showy brazenness that entertains for the entirety. Energy levels are pitched very high, but we are always conscious of substance and subtexts lying beneath. There certainly is a good amount of depth to the play, but much as we are invited to analyse these young men’s thoughts and behaviours, there seems an unwillingness to delve into the causes of their plight. Comedy is handled with an impressive restraint that shows sophistication, as well as a well-placed confidence in the script. Haizel, the sole female personality on stage is a predictably enigmatic figure, but Tuckwell resists ascribing her with an archetype and her resultant ambiguity adds interest, if slightly unsettling.

All performances are accomplished for the piece, especially that of Sean Hawkins, who impresses as the boundlessly vain Jules. The writing demands of its players loud and fast delivery, which means that characters can appear mono-dimensional, but Hawkins’ portrayal reveals fragility and bewilderment where least expected, and his ability to inject subtle flashes of irony into a world of conceit, is thoroughly delightful. The level of concentration and clarity that each actor displays for their own part, gives the production its electricity, and despite their despicability, we hang on to their every word and action, always eager for more.

There are some spiritual schools of thought that believe in the importance of knowing what it is that one desires, rather than knowing only what is undesired. The production only shows us the troubling parts of being human, but is hesitant at discussing the alternatives. Regardless, Men is hugely satisfying. Deeply interesting questions are brought up that refuse to be ignored, and the sheer visceral excitement derived from its excellent performances is quite exceptional. Men, can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

www.oldfitztheatre.com

Review: An Hour With Kay‏ (Kworks / The Old 505 Theatre)

kayarmstrongVenue: Old 505 Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), June 30 – July 5, 2015
Playwright: Kay Armstrong
Director: Kay Armstrong
Cast: Kay Armstrong

Theatre review
Meanings can be found anywhere, and in anything, but it requires that the observer draws their own conclusions on what, if anything, is being said. An Hour With Kay is abstract and absurd. The fact that time itself is highlighted by its very inclusion within the title of the work, makes us consider how we value those 60 minutes, and whether the artist Kay Armstrong justifies her procurement of the audience’s presence. Indeed, our presence is an important factor in the piece, which is characterised by an unusual freedom in Armstrong’s eagerness in incorporating our bodies and minds into the creation of a kind of theatre that is on some level, about the subversion of passive viewership. A quality of democracy figures heavily in her art. Maybe we are not in control of the action at all times, but we are certainly the ones who have to decide what it is that we experience.

Armstrong is a strong performer with excellent conviction, but she is uninterested in manipulating the resolutions we may or may not attain from participating in her work. It is about the here and now, and those 60 minutes of activity and energy that we are involved with. What happens after, is entirely reliant on our own creativity. The work is fascinating and engaging, with tempo that changes regularly, so that it evades predictability. Armstrong’s ability to surprise at every juncture keeps us intrigued, and a gentle sense of instability demands that we are attentive to what she might unleash upon us next.

An Hour With Kay satisfies with its concoction of all that is weird and wonderful, yet it challenges us, both in terms of our notions of components and definitions theatre and art, and also of our expectations as public consumers of culture. Art has the privilege of being able to take any form, and to break any rule. It is however, required to reconstitute something new in place of what it seeks to dismantle. The new is never easily understandable, but we can hope for it to connect in some way, and Kay Armstrong’s show reacquaints us with joy and wonder, which seem to become increasingly scarce with each passing year.

www.venue505.com/theatre | www.kworks.co