5 Questions with Nick Barkla and Justin Stewart Cotta

Nick Barkla

Nick Barkla

Justin Stewart Cotta: Who is your favourite female actor and why?
Nick Barkla: Laura Gordon is my favourite actress. I’ve worked with her several times and she has always inspired me to go deeper and harder with the work. A genuinely bold, powerful actress. Judy Davis is another favourite, an awesome talent!

With the federal government stripping money from the arts and instead allocating gazillions to military drones, do you feel that more artists will need to produce their own work?
Artists should always be creating and producing their own work. You have more control over what you’re doing and can tell the stories you feel are important and truly worth sharing with an audience. In my experience, it’s not a lucrative thing to do, but can be extremely creative and satisfying.

Most annoying thing your co-actor Justin does?
Justin isn’t shy about telling me where he thinks I should stand and how I should say a line, which can be annoying, but what’s more annoying is that he’s often right! He also makes this clicking noise with his tongue at the back of his mouth when he has asthma that is really disgusting.

What is the most challenging aspect of your character, Joey?
Joey is in emotional turmoil throughout the play, but it’s not in his personality to let it out. He’s caught between loyalty to his best mate, and the dawning realisation that he is in love with his best mate’s wife. He’s also been somewhat of a coward and it’s time for him to stand up and be counted. There are so many challenging aspects to this I can’t name one, but it’s been a great ride so far trying to work it all out.

Favourite meal after an exhaustingly intense two-hander play?
Love a good steak and chips after sparring with Justin all night.

Justin Stewart Cotta

Justin Stewart Cotta

Nick Barkla: Denny is a fantastically destructive character, what similarities do you have with him personally?
Justin Stewart Cotta:: Time has proven that I may well possess an addictive personality, though I am ten years sober now. The occasional violent impulse, a genuine love of people and a love of the senses and a lust for all things worldly are probably still inherent in my makeup, though these days I tend to mix it up with some yoga, reading inspiring memes on fb, and burning the odd stick of incense…

We met doing Glengarry Glen Ross, another Chicago-set drama, why were you excited to do A Steady Rain together?
We struck up a fairly immediate bromance on Glengarry Glen Ross, so in essence we just wanted to work together, and instead of doing the typical whining and sobbing over the state main stage theatre companies recycling the same actors and monopolising the best scripts, we just thought “fuck it”, let’s produce our own show. The script you proposed was excellent, so we approached Keith Huff directly for the rights to A Steady Rain and got them. He dug our vibe and our passion.

We both play cops in the play. Do you think you could have been a cop in real life?
No, despite the fact that I would LOVE to play dress ups and cuff folk willy nilly, I would be a terrible police officer. I would be unable to enforce many state and federal laws that are rotten from the core. I truly respect and appreciate how difficult the gig is, but I would more likely be sitting under a tree plucking a Gibson jumbo acoustic and snacking on fresh celery and hummus.

How would you describe the relationship between Denny and Joey, and do you expect any real-life tension to bleed into your work with me?
Denny and Joey love each other and fight each other in that archetypal dysfunctional family way. The bond is doubtless. However the day to day behaviour leaves you wondering how long they can last. I don’t really experience any tension with you. You are a fairly decent chap, but you def get royally annoyed with me when I direct in rehearsals. 🙂 P.S. I’m not the director, the wonderful Adam Cook is. In my defence, I am often right.

How important is it to find the humour and lightness in a play that tackles dark subject matter like A Steady Rain?
Yeah look, the humour and lightness is at a premium. But those colours will never be as important as the love these two best friends have for each other. A vulnerability and a commitment to the gentle truth, and our willingness/ability to bring those qualities to the stage will be the difference between giving you guys an average show or a gripping show.

Nick Barkla and Justin Stewart Cotta will be appearing in A Steady Rain by Keith Huff.
Dates: 22 September – 17 October, 2015
Venue: The Old Fitz Theatre

Review: The Aliens (Outhouse Theatre Co)

outhouseVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Aug 25 – Sep 19, 2015
Playwright: Annie Baker
Director: Craig Baldwin
Cast: James Bell, Jeremy Waters, Ben Wood
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Social outcasts are a sad fact of life. Communities are built upon identities that will inevitably exclude “undesirables”, some of whom can form sub-cultures, and others are left to their own devices. Annie Baker’s extraordinary The Aliens features the invisible and ignored; people judged to be of no value to economies, and are indeed, a burden to our gross domestic product. We refuse to acknowledge their contributions to society, because they contradict our definitions of what is valuable, and are considered to be of no benefit to our selfish needs. Baker’s writing is the most sensitive and tender piece of theatre one can wish to encounter. It presents downtrodden lives with an effortless humanity, looking at its neglected personalities and all their open wounds that fail to heal, with a persuasive compassion. Baker turns her strangers into intimately familiar beings, by revealing their pains and desires in a way that we can immediately recognise, and by her deft transformations of peculiarities into charming eccentricities.

Direction by Craig Baldwin is idiosyncratic and powerful. Every line of dialogue is replete with poignancy, along with the many purposeful silent pauses that occur to disarm and entrance. The play is rich with subtexts and references that resonate with great effectiveness, to communicate its message of acceptance and social inclusion. The vulnerability of its characters is portrayed with an unexpected dignity, so that their foibles and weaknesses cease to be strange or reprehensible. There is little in terms of narrative in the piece, but the relationships between its three men are carefully harnessed and perfectly realised. The unusual and intense representation of platonic love between men may be rarely seen on stage, but we believe every second of their intimate friendship, and it moves us from beginning to end.

KJ masks his sorrows with substances and laughter. Played by Ben Wood, the role ranges from being very silly to deeply sorrowful, and the actor runs that entire gamut of emotive and technical demands with wonderful fluency. There is a playfulness in Wood’s approach that urges us to meet KJ’s stories with an open heart, and the results are marvellously affecting. Jeremy Waters as Jasper, is heartbroken and heartbreaking. Coupling a beautiful innocence with impressive presence, Waters’ performance is irresistible, and also completely arresting. His style is understated yet robust, and charismatic beyond belief. In the role of awkward teenager Evan is James Bell, who lifts our spirits with a simple but accurate depiction of purity, and whose gentle approach provides a dimension of aching sentimentality that gives the show its exquisite melancholia.

Also noteworthy are the production’s visual design. Hugh O’Connor’s work on set and costumes is restrained but transportative. Its Americaness is convincing without being deafening, and his vibrant use of colour is a necessary and welcome counterbalance to an otherwise depressive environment. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman’s adventurous engagement with the incessant atmospheric shifts of the text, is a potent element that expertly guides us through the complex quandary of emotions that is The Aliens.

Anyone can fall, because nobody is invincible. In Annie Baker’s play, we see the kindness that people can have for each other, but also the care that is missing in much of our lives. It discloses the nature of how we do or do not look after each other, and evokes notions of unconditional love that many have forgotten. The outsiders of The Aliens connect in the most meaningful way possible, and watching their story unfold brings to mind our own interactions with the world; where we are successful, and where we flounder. As Australia’s attention to economic development becomes more obsessive than ever before, our interest in the ones who fall behind must grow accordingly. Instead, our political votes go to those who claim to protect our financial well being, and those who demonstrate consciousness beyond money, are struggling more and more with each passing election.

www.oldfitztheatre.com | www.outhousetheatre.org

Review: Dancendents (PACT Centre For Emerging Artists)

pactVenue: PACT Theatre (Erskineville NSW), June 17 – 20, 2015
Choreographers: Flatline, Leah Landau, Rhiannon Newton
Cast: Flatline, Leah Landau, Rhiannon Newton
Image by Matt Cornell

Theatre review
In the search for a definition of art, Flatline’s work Drawn To Move relies on the exposure of process in dance choreography to give meaning to a completed work. Two pencil scribblings are displayed on a wall, emulating archetypal notions of the art establishment. From a fine art perspective, the pieces are primitive and ugly, but in the live drawing of the third, the creators reveal the rationale behind the pieces, rendering irrelevant the commodified hanging objects, and shifting attention to the dance, and time, behind the inanimate finished products.

In a charming parallel, Rhiannon Newton’s Assemblies For One Body is concerned with using the rehearsal process quite literally, to present a performance piece. Newton goes through repetitive movements, with facial expressions and an eyeline that demonstrates an inward focus, as she seeks to unlock motion and gesture for reaching an intangible target of perfection. Without the presentational vocabulary of a conventional show, Newton relies on an enduring vitality to keep her audience engaged. We are drawn in by the energy of her tenacious commitment in exploring body and space, and she fascinates us with an intelligent juxtaposition of sounds (rhythmic and otherwise) with her physicality. We can never fully grasp Newton’s mental processes in each moment, but she certainly encourages us to form personal narratives and interpretations in the presence of her visual elucidations.

Leah Landau’s approach in Summer Bone is decidedly different. Inspired by ideas about nature, wildlife, farming and food, the work is underlined by a serious and earnest environmental concern, but with manifestations on stage that are humorous and thoroughly whimsical. Landau creates language with her body, and communicates persuasively, basic concepts of conservation, that would otherwise struggle to find sophistication in more conventional paradigms. It is hard to find new perspectives on long-standing issues, but art can establish new depictions so that we understand them with refreshed interest. Beyond its political message, Landau’s is a delightful piece of physical theatre that captures imagination, and amuses sight. It is dance that breaks a few rules, so that we come to a renewed appreciation of the artist’s passions.

When theatre abandons narrative, we see more clearly, why we do the things we do, and what it means to make art. Modern life is all but usurped by capitalism, and we forget our humanity outside its gluttonous and all-consuming monetary imperatives. Reading abstract dance, is to explore reasons behind human behaviour. Allowing incoherence to transpire, within the restrain of truth, will deliver a kind of beauty and transcendental pleasure that is unique to the art form, and it is in its embrace that we are reminded of the deeper and more rewarding facets of life.


5 Questions with Claudia Coy and Tina Jackson

Claudia Coy

Claudia Coy

Tina Jackson: You’re a bit of a screen personality, what’s the difference between film and theatre acting?
Claudia Coy: For me, it’s all about the audience interaction, especially in comedy. When I’m performing for the camera I have no idea if I’m hitting the right comedic notes until the preview screening, whether as in theatre you’ll know straight away whether or not you’re playing up to your audience and subtly adjust your performance accordingly. For more intense scenes, film sets are safer places because you have time to get to the emotional place that you need to, but that’ll never compare to the fun you can have interacting with your audience live.

The character of Jenny, do you resonate with her at all?
I had a bit of a rough time empathising with Jenny in the first few read throughs. There are similarities in that we’re both young, blonde, students but unlike me, she finds it really difficult to stand up for herself and lets people continually underestimate her without feeling the need to prove them wrong. She’s stronger than she comes across but in the same respect she has a heart of gold so would rather keep the peace than address the real issue. The one thing that really resonated with me, was Jennys territorial nature – she’s happily engaged and planning a wedding but there’s still someone from her past that she considers ‘hers’ and seeing him with someone else completely shakes her world up. I had a very similar experience last year and so I hope that I deliver Jenny in a way that justifies her action.

How has it been revisiting the text and the character after a year?
There’s always a huge low that comes with finishing any production, so when I was asked to reprise my role I absolutely jumped at the opportunity. Having James reprise his role as my fiance meant that I had an immediate source of comfort and familiarity, but having two new actors in the cast brought a lot of new energy and perspective. I’ve found that Tina and Luke’s interpretations of Evelyn and Adam, has dramatically effected the way I perceive Jenny and her role in their friendship group and so my performance has evolved as well.

How do you prepare for roles?
When I auditioned for The Shape Of Things the first time around, a friend suggested I watch the film before I go in. I feel like the worst thing an actor can do is purposely base their own performance on someone else’s artistic choices. To prepare for an audition, I just sit down and get as familiar with the script that I can while thinking of key characteristics and ticks that make my character who they are. To prepare for the actual performance nights, I need to have at least 15 minutes by myself before we go, especially when the rest of the cast have become good friends – you almost need time to shake those friendships off so that you can see them as their characters and interact accordingly.

What can audiences take away from The Shape Of Things?
The Shape Of Things is so multifaceted. The main plot line is incredibly engaging and the big twist always shocks the audience but before that even happens you get a really unique insight into friendship, insecurities, attraction and power. The Shape Of Things has the ability to make an audience empathise with even the nastiest of actions.

Tina Jackson

Tina Jackson

Claudia Coy: This is your first ‘straight’ piece, how different is it to say, a cabaret or musical?
Tina Jackson: Well, for me I’ve always found straight theatre less emotionally accessible – it’s so easy with musical theatre to let the music carry you away before you even delve any deeper to the characters or story. I find this kind of theatre much more intellectual. I go home from rehearsals mentally drained!

You lived in London for a couple of years. What’s the biggest difference to the industry here, and the industry there?
The industry over there is just SO BIG. There are more professional shows being performed at any given time than Australia could hope to produce in years. The fringe scene is also huge over there – there are plenty of fringe festivals and plenty of amazing fringe theatres constantly putting on new work. There also isn’t as much of a divide between “music theatre” and “straight actors” over there – here I’ve found if you come from a music theatre background it is very difficult to get a foot in the casting room for film and tv.

Do you have any dream roles? Regardless of gender and age?
I would love to play Maureen in Rent. Or Bruce Bogtrotter in Hairspray.

What’s your biggest fear as an actor?
I think it’s the same for everyone. Being able to make a sustainable living doing what we do is almost impossible and not being able to set yourself up for the future is pretty scary.

What are your thoughts on the vastly growing musical scene in Sydney?
It was pretty exciting to come back from London and see so much was going on. Companies like the Hayes and Squabbalogic are doing the most beautiful small productions and it’s nice to see hugely successful overseas shows like Matilda and The Book Of Mormon are finally coming here as well.

Claudia Coy and Tina Jackson will be appearing in The Shape Of Things by Neil Labute (part of Sydney Fringe 2015).
Dates: 15 – 20 September, 2015
Venue: Kings Cross Hotel

Review: Mothers And Sons (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Aug 21 – Sep 27, 2015
Playwright: Terrence McNally
Director: Sandra Bates
Cast: Tim Draxl, Thomas Fisher, Jason Langley, Anne Tenney
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
In Mothers And Sons, Terrence McNally uses the simplest of stories to present a range of thoughtful and provocative themes that are relevant to both our contemporary concerns, and to perennial troubles of human nature. Katharine comes to visit an impossibly perfect gay couple, Cal and Will, at their apartment in Manhattan. Andre (Katharine’s son and Cal’s previous partner) had died of AIDS 20 years ago, and it is only now that Katharine decides to pick up the pieces, and to find resolution with demons of the past that continue to haunt her. McNally’s writing is emotional, intelligently meaningful, and striking in its lyrical beauty. There is also an engaging humour in its dry wit and dark comedy that underscore the tormented relationships being dissected.

Sandra Bates’ direction of the piece explores with sensitivity, the many social issues and personal afflictions characteristic of the play. There is a deliberate gravitas that gives the production its integrity, and whether dealing with intimate matters like resentment and regret, or wider subjects of kinship and homophobia, Bates is able to give them all a reverential emphasis that encourages its audience to handle with care. The play tends however, to be too serious in tone, especially at its early stages, where our encounter with personalities require a lighter touch.

Played by Anne Tenney, Katharine is a staunch figure, a mean old woman whose incessant use of the word “hate” reveals as much about herself as it does her pessimistic view of, well, everything. Tenney’s portrayal is psychologically convincing and ultimately a moving one, but the comical eccentricities of her character’s melancholic despair are not embraced with enough power. The actor delivers a few laughs over the course of the show, but the exuberance of the text is frequently downplayed to accommodate a more literal interpretation of Katharine’s depressed experience of the world. Jason Langley is an extremely gentle Cal, very amiable and authentic, but insufficiently agitated in his tensions with Katharine, and often too subtle with his passion for his gay rights and lovers. Both actors create together, a stunning final scene of breathtaking sentimentality, but the arduous journey towards the play’s conclusion could be managed with greater, and more entertaining, turbulence. Adding a dimension of liveliness to proceedings is Tim Draxl in the supporting role of Cal’s husband Will. Draxl sustains an impressive energy through sequences of shifting temperaments, and is relied upon to provide breaths of fresh air at each entrance, to a very restrained stage.

We all feel the trajectory of time and the way it moves things forward, with or without our selves. Katharine is deeply unhappy, but she refuses to accept the transformations that occur around her, and withdraws from participating in the joys of life that are easily within reach. The feelings of being hard done-by are familiar to everyone, and Mothers And Sons illustrates with excellent clarity, the anguish of being enslaved by one’s own obstinacy. It also persuades us on the changing nature of the family unit; how we conceive of same-sex marriages and the bearing of children within those unions. A woman unable to reconcile her homophobia with her son’s sexuality punishes much more than herself. Hate tries to contaminate its environment, and often it succeeds, but truth and the human conscience has a way of defeating its poison, even if the process needs to drudge through generations of struggle and wasted lives.


Review: Kaleidoscope (Theatre21)

theatre21Venue: M2 Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 19 – 23, 2015
Playwright: Charlie O’Grady
Director: Finn Davis
Cast: Harry Winsome
Image by Alex Smiles

Theatre review
Gabriel is a young trans man who has been transitioning for four years, but who still finds it hard to leave his home for the big wide world in the mornings. On the day of our encounter, he struggles in front of a mirror for 90 minutes, and we witness how difficult it is for him to do the most basic of things; to get dressed and exit his front door. Stories about transgender experiences are not hard to come by, especially at this very point in time, as mainstream consciousness gains awareness of issues surrounding trans people, but Charlie O’Grady’s Kaleidoscope is an articulate and exceptionally insightful expression of the realities of trans youth at our specific day and age. The tale remains one characterised by pain and conflict, but it is an au courant representation of the continual evolution of ideologies and language in the discussion of gender. O’Grady’s script is sensitive, powerful, cerebral, emotional, and very repetitive. It takes pains to describe Gabriel’s entrapment with circular and recurring motifs that can frustrate its audience, but it serves to depict the persistent turbulence that Gabriel goes through with every breath of his life. Early sections of the play are overtly didactic, which is probably helpful for most viewers who are unfamiliar with the climate under examination, although a greater sense of sophistication with tone could make things more palatable.

Staging of the work is straightforward, but excessively so. Gabriel is in his bedroom, speaking into the mirror for over an hour, and virtually nothing changes. The monologue format is a challenging beast, not just for those on stage, but also for an audience that needs more than a fascinating subject, especially when the show runs for more than several minutes. We need definite transformations of scenes so that our senses can stay engaged, and we need to feel clear shifts in the character’s journey so that we can stay connected. Kaleidoscope however, delivers a long and continuous oration that, although very coherent and truthful, often proves to be too unvarying for our attention to stay intimate with. Harry Winsome’s performance is a solid one, and he impresses with the fluency of his lines, never stumbling over the extremely extensive and demanding strands of words. The emotions he conveys can seem intense and forceful, but they rarely translate with sufficient depth and authenticity to captivate; we hear his thoughts objectively, without being able to relate with his sentimentalities truthfully.

Gabriel is at war with the world, and with himself. He thinks that his story is about finding acceptance in the world, but it is clear that the biggest hurdle to his own happiness is himself. On many levels, the play is a universal one. We all come into adulthood with doubt and challenges, and finding permission to live freely is never easy. Gabriel obsesses over his reflection, thinking that it is the gaze of others that oppresses him, but like anyone, he must come to realise that the only affirmation worth receiving is from himself, and until he stops waiting for consent to arrive from without, can he allow his own emancipation to occur.


Review: The Tempest (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 19 – Sep 18, 2015
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: John Bell
Cast: Robert Alexander, Matthew Backer, Felix Gentle, Brian Lipson, Arky Michael, Hazem Shammas, Maeliosa Stafford, Damien Strouthos, Eloise Winestock
Image by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Shakespeare’s fantastical masterpiece The Tempest, with all its mystique and magic, is almost an allegory for the transportative and imaginary qualities of the world of theatre. On Prospero’s island, anything can happen, and on the stage, it is precisely that boundless unpredictability that makes it a special, and for many, sacred space. Whether it is the stories of everyday that are being presented, or manifesting scenarios beyond the wildest of dreams, theatre has the ability to provide something extraordinary to all its participants.

Like Prospero abandoning the magical arts at the play’s end, John Bell directs his last production with this rendition of The Tempest. The cast he has amassed is an impressive one, and Bell’s extensive acting background is clear to see, in the fascinating and intricate characters being brought to life. Every player is detailed, energetic and palpably present, yet the resultant show is oddly placid. Themes of the text fail to resonate. Ideas such as the distinctions we draw between nations, between nature and civilisation, between freedom and confinement, struggle to find illumination, even though their presences in modern life remain relevant. Exoticism is explored well in the show, but its sense of adventurous fantasy is not always established with sufficient dynamism. Music by Alan John and sound design by Nate Edmondson are outstanding features; helping to drive the production through atmospheric transformations and exquisite moments of ethereality. Less successful are its visual elements that seem to lack whimsy and ambition. The story being told is celestial and outlandish, but what we see is staid and dated. Even exits and entrances are awkwardly managed to accommodate the inconvenient access to stage wings of the uninspired set.

Prospero is played by Brian Lipson, whose nuanced and vibrant performance provides sustenance for the entire plot, and whose sharp focus keeps us compelled. The production suffers from an overall lack of poignancy, but Lipson depicts emotions with gravitas and complexity that assist with some level of audience identification. Arky Michael and Hazem Shammas are a show-stealing couple whose mischievous antics are a persistent source of amusement. They create some of the most memorable sequences with brilliantly broad comedic interpretations of their dual roles (Michael plays Sebastian and Trinculo, and Shammas is Antonio and Stephano), captivating us with what looks to be an updated, and improved, Laurel and Hardy act.

The story is about kingdoms, sorcery, and heavenly creatures, but the show does not bear the majesty of the famed text. With its delicate and sincere approach, it is easy to be disappointed by the production’s simplicity, even though the thoroughness of its thespian executions are evident. William Shakespeare’s imagination is a genius that is unparalleled, and it seems that our meagre capacities in the dark auditorium requires greater facilitation, in order to achieve the same vision he had intended.