Review: Ruby Moon (Samsonite Productions)

samsoniteproductionsVenue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 12 – 23, 2015
Playwright: Matt Cameron
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Pash Julian, Samantha Lee
Image by Jacob Strong

Theatre review
Matt Cameron’s Ruby Moon is a dark exploration into the human condition at extraordinarily difficult times. The Moon family experiences a profound loss, and we witness the manifestations that follow, in psychological and behavioural terms. Cameron’s writing is morbidly fascinating and very entertaining, with an unusual approach to the way we express bereavement. The script finds a beautiful balance between humour and anguish that allows for a thoroughly amusing theatrical experience in spite of its undeniable gravity. The strange dialogue and quirky characters are brilliantly constructed for a unique experience that can still engage our emotions.

Direction of the work by Johann Walraven brings an intrigue to the stage that befits the mysterious nature of Cameron’s play, and the unpredictability of the plot is successfully preserved in this incarnation. There are good attempts at offbeat comedy, but the haunting qualities of the text are not sufficiently explored. Design aspects are elegantly executed but they need to be pushed further for a stronger gothic feel to take hold that will help to provide greater drama. Also lacking in drama are its performances, which present insufficiently, the fundamental elements of sorrow and desperation that should feature prominently in the trauma that the Moons go through. However, both players Pash Julian and Samantha Lee show good focus, and demonstrate ability at versatility in the wide range of characters they inhabit.

The dark side of humanity is full of potential for any artist to create work that would communicate with satisfying depth, but we all have a special familiarity with personal pain that disallows any hint of falseness or inaccuracy when theatre decides to confront those inner demons. Ruby Moon is at its best when we catch glimpses of the unbelievable horrors that life is capable of delivering, but its lighter sections are also charming enough to retain our attention at other times, even if we do hanker for the nightmares to continue more powerfully for everyone concerned.

5 Questions with Nicole Shostak and Philippe Klaus

Nicole Shostak

Nicole Shostak

Philippe Klaus: Nicole, you do a lot of character voices for cartoons. How does that compare to being a 3D live ‘human’ in the play Flame Peas?
Nicole Shostak: Griffin, our director, describes the play Flame Peas like a live action Simpsons episode and it definitely has that energy to it! Studio recording for animation is super physical so it’s not all that different in that domain. Valencia (my character) has a lot of hilarious punchlines in the play sound like they are straight out of an animation geared for adults. What’s more exciting in the show, is that we have each other and the audience to play off. The audience changes from night to night and playing with their energy is very fun. You don’t get that audience buzz in animation recordings. You can make the sound engineer laugh, and then you know you’re on the money.

Flame Peas sounds more like a recipe than a show. If you had to make a recipe by that name, what would you put in?
Peas, garlic, onion, pesto. Sautee peas for 2 mins in saucepan, then slide peas and onion individually onto a baby wooden skewer. Slowly toast skewer over an open fire (like a marshmallow) until lightly browned. Conveniently there is an open fireplace of sorts at the Old Fitz in the front bar.

Any favourite moments in the show?
The epic Flame Peas (Flame Trees) extravaganza song is a highlight because its so highly improvised and feels fresh every night. I love counting real money on stage; there is such gravity to that action, and I can feel the audience watching me meticulously.

How much does the show change from night to night?
The show really is like a 4 hander! The audience’s presence and responsiveness changes the pace and energy of the show. With a responsive audience, it is like a stand up comedy act with the audience laughing every three or four lines. With a pensive audience, it plays energy can become darker, more absurd, and therefore for us, it has a Pinteresque feel. It is also interesting to see the varying responses from younger and older demographics.

You did some training in Russia. Do we see that influence here in Flame Peas?
Griffin and I both spent time in Russia during WAAPA, so there is definitely a Russian influence in our theatre making. The show is like a series of etudes (studies) in various combinations of the three characters. We talked a lot about keeping the energy light, like bubbly champagne, regardless of the darker reality of these characters. There is a lightness and plasticity in performance we witnessed from Russian actors, so in our shows development, starting with lightness lead us into playfulness and then we could explore a wider range of sensibilities for our characters. We also discussed some secret quotes from Stanislavski’s diary. Finally, there many Chekhovian references in our play, especially from The Seagull.

Philippe Klaus

Philippe Klaus

Nicole Shostak: Philippe, what is a Flame Pea?
Philippe Klaus: It’s a Western Australian flower, and in its plural form, flame peas, it’s also a pun on Flame Trees by Cold Chisel. It’s a very apt title for the show. If you see it you’ll think “that’s so dumb AND smart.”

You’ve worked with some Australian icons like Toni Collette and John Jarratt ; what’s it like reuniting with your WAAPA classmates?
A lot less intimidating. But they were both very nice to me and people are just people no matter how iconic they are. As for going back to WAAPA classmates, it was great because we have a shorthand and don’t offend each other easily.

How has being a writer on Flame Peas changed your perspective on playwrights?
It made me think about how hard writing for other people must be. It’s one thing to write for yourself or for actors you know well but handing it over to a group of strangers who can interpret it any way they like…that’s brave. Playwrights must feel like they’re always putting their babies up for adoption.

What is your character’s dream job? What is your dream job? Are they similar?
My character aspires to being a highbrow composer and he’s deeply narcissistic. I can say that without judgment because I relate to that kind of vanity. My own dreams aren’t very concrete. I want to tell good stories, but I don’t mind what they’re about or what medium it is. I’m not much of a planner.

You play the piano upside down in the show. How does that differ to playing the piano the right side up?
Playing upside down is just like playing the right way up except you can’t see the keys and your range is a little limited. And all the blood rushes to your head. It’s more of a ‘sometime’ activity.

Nicole Shostak and Philippe Klaus are writers and performers for Flame Peas .
Dates: 4 – 15 August, 2015
Venue: The Old Fitz Theatre

5 Questions with Fiona Hallenan-Barker and Benjamin Brockman

Fiona Hallenan-Barker

Fiona Hallenan-Barker

Benjamin Brockman: Tell me a bit about yourself?
Fiona Hallenan-Barker: My name is Fiona and I’m a theatre-holic… I am a freelance theatre director, part-time theatre programmer, graduate of Theatre Nepean and Victorian College of Arts, dramaturg, producer, teacher, photographer, arts advocate, wife to a classical archaeologist and co-owner of a cavoodle named Kubrick.

How did you come to be here?
I had worked with Mad March Hare a couple of years ago on fantastic project at The Old 505 Theatre called Still by Jane Bodie. My co-director Emma Louise and I have worked together many times before; the latest was when I directed Philip Ridley’s Piranha Heights for the Spare Room. Ridley is a brilliant writer and a very generous artist. Meeting him in London, seeing his work there and talking about his aesthetic, I became an even bigger fan. He has a tremendous body of work: The Pitchfork Disney, The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Vincent River, Mercury Fur, Radiant Vermin, Shivered and so many more plays and films. His kids’ books are tremendous too. So, of course I jumped at the chance to come on-board this beautiful, one-woman show.

In every show that you have done is there a reoccurring item, why?
Oh, the bed thing. Yes, I always seem to work with beds – I also never work with black-outs or clocks on stage (for obvious reasons). Beds are fantastic to work with as they are so meaningful in a range of contexts from domestic, to clinical, to public anonymous spaces. Of the 20 or so productions I have directed, only one or two haven’t had a bed; in the laboratory with actors they provide a safe area for violent, physical exploration as well. When Emma and I started delving into Dark Vanilla Jungle, one of the first things we talked about was having a bed; so, yes, we can guarantee that it will feature in this production too.

If you could pick one song that would form the soundtrack of your life, what would it be, and why?
That’s a good one, like most theatre makers my soundtrack to life is very much about the music used in each show, so it’s a very eclectic mix. In Dark Vanilla Jungle Philip Ridley wrote the lyrics to a beautiful song by Dreamskin Candle called Ladybird Fist. It is a beautiful, gentle Laura Marling-esque type melody with some amazing lyrics that are pure Ridley:

My lovers hands hold me close at night.
….His warm embrace fills my dark with light.
…But I have seen his fist sometimes and that fist is speckled in red
For red is the colour of love he said
Now kiss my ladybird fist, sweet love…

Have a listen on iTunes. Or – even better – come along to the show.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest 10 being the highest) how awesomely easy are you to work with?
Obviously a 10 out of 10, hang on, we haven’t even gone into tech week yet so maybe a 7 at this point. But my dog did eat your shoes in one of our design meetings so that’s at least an 8. Okay, how about 10 out of 10 for the overall project. You know Ben, we have the potential to go all the way to 11 if you will reconsider a revolve, live animals, and some pyro….

Benjamin Brockman

Benjamin Brockman

Fiona Hallenan-Barker: As one of Sydney’s most prolific designers, what have you been working on recently?
Benjamin Brockman: Prolific? Ha, in other words ‘a whore’! To answer this question I had to look at my website ( shameless plug) and I counted that so far I have done 17 shows this year and so it is hard to remember what was when. But recently I lit Great Island at 107 Project on 24 hours’ notice; that was a blast (when in doubt add strobe lights). I then lit Detroit at Darlinghurst Theatre Company which I really enjoyed as I got to play with projection as a light source. Finally, Space Cats about a week ago was a showing of a new cabaret/musical about sexually depraved cats from outer space. Coming up I have The Aliens at the Old Fitz (August), Dark Vanilla Jungle and a tour of Vampire Lesbians Of Sodom to Melbourne.

What is your signature item (and no, it can’t be a gel colour)
What! I can’t pick a colour? Well if I could pick a colour it would be Lee 139 which is Primary Green. I am notorious for trying to sneak green into my shows whereever I can. But since I cannot pick a colour, I have to say I am a really big user and collector of gobos – which are a mixture of metal or glass discs that go in to lights to create texture or images with light. Not many can understand my love of gobos but they just add some much texture to light, giving a heightened sense of movement and a really easy way to give a sense of location. You have an outside scene? Just add cloud gobos!

How do you translate yours and the creative team’s vision of the play into the physical space in Philip Ridley’s world?
This is a hard one. When reading a play often I come up with one image that speaks to me the most and through discussion with other people it helps me to develop the ideas. We then settle on something after hours of arguing and scrunched up paper. I am much better when taking about ideas with others because it helps me to come up with new ones and I also like working with people and directors who are open to discussion from all departments rather than being dictated to on what someone wants. If you have more than one brilliant mind in the room – use them. That then leads to references and then it is just a case of starting to research and start sourcing materials to fill the design that we have come up with. Within budget, of course.

Favourite line from Dark Vanilla Jungle and why?
Page 15 “Where am I now?…The light is so bright. I… I am laying on something cold.” Basically this line inspired me to come up with the design we have created.

What is your Concert of Shame? (ie are you going to shock us all by revealing you have seen Justin Bieber live three times?)
I am a religious watcher of Dance Moms. Each week I tune in to watch little girls get yelled at by Abby Lee Miller – and I love it! I have no shame…

Fiona Hallenan-Barker and Benjamin Brockman’s next show is Dark Vanilla Jungle by Philip Ridley, presenting as part of Sydney Fringe 2015.
Dates: 1 – 12 Sep, 2015
Venue: The Old 505 Theatre

Review: The Present (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre at Walsh Bay (Sydney NSW), Aug 4 – Sep 19, 2015
Playwright: Andrew Upton (after Anton Chekhov’s Platonov)
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Anna Bamford, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Buchanan, David Downer, Eamon Farren, Martin Jacobs, Jacqueline McKenzie, Brandon McClelland, Marshall Napier, Susan Prior, Richard Roxburgh, Chris Ryan, Toby Schmitz
Images by Lisa Tomasetti

Theatre review
What is now known to be Anton Chekhov’s Platonov, was an unpublished manuscript discovered a decade after the playwright’s 1904 death. His sister had called it “a long play without a title”, and it remains an obscure component of the master’s oeuvre. Andrew Upton’s The Present is an adaptation of the aforementioned work by the young Chekhov, and is significantly transformed from its original manifestation. The play is now updated, with events moved to the mid 1990’s, and its structure and language thoroughly altered to address our sensibilities in the early twenty-first century.

The play reads like a tribute to Chekhov, with his distinctively dry sense of humour and his legacy in Russian realism featuring prominently in its style and tone, but The Present is much more powerful and immediately provocative than its predecessor. Act One begins with Anna Petrovna firing a pistol into the audience, an act of aggression that warns us of the exhilarating ride that is to follow. Scenes are short and sharp, with vibrant characters full of intriguing quirk engaging in intense dialogue. Even in its early moments before “shit went down” (Upton’s words), tension is palpable and we always sense that an eruption is imminent. In fact, the play is repeatedly explosive, and at three hours, its ability to keep us on the edge of our seats is a remarkable achievement.

Directing the production is John Crowley, who introduces a wild and ferocious energy to the typically Chekhovian setting of gentries, then enforcing an air of restraint over its characters to create a sense of agonising oppression, that threatens to burst at the seams with every hint of conflict and confrontation. Crowley’s astounding ability to sustain the very satisfying comedy of the production throughout its increasingly disastrous and painful chain of revelations, creates a rare viewing response that is strangely potent. The tragicomedy manages to elicit feelings that alternate between mirthfulness and dread, almost to reflect the complexity of lived experience, and surprises us with the unexpected sensation of having these seemingly incompatible emotions co-exist singularly.

The philosophical aspects of The Present are undeniable, but they are presented with subtlety and benevolence, frequently through metaphor and symbolism not unlike Chekhov’s preferred mode of expression. Often with a playful, but ultimately poignant approach, we are urged to consider its universal themes from a personal perspective. Love and loss, honesty and delusion, hope and despair, all become resonant dichotomies, no matter our distance from the Russian summer of 1993. Design elements of the show are elegant and fairly minimal, but space is dutifully manipulated to frame performance and to aide the projection of its actors’ work, so that our attention falls squarely on their unbelievably nuanced portrayals. There are no distractions from what the play wishes to convey, but its central construct of materialism versus truth, might be a bitter pill for some regardless of the clarity at which the message is laid on stage.

Cate Blanchett attacks her role, and the tenets of the text, with a forceful conviction that can only emerge from the extremely talented. The star’s undisguisable passion for her craft is a coherent match for the determination and fortitude of Anna, a woman coming very close to the end of her tether. Her portrayal of drunken and unhinged abandonment in Act Two is sheer theatrical delight, and a beautiful blend of studied precision with courageous impulse. Blanchett’s incredible allure keeps us spellbound, and she uses it to deliver the many thoughtful intentions of the play, which we absorb with enthusiastic acquiescence. Mikhail, the self-loathing cad brimming with regret, is played by the equally stellar Richard Roxburgh, with magnificent comedic aplomb. His flawless timing and uncanny capacity to intuit his audience’s temperament at all times, ensures that we are fascinated, entertained, shocked and moved, at his will. Roxburgh amuses us with outrageous frivolity, while lucidly communicating his character’s experiences and troubles at impressive depth. We identify intimately with Mikhail’s destruction, and the actor’s work leaves us wanting for nothing.

Questioning life, is not a daily preoccupation for many, but it is the business of artists to investigate and challenge the way we view our world, and then present to us, all that they discover. Andrew Upton’s The Present is concerned with contemporary life, and the choices we make as individuals. It is interested in the definitions of fulfilment, success and happiness, and Upton gifts us with the urgent encouragement for the pursuit of enlightenment while time rushes past. Life is meaningless without death, and while the end is always nigh, it is the now that must be cherished, and it is in the now that we must find redemption.

Review: Artwork (Carriageworks)

carriageworksVenue: Carriageworks (Eveleigh NSW), Aug 5 – 8, 2015
Artists: Branch Nebula

Theatre review
In Branch Nebula’s Artwork, eight members of the general public respond to a job advertisement and are put on stage at short notice. They follow prompts and instructions provided in a variety of ways, and become the performers of a theatrical piece before our eyes. The results are stunning. Our senses are skilfully engaged by a talented team that includes Mirabelle Wouters (set and lighting design) and Phil Downing (sound design), who create a highly sophisticated atmosphere wherein the cast carries out tasks that become the content of the show unfolding.

The range of activities is plotted shrewdly. Even though stories and narratives are never manufactured in a conventional sense, the audience is forced to establish meaning from personal perspectives based on the collection of symbols that arise from the work’s very articulate abstractions. In addition to machinations of the actual artwork occurring on stage, our attention is drawn to further themes about work and of art in general, which it explores at varying levels of subtlety. In the realm of work, ideas about the economy and capitalism relating to individual volition and the objectification of the disadvantaged, make for the show’s most pointed moments. Concepts about artistic intention also resonate with power, as we witness the “workers” carrying out mindless undertakings, as we formulate for ourselves, streams of meanings and consequences independent of their subjective processes and experiences.

Artwork is a gentle exploration into democracy and social equity. It looks at the state of our societies as they exist, and implicates its audiences and participants into the ways our world is allowed to function. The piece places us in the position of privilege, in order that we may achieve greater awareness about the failures of social and political systems, of which our involvement cannot be refused. In the stillness of Artwork, we are confronted with the fractures of our humanity, but we also discover its inherent and invulnerable strength, and a precarious hopefulness that we cannot help but embrace. |

Review: Seventeen (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Aug 1 – Sep 13, 2015
Playwright: Matthew Whittet
Director: Anne-Louise Sarks
Cast: Peter Carroll, Maggie Dence, John Gaden, Genevieve Lemon, Barry Otto, Anna Volska
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It is the last day of school, and five seventeen year-olds are celebrating the milestone with great happiness and too much booze. Performed by actors in their seventies, the play promises to offer refreshing perspectives of a rite of passage that most of us are familiar with. Matthew Whittet’s script for Seventeen explores teenage life at its later stages, when adolescents begin to think about the future, and the choices they inevitably have to make. The writing’s approach is a gentle one that shows a mainstream idea of youth that does not use its characters to shock or sensationalize. The group seems thoroughly regular, and it is worthwhile giving them a voice, without requiring them to be controversial or achieving anything particularly extraordinary or dramatic. Their concerns and interests are revealed with honesty, and the play derives its dynamism from the colourful optimism of its teenage personalities, but challenges exist in dealing with what is essentially quite pedestrian experiences. The text has enough vibrancy and surprises peppered through its plot, but if it is to be performed by age appropriate actors, one can imagine the work to lack a sense of theatricality, and come across too ordinary. If casting much older players is the only way the play gains its edge, it can be interpreted that the manoeuvre is somewhat gimmicky, but the production does manage to use the age discrepancy in fascinating ways at many points.

The comedic components of the show are effective and very memorable. Watching these seniors mimic the physical and verbal expressions of persons much younger is a joy, and we never tire of the immediate and awkward juxtaposition of behaviour against body, young against old. Director Anne-Louise Sarks introduces that humorous sense of contemporariness into much of the piece, and the cast executes them with triumphant results, no matter how juvenile or, at times, embarrassing. Less successful however, are the many scenes of quite serious conversations in the latter half, where its characters indulge in romantic squabbles, and the performances loses its ironic charm. The tone of the show turns earnest, and as it moves away from comedy, it simultaneously loses energy and tension, and the strong focus placed on puppy love shifts the production from a thoroughly amusing one, to something altogether less involving.

At the centre of Seventeen is a meditation on how we conceive of the future, at different stages of life. A particularly moving scene involves Tom declaring his feelings about leaving his town and his friends, at the conclusion of his high school education. Actor Peter Carroll performs the scene with outstanding sensitivity and intuition, communicating the duality of his character’s sadness, and the undeniable poignancy of an older man saying goodbye to the mortal world. Carroll’s power on stage comes not only from his ability to tug at our heartstrings but also from his amazing agility that defies our beliefs about ageing. Equally magnetic is Barry Otto as the kooky and childlike Ronny, a character on the periphery, unpopular but undefeated, always exuberant and full of kindness. The role needs better integration into the play’s main narratives, but his presence is a touch of innocent tenderness that provides a balance to the boisterous and libidinous goings on that gives cohesion to the stories. Genevieve Lemon plays the very cheeky and adorable fifteen year-old Lizzy with expert comic timing and a very pronounced stage presence. We welcome each of her entrances and anticipate every one of her hilarious punchlines.

Time may not always be linear, but in Seventeen, we are reminded that turning back the clock is impossible, and that the desire to do so, is misguided. The elderly are able to contribute so much to society that cannot be matched by the young. Of course, the reverse is also true, but wisdom that comes from age and experience cannot be replaced or surpassed. What we witness in the show are stories about the very immature of our communities, presented by a group with centuries worth of combined insight and intelligence. They do not say very much more than what is asked of them, but we are glad to have them in our midst, putting on display their talent and skill, all for our benefit.

5 Questions with Debora Krizak and Wayne Scott Kermond

Debora Krizak

Debora Krizak

Wayne Scott Kermond: You have interesting and diverse talents in show business, what do you enjoy most as a performer?
Debora Krizak: I enjoy hearing an audience laugh. I wondered for years what it was that I loved most about being on stage and then I started getting a few comedic roles and there was no doubt in my mind that this is what I wanted to do more of. Life’s too short not to laugh so laugh out loud, peeps. I also love a good spontaneous adlib. We have so many great ad-libbers in Anything Goes. I only wish I got more stage time with Wayne and Todd. That could be dangerous.

How did you get started in this business we call show?
I started out as a young four-year-old at a local suburban dance school in Adelaide. They used to put on amateur concerts and from the age of 11 they put us all around a piano and bashed out “As Long As He Needs Me” from Oliver. I think I might have been the only eleven-year-old there that day that could naturally pick up the melody and remain in tune. So the role was mine. It was a great learning experience. My mum would buy me all the soundtracks and videos and I would just try to mimic them all. I’ve always had a knack for mimicking. My first professional music theatre break came when I was cast in Mel Brooks’ The Producers. I was lucky enough to understudy Ulla and learnt a lot from that experience. Prior to music theatre, I toured the country in rock bands. That’s a book in itself. I saw the big banana, the big pineapple, the big ….the big… Yeah that was a decade of my life I’ll never get back sitting in the back seat of a Tarago van.

You are relatively a tall lady, do you like working alongside short men, or does it bother you they are constantly looking at your boobs.
I’m tall but not as tall as people think. I’m five foot ten. Girls are getting taller thankfully and hopefully more roles will become available to tall women in Australia! The comedy of a tall woman/short man has been around for years and I love working alongside Wayne. Yes he has to look at my boobs but I am juggling them in his face. They have their own spotlight and show. The things we do!

You are living 2 lives, during Anything Goes. Deb the performer, and Deb the wife and mother, how do you juggle the two so successfully.
I’m lucky that I have a wonderful husband who can work from his office at home in Sydney when needed which gives me the flexibility to skip a few school pick ups. I have 7 year old boy/girl twins who are in their second year of school. Touring is harder as the kids are in school and I don’t like up rooting them too much. I usually don’t like locking myself into run of play contracts that open in another city. Short contracts in each city can work as I have an arrangement with the kids school that they can travel with me for four weeks of a term and I home school them. It’s tough and exhausting but I’d rather that than spending too long away from them. As it is we’ve had to spend two weeks apart here in Brissy and it breaks my heart to be missing important things like their athletics carnival and gymnastics concert. Those days are hard. I’m lucky though that when the kids are with me, they will often come to work with me and sit in my dressing room and just take it all in. It helps to know where mum is and have an understanding of what I do so its not so inferior to them. I love being a mum and am also grateful for these extraordinary performing opportunities. I think being a parent gives you a whole different perception on life and a whole new layer as an actor. Gee it’s exhausting being the best version of yourself with both hats on though!

What are your plans for the future, after Anything Goes.
I’m very fortunate to have been offered a short contract in another wonderful show that I’m very excited about. It hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t say what it is but it will be fun. I start the very next day Anything Goes finishes at the opera house! What a year. Three shows back to back. How lucky am I?

Wayne Scott Kermond

Wayne Scott Kermond

Wayne Scott Kermond: You’re from a prominent show biz family, what was your first experience in the theatre?
Debora Krizak: I was first carried onstage for a bow with my parents at the tender age of two-and-a-half weeks old. My first musical appearance was playing a Tap Dancing Sailor in the production of Gypsy at Sydney Her Majesty’s Theatre starring Gloria Dawn and then Toni Lamond.

Where did you learn the art of slapstick and who do you get inspiration from?
Being a fourth generation performer it was passed on to me by my family. My grandfather and his 2 brothers (The Kermond Brothers) were physical comics, hoofers, acrobats, eccentric dancers, they and my Mum and Dad taught me the skills. Also growing up watching other acts and performing with my parents, I was always inspired by the funny guy, like Donald O’Connor, Buster Keating, Abbott & Costello, I learned I could make people laugh by falling over or walking into a door. Particularly for the girls when I was at school. Now I do it for a living.

You are a relatively short man. Do you like working alongside tall women or do they scare you?
When you’re my height everybody is taller than me. I love tall women, I’m married to one, she is a dancer. But as she says to me, it’s all the same lying down.

Do you have a favourite musical comedy performer?
No, as comics, I love and am inspired by Robin Williams, Jerry Lewis, Gene Wilder, Peter Sellers, Lee Evans and Jim Carrey, great physical and verbal comics and more importantly their pathos. They make me laugh and cry.

What’s been the best part of the Anything Goes experience for you so far?
I love playing the role of Moonface Martin, it allows me to perform my love for comedy and more importantly bring back the art of physical comedy to the older generation but more importantly introducing a new generation to the old style of physical comedy. Audiences still love a pie in the face.

Debora Krizak and Wayne Scott Kermond will be appearing in Anything Goes with Opera Australia.
Dates: 5 Sep – 11 Oct, 2015
Venue: Sydney Opera House

Review: What Is The Matter With Mary Jane? (Seymour Centre)

seymourcentreVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Aug 4 – 8, 2015
Playwright: Wendy Harmer, Sancia Robinson
Director: Sancia Robinson
Cast: Gabrielle Savrone
Image by Jodie Hutchinson

Theatre review
Wendy Harmer and Sancia Robinson’s What Is The Matter With Mary Jane? gives exposure to the experiences of patients who suffer from acute eating disorders. It is a passionate work with clear intentions of informing society about lives that are often shrouded in the secrecy and shame of anorexia and bulimia nervosa. The play has a desire to improve awareness and perhaps inspire political action that will help with healing or eradicating these horrific diseases from our communities, which results in a text that is full of enthusiasm but also clinical at times. The work focuses on the processes involved in, but not the reasons behind its protagonist’s affliction, so that it can represent a wide range of experiences unified by manifestations of the illness. The play acknowledges that the causes of these disorders vary widely, but the omission of psychological insight or analysis of specific events that have contributed to its unfortunate circumstances, is a significant decision that prevents the show from engaging with its audience more deeply. Sentimental dramatics might not always be elegant, especially in profoundly personal disclosures, but they are often necessary in helping our heads and hearts in becoming more involved with the story and its message.

In directing her own biography, Robinson brings to the stage an intimacy and truthfulness that can only come from having lived through the ordeal very personally. There are some shocking revelations, but the authenticity in her style of presentation disallows any room for doubt, and important facts from Robinson’s recollections are imparted in the process. Gabrielle Savrone’s portrayal of pain is accurate and moving. We are convinced of her character’s divulgements, and she satisfies the purpose of the work by alerting us to the nature of the problem from personal and societal perspectives. The lighter portions of the play are less effectively performed, but the actor’s conviction is strong, and her work develops with more power as the play progresses.

Self-image is an integral part of every individual’s being. How we live depends largely on how we see ourselves, and for many, physical appearance is a component that can turn into an all-consuming preoccupation, which is actually symptomatic of an impairment that lies deeper than skin. What Is The Matter With Mary Jane? demonstrates an extreme consequence of untreated emotional difficulties that requires our vigilance. Compassion towards others, and having a healthy attitude towards other people’s bodies is a good, and necessary start, that will quickly evolve into the same generosity that we must afford our selves.

Review: Great Island (Beside Ourselves Productions)

besideourselves1Venue: 107 Projects (Redfern NSW), Jul 29 – Aug 9, 2015
Playwright: Pierce Wilcox (after Pierre de Marivaux’s L’Île des esclaves)
Director: Pierce Wilcox
Cast:  Anna Chase, Rob Johnson, Harrison Milas, Eleni Schumacher, Nicholas Starte
Image by Isabella Andronos

Theatre review
Absurdity is often used on stage to communicate ideas of a political nature. The exaggeration of circumstances helps us understand forces at work in society that might be too guileful for our anesthetized senses. Pierce Wilcox’s Great Island discusses capitalism through a series of very broad comedy sequences that sees very energetic and inventive performances, and although mirthful in general, its obscure humour delivers few laughs, and only ambiguous meaning can be derived from its wild constructs. Nevertheless, the work remains a fascinating one with a mischievous edge that keeps viewers engaged.

Although not uniformly strong, the cast of five is a spirited one that has a surprisingly cohesive approach to the material at hand. Nicholas Starte plays the King with a disciplined command of physicality and voice, and an easy confidence that endears him to the crowd. The actor has a natural eccentricity that suits the style of the production, and a cheeky effervescence that many will find impressive. Also accomplished is Rob Johnson who brings a necessary polish to the chaotic stage, and a conviction that gives a dimension of gravity to the show’s themes. It is not an easy task elevating a piece that has a tendency to come across frivolous, but the team’s commitment is evident.

Discussions about alternatives to capitalism are always interesting. None of us can escape the economy’s influence, and we should all participate in finding solutions to flaws that inevitably arise in any socio-political environment. There has never been a perfect system that satisfies every community it manages, and all we can do is to find refinement and improvement at every available opportunity. There is good promise at Great Island, but it reveals that we are still at primitive stages in the evolutionary process.