Review: We, The Lost Company‏ (Clockfire Theatre Company)

clockfireVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Oct 13 – 31, 2015
Devisors: Emily Ayoub, Madeline Baghurst, Alicia González, Kate Worsley, Arisa Yura
Director: Emily Ayoub
Cast: Madeline Baghurst, Alicia González, Arisa Yura
Image by Geoff Magee Photography

Theatre review
Since time immemorial, we have danced in honour of the gods that watch over us. It is an acknowledgement of our vulnerabilities and reflects our hopes for better days during this time on earth. We, The Lost Company is an intertextual exploration into our relationship with water, finding inspiration from the paintings of Brett Whiteley to create a work of physical theatre informed by the disciplines of mime and dance. It is gently humorous but wildly imaginative. It touches on subjects of migration, ecology, community and ageing, revelling in the beauty of abstraction but powerfully connecting with its audience, if not in terms of meaning, then certainly with the level of engagement it manages to instil into what is usually a challenging form of performance art.

Music and sound by Ben Pierpoint is complex, evocative and spirited. His work controls our imagination, and leads us to grand and eccentric spaces within our minds that provide a context for the three dancers on stage. Charming anecdotes about water obtained from interviews with mature members of Sydney communities are woven into the soundtrack to anchor the production with a warm authenticity that keeps our shared humanity firmly inside what is being developed.

The dancers’ weird and wonderful physical language is a thoroughly amusing one that sustains a sense of intrigue and holds our attention for its entire fifty-minute duration. Their poetry is whimsical but ruggedly sincere, allowing us to understand its intentions from a drastically unconventional kind of theatrical expression. Arisa Yura’s very memorable but very short monologue in Japanese about childhood, the forces of nature, ice cream and beach balls, extends the theme of memory from the audio recordings, and touches us unexpectedly with its dramatically emotive and nostalgic pseudo drama. The production is full of adventure and sensitive innovation, but its lighting feels inadequate within the extravagance of its multi-disciplinary articulations. The space requires greater depth and colour to achieve a stronger sense of visceral lift off that is always just within reach.

To know something, does not necessitate the ability to put it into words. Call it a feeling, intuition, or a soul thing, art is fundamentally about communication and the modes through which communication happens. We, The Lost Company has vocabularies of its own that are refreshing, unique and dare we say, original, but what it speaks can be understood by all, and like the themes that it is concerned with, we are all embroiled in this mysterious undertaking as one.

www.venue505.com/theatre | www.clockfiretheatre.com

Review: My Zinc Bed (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Oct 10 – Nov 22, 2015
Playwright: David Hare
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Cast: Danielle Carter, Sam O’Sullivan, Sean Taylor
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Addiction might be termed a modern phenomenon. In recent years, conditions of all kinds ranging from alcohol and drug use, to sexual and stealing behaviours, have become forms of addiction, almost achieving medical or pathological legitimacy in the general discourse of Western life. David Hare’s My Zinc Bed examines the meanings behind this contemporary way of looking at human volition and responsibility, and the quality of human weakness versus expectations regarding the individual’s contribution or dependence on society. The script is extremely contemplative, punctuated by stimulating and controversial ideas that can be challenging, although the tone of the work is notably gentle and compassionate. We are encouraged to examine the human condition from a refreshing perspective and to evaluate our assumptions about addictions of different kinds, but always being mindful about the vulnerabilities that we share.

Mark Kilmurry’s direction is interested in all the philosophical content of the text, and succeeds in making his play a relentlessly thoughtful one, while maintaining a dramatic tension that keeps us engaged throughout. Characters in the play are not particularly likeable, but their experiences are readily identifiable, and Kilmurry ensures that their exchanges never fail to fascinate. Visual elements are effectively minimal, but subtle design flourishes are executed with remarkable elegance. Tobhiyah Stone Feller’s set and Nicholas Higgins lights provide the illusion of emptiness, but provide immense scope for sentimental fluctuations. What appears to be cold and hard on the surface, is actually quite subconsciously moving with each transition of scenes.

There are breathtaking performances to be found in the production. All three actors demonstrate a thorough understanding of text and characters, and their interactions are consistently powerful. Every line is delivered with the sizzle of subtext and mystery, and we are seduced into worlds of imagination and reflection. The rhapsodic Sean Taylor is as magnetic as he is convincing. We are lured into studying his every minute gesture, believing them to be of great significance, and his commanding voice is simply irresistible. The actor’s presence is an overwhelming one, and it is fortuitous that his abilities at storytelling are no less impressive. Danielle Carter’s part requires her to display extraordinary inner complexity and also to portray the somewhat customary femme fatale with a forceful allure, both of which she performs with tremendous impact. The central Paul Peplow is played by Sam O’Sullivan, who brings earnestness, passion and emotional intensity to a personality that is more than familiar to many of our lives. His work feels genuine, and the believability of his creation is crucial to the show’s success.

Being social means that we rely on each other. Every person is both strong and weak, and there is a constant negotiation that happens in how much we are willing to forgive, how we apportion blame, and how far we can extend kindness. Paradigms of illness and disease demand of us generosity, but like anything social, they stand to be exploited in ways that will not always find universal agreement. Addiction is real, but also false. Like any label of identification, it provides an indication of circumstances, that must always be prepared to be questioned.

www.ensemble.com.au

5 Questions with Zac McKay and Steve Vincent

Zac McKay

Zac McKay

Steve Vincent: What’s your most important/meaningful/memorable theatre experience?
Zac McKay: Definitely the first. Chinchilla with STC at the Drama Theatre Opera house. Directed by Rodney Fisher, designed by Brian Thompson. The set was completely white using the entire stage area, with a ballet bar running along the back wall. Stunning. The play itself about Nijinski Diaghilev, and the Ballet Russes. Coming straight from drama school to work with such a great bunch of actors including, Peter Carroll, John Gadden and Linda Cropper in such an iconic building was truly a blast.

Who would play you in the film “Zach McKay: It’s not OKay!!”
Nana Mouskouri. It’s a glasses thing.

Two Parter: In Ghosts you play Jacob Engstrand. a)What does Engstrand do on a Wednesday night? And b)What’s his spirit animal?
Gets pissed, falls unconscious in a gutter. Budgerigar.

In Ghosts, the only time we share the stage is in one scene where I enter but then you leave almost immediately!! What’s that about? Was it something I said?
You don’t say anything! However, you’re taller than me, younger than me, better looking than me, more talented than me, your have an agent a wife a car…. need I go on? I weep with despair every time I see you, and you ask about sharing the stage.

Any weird or wonderful pre or post show rituals?
No.

Steve Vincent

Steve Vincent

Zac McKay: What drew you to acting?
Steve Vincent: I was pursuing a career as a professional footballer when I met a beautiful young woman whose grace, confidence and worldliness struck me like a thunderbolt and woke me up out of my one track football mind! She was studying classical music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and her influence on me is huge, I started to see there was a lot more to life than football and I felt I needed to find a way to try and explore and learn every inch of life. Acting was the answer.

What Shakespearean character would you like to play?
Without a second thought or doubt… Shylock! I’ve loved and felt for him from the moment I read The Merchant Of Venice and would love a hit out at him. I came to the works of Bill late and Shylock was the first character I met and I keep returning to him over and over. I’m also a big Pacino fan and he brought a tenderness and humanity to a character many thought to be evil. I already know all his lines, all I need is to age a bit and I’m set!

How do you learn all those lines?
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition! It’s the old fashion way, but it’s the only way for me. Apps and recordings never lets it sink. I just repeat and repeat and as they sink I try to form images to associate and then recreate those “mind paintings” each time I repeat. The blocking helps, and then I take them for walks all over the city and try to make them conversations.

What pertinence does Ghosts have to a contemporary audience?
Ibsen’s works aren’t classics just because they are old. They’re classics because the themes he writes about are universal and transcend time or period or culture. I relate to my character Olswald because I can understand his issues with his world, his family, culture, his art and himself. As I too have gone through one or two of the same issues. The world gets older but the issues for people stay the same. It’s kinda sad when you think about it. But, if you’re a mum, dad, son, daughter, have hopes and dreams, strong ideals, have been lied to or have lied to someone, in love or out of love or been born… Then you’ll find something in Ghosts.

If you could achieve anything, having no limitations whatsoever, what would that be?
It’s going to sound corny but I’ve recently learned limitations are what you put on yourself. We live in a great country where we can set out to achieve anything! I’m the son of migrants, they had limitations due to a Franco ruled Spain. Their choice to move to Australia has resulted in a lifestyle for me where I can achieve anything! I owe it to them to do so. I’d also like to have a long lunch with Marlon Brando!

Zac McKay and Steve Vincent can be seen in Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen.
Dates: 7 – 24 Oct, 2015
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: Rent (Highway Run Productions)

highwayrunVenue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Oct 8 – Nov 1, 2015
Book, Music and Lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Director: Shaun Rennie
Musical Director: Andrew Worboys
Cast: Laura Bunting, Denise Devlin, Casey Donovan, Linden Furnell, Josh Gardiner, Loren Hunter, Stephen Madsen, Nana Matapule, Jack O’Riley, Matthew Pearce, Chris Scalzo, Monique Sallé, Kirsty Sturgess, Chloe Wilson
Image by Kurt Sneddon

Theatre review
Stories about the impoverished artist are always romantic. The bohemian life is one that fires all our imaginations, but only a few of us are able to experience. In spite of all the debauchery and vulnerabilities associated with that way of life, we admire the purity that they represent with their uncompromising choices. The characters in Jonathan Larson’s Rent are passionate and idealistic, and like characters in Puccini’s La Boheme, their poverty is seen to be something of a rebellion against an establishment that is corrupt and ugly.

There are tragic repercussions in the narratives of Rent, and it is not until those occur in the second act that emotions begin to run high. All the musical numbers are beautifully realised under the direction of Shaun Rennie, but characters and their stories are somewhat distant, perhaps due to the age of the piece. Rennie, along with his designers (set by Lauren Peters, lights by Ross Graham and costumes by Georgia Hopkins) bring an accuracy to the look and feel of the USA in the mid-90’s, and Musical Director Andrew Worboys does an excellent job of updating its sound, but for a substantial duration, the piece plays like a concert with brilliant performances that engage, but only on a superficial level. We wait for poignancy to take hold, and although it eventually does, its effects seem too little, and too late.

The cast is comprised of 14 powerful voices that give the musical a superb polish. Some are stronger actors than others, but the quality of singing is consistently impressive and thoroughly enjoyable. Mimi is played by Loren Hunter, who shines bright in the role with her creation of a personality that is complex, colourful and clear. There is a precision to her work that delivers just the right amount of pathos, keeping us connected through her sense of authenticity. Along with her warm vocal tones, Hunter’s portrayal of conflict and suffering is an irresistibly captivating one. Also memorable is Casey Donovan, feisty and dramatic as Joanne, the Ivy League-educated lawyer. Donovan stuns us with her extraordinarily soulful singing, giving the musical genre a rare edge, and surprises us with a convincing characterisation of an intriguing personality. Christopher Scalzo is a controversial Angel. Originally written as a trans woman, Scalzo’s interpretation reads more like a cisgender gay male. Well-known trans characters of the theatre are extremely rare, so this obliteration is unfortunate, but it is a commendable decision that Scalzo is not required to assume a false trans identity for the stage, and is instead allowed to give expression to the role in a manner that is perhaps more in line with his personal gender identity. It is also noteworthy that Scalzo’s gutsy approach to his songs adds a raw dimension to a show that can be too clean in its presentation of the New York underground. His concluding scene is sensitively rendered, providing one of the key elements to the most moving portion of the production.

Rent was created at a time when AIDS was the leading cause of death in young Americans. Although there is much more still to be achieved in the space of HIV/AIDS research and medical advancement, we have come a long way since those early days of death and darkness. Discrimination however, still persists and the message in Jonathan Larson’s work remains relevant. Wealth distribution is still the cause of our troubles, and the urgency to address the problems in Africa is undiminished. The production’s upbeat end is to be expected, and although it seems futile in these times of complacency to bemoan the fact that the struggle is yet to be over, the truth in Larson’s work resonates, and it is always the underprivileged that is neglected and we simply have to do better.

www.hayestheatre.com.au | www.highwayrunproductions.com

Review: Reflections (Primal Dance Company)

primaldanceVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 13, 2015
Choreographer: Alyssa Casey
Cast: Natasha Clancy, Cassandra Clarke, Tasmin Cummins, Caitlin Drysdale, Brianna Hatter, Danni Hegarty, Lucas Hughes, Emma Macpherson, Bryony Munro, Ryan Ophel, Zac Smith, Michael Stone, Georgie Walsh

Theatre review
Reflections features a series of dance sequences set to the recorded music of Hayden Tee’s “Generation WhY? Live” album, comprised mainly of 80’s hits interpreted with acoustic and orchestral arrangements by Nigel Ubrihien. The vocals are emotional and powerful, in the style of musical theatre that many are familiar with, and that same attitude is adopted by choreographer Alyssa Casey, who chooses to present pieces in a sincere and quite literal manner, in accordance with the themes of each song. Physical language is largely lyrical with influences from classical, ballroom and gymnastics adding to the movement schema. Casey is also responsible for costuming of the show, which works well to provide visual variation between numbers, but is most effective when minimal in approach.

It is a cast of exuberant and athletic dancers, extremely well-rehearsed and full of conviction in what they produce. Some have a tendency to express too much sentimentality, but there is no doubt that all are steely focussed and keen to put forward their best. The group of 13 is well utilised, with most members receiving a moment in the sun to showcase their individual talents, although the bigger numbers can feel overwhelming in its intimate venue. Memorable performers include Emma Macpherson and Michael Stone who bring confidence, professional polish and solid presences to the stage.

For all its technical proficiencies and impressive discipline, the work requires greater innovation and sophistication in order to deliver a sense of transcendence promised by the medium of dance. Much of its endeavours are derivative, and in this space of creativity, our senses seek originality over emulation. Each of us has an unrivalled familiarity with our bodies, but we need artists to shed new light on the capacities and meanings of all that is flesh. Dance is uniquely able to speak with us, body to body, and its continuing mission to defy convention is what makes it beautiful.

www.facebook.com/Primaldanceco

Review: Ghosts (The Depot Theatre)

depotVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Oct 7 – 24, 2015
Playwright: Henrik Ibsen
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Julie Baz, David Jeffrey, Emily McGowan, Zac McKay, Steve Vincent

Theatre review
Themes in Henrik Ibsen’s 1881 play Ghosts remain controversial. We continue to debate over religion, venereal disease, incest and euthanasia; each subject is a divisive one, and placing them all in a play for the 19th century, must have given it an explosive edge. By today’s standards however, its very subtle language communicates obtusely. Measured insinuations for delicate sensibilities of a time past are predictably no longer effective in the same way. We require much more obvious dialogue to evoke a level of drama that would correspond with the issues being explored. Ibsen’s writing is beautiful, but presenting it on a contemporary stage requires extensive adaptation, if not of its words, then all the other visual and aural symbols need to find a way to excite us, or at least introduce a greater sense of intrigue. There is much to engage us in the story of Ghosts, but conveying its ideas so many years later is certainly challenging.

Performances are at best, uneven in this production. Characters are depicted with insufficient depth, and actors are unable to express complexity within their roles. There is very little variation in tone and temperament, creating an impression of oversimplification and therefore, our understanding of their narratives become surface. We try to relate to their humanity but struggle to find points of connection. Steve Vincent is an intense Oswald, injecting energy into an oft too placid atmosphere, but his approach requires greater nuance. Zac McKay’s ability to create an air of foreboding and his daring gestures suggesting illicit sexuality, are some of the more theatrical moments of the show, but the role of Jacob Engstrand is a small one. Director Julie Baz keeps the pace tight, and volume levels high, but her show is not finely detailed, and although we see the big picture, much of the undercurrent goings on are lost.

Ghosts talks about things that haunt us, and the things we inherit. It is about the past, and how we negotiate their restraints as we try to move forward. Australian art is full of ghosts, and European masters like Ibsen have an influence over our artistic landscape, the nature of which is probably best described as a love-hate relationship. It gives us a context with which we can have an international voice that facilitates exchanges with cultural capitals of the world, but it also holds us back with yardsticks that are multifariously archaic. In the making of art, we cannot forget those that have come before, but we must remember that our trajectories can only move to the future.

www.thedepottheatre.com

Review: The Real Thing (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 6 – Nov 7, 2015
Playwright: Tom Stoppard
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Peter Eyers, Charlotte Hazzard, Ainslie McGlynn, Christopher Tomkinson, Emily Weare, Benjamin Winckle
Photography © Bob Seary

Theatre review
There are two main things being discussed in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing; the nature of relationships, and the process of making art. Through several “play within a play” segments, we attempt to get to the bottom of what is most honest, by looking past pretences for a grasp of the real. Monogamy, fidelity and longevity of relationships are dealt with in the most intellectually frank way, and although the play is now well over 30 years old, its propositions are no less refreshing and controversial. The extraordinarily articulate dissection of the creative process, along with the analysis of values that we place upon art, are also full of poignancy and resonance. The play is witty and pointedly intelligent, with challenging concepts and brilliantly delightful use of language that keep us entertained while placing our brains on overdrive.

Director Alice Livingstone is uncompromising with the depth of the text, while simultaneously introducing, quite miraculously, a jaunty pace to a staging that delivers solid laughs alongside a consistently astute level of discourse. The work suffers from a lack of visual imagination that results in stagnant and predictable physical compositions, but its meticulous attention to nuances in dialogue is more than impressive.

Leading man Christopher Tomkinson is the perfect blend of eccentricity, smarts and vulnerability. The actor’s thorough appreciation of the writing offers up an interpretation of Stoppard’s lines that is completely fascinating. He opens up a world of thinking that we rarely encounter; one that seems original yet is able to ring true on a very intimate level. Equally precise is Ainslie McGlynn in the role of Annie, whose embodiment of her character’s conflicts with monogamy and love are thoughtful and provocative. For all the talk about sex, the production’s energy is not particularly libidinous, but chemistry between players is of a good standard. The cast is a cohesive one that tells the story from a unified perspective, and the consequences are often powerful.

The Real Thing is an important work about universal experiences. Love may be hard to define, but it shapes everyone. We chase it constantly but seldom do we stop to reflect on these impulses. Tom Stoppard resists romantic delusions and preconceived notions to locate a truer understanding of that mysterious force underscoring so much of our lives. We want to know what love is, and he intends to show us.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: A Flower Of The Lips (King Street Theatre)

flowerVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 6 – 24, 2015
Playwright: Valentino Musico
Director: Ira Hal Seidenstein
Cast: Michelle De Rosa, Marcella Franco, Jamila Hall, Yiss Mill, Kiki Skountzos

Theatre review
Every life has a story to tell. No matter our choices and experiences, narratives can be woven and lessons are to be learned from any being that has walked the earth, but it is up to the storyteller to translate an existence into something meaningful for the listener. Valentino Musico’s A Flower Of The Lips investigates the short life of his great-grandfather, Bruno Aloi of Calabria, Italy a century ago. Aloi’s extraordinary legend has persisted in his village of Pietracupa, and it is understandable that Musico is fascinated by the ancestor and is thus motivated to create a play that immortalises those memories. The work is sincere and earthy, but its pidgin English may be problematic for some. The temporal and social context of the plot may also prove obscure, and reaching an understanding of unfolding events is challenging.

Direction by Ira Hal Seidenstein is stylistically minimal yet energetic and joyful. Early portions of the show would benefit from greater elucidations in order that its distant time, space and characters can communicate more intimately. Performances are committed but the characters are not sufficiently accessible. There is a gulf between them and us that needs to be bridged, so that what we see on stage can find a universality and emotional resonance.

The tales surrounding Bruno Aloi are clearly near and dear to the writer, but those passions are difficult to connect with. Audiences are selfish and need to be shown a way to relate personally to what is being shared. Valentino Musico’s play is an expression of his love of family and of his familial history, which we can appreciate, but from afar.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

Review: Edward II (Sport For Jove Theatre)

sportforjoveVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Oct 1 – 17, 2015
Playwright: Christopher Marlowe
Director: Terry Karabelas
Cast: Angela Bauer, Barry French, Belinda Hoare, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, Gabriel Fancourt, Georgia Adamson, James Lugton, Julian Garner, Michael Whalley, Richard Hilliar, Simon London
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Christopher Marlowe’s 1593 tragedy Edward II charts the downfall of a king in a political system controlled vigorously by the church. In the play, Edward’s controversial relationship with one of his minions Gaveston, provides a motive for the barons and Queen Isabella to depose of Edward in favour of his son. In addition to the unorthodox love in question, the king is also portrayed to be an ineffectual leader with few redeeming qualities. The other personalities in the script who plot his demise are similarly repugnant, resulting in a narrative that is emotionally distant in spite of its many scenes of passion. There is no one for us to side with, and we do not feel badly for anybody’s anguish.

Terry Karabelas’ direction emphasises the fleshly pleasures and pains of Edward II. The magnification of sexuality, along with graphic scenes of torture, give the show a refreshing contemporariness. The omnipresence of religion as an insidious force that instigates every objectionable act is a another subversive interpretation that attempts to bring paradigms closer to today’s standards but ultimately, little poignancy is to be found in the production.

Although performances are uniformly polished and energetic, characters rarely communicate beyond the surface. Personalities are insufficiently compelling, and the story turns simplistic. Leading man Julian Garner has a dark and alluring presence, with an intensity that holds our attention, but there is little for the actor to work with. Characters lack complexity and the cast struggles to elevate the play from its predictability. More noteworthy is lighting design by Ross Graham whose excellent work helps to manufacture a sense of theatricality, and atones with emotional dimensions lacking in the text.

Betrayals, mutinies and dethronements are themes more than familiar to any Australian, therefore dealing with those subjects require a level of insight beyond the pedestrian. The changing of prime ministers and governments lead the news on a daily basis, and in spite of its many murders, what Edward II presents is strangely placid. It is unfortunate that the knifing of leaders is now commonplace, but the drama that accompanies those stories should never turn mundane.

www.sportforjove.com.au

5 Questions with Elizabeth MacGregor and Dominique Nesbitt

Elizabeth MacGregor

Elizabeth MacGregor

Dominique Nesbitt: Chekhov is renowned for his honest and well-rounded depictions of women. I think his Three Sisters is a perfect example of the depth and substance he gives to his female characters. What drew you to the character of Olga?
Elizabeth MacGregor: My instant response would be to describe Olga as ‘the sensible one’ – but in reality, that doesn’t do her justice at all. Olga is the pillar of the family, as the eldest sister, she’s assumed the role of care-taker and comforter to her three younger siblings after the death of their mother and father, and has forgone her own ambitions in order to keep the family together. When I first approached this role, I wondered why Olga didn’t seem to be resentful at having to take care of the others, but I really believe that she genuinely cares for her siblings (and the greater ‘family’ of friends and servants) and gains a strong sense of identity and emotional fulfillment through nurturing the others. I think ultimately what drew me to the character of Olga is her emotional strength and her resilience.

Chekhov is also renowned for writing texts that are universal in both theme and tone. We are keeping our production set in the period in which it was written. I was wondering whether this has changed the way you have prepared for the role, or whether its universality has meant that you have easily tapped into the mindset of a woman living in 1900s Russia?
It has been a welcome challenge to prepare for this role – and it is a mixture of both. It’s very important to understand the context of the time and place in which the play is set, so I’ve been reading and researching as much as possible about Russia, the politics of the time and the lives and expectations of a woman in Russia in 1900. Women in 1900 carried themselves very differently from the way we do now – so I’m also thinking a lot about movement, gestures and posture. The themes are universal though – so I feel able to tap into the emotional experience of Olga – but it’s important to be expressing that in the context of the time in which the play is set.

During the play, Masha’s husband Kulygin confesses that he perhaps should have married Olga instead. Have you created a backstory in order to give that scene added gravitas?
As much as possible, I’ve created a backstory using the information provided in the script. It’s important not to give too much of the backstory away though – I wouldn’t want to dissipate the energy of the ‘secret’.

You have just been approached to play the lead in a production of your choosing. What would it be and Why? (You may also want to cast some of the other characters as well!).
I would dearly love the opportunity to play the role of Desiree Armfeldt in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. The musical explores the themes of love, desire, opportunities, and more importantly, missed opportunities, and the passing of time. Desiree sings the well-known song, ‘Send in the Clowns’ – and when I first learned to sing that song as a naive, unworldly 14 year old, I really didn’t understand the song at all and thought that I was ‘way too cool’ to be having to sing about clowns. Well, when I finally saw the musical about 10 years ago, I heard the song and was completely mesmerized and quite emotional and I just knew then – ‘I really want to sing that song, I really understand it now’. I am completely in awe of Sondheim’s ability to portray intricate themes and complex human emotions with beautiful music and incredibly clever lyrics.

In Act 1, Olga proudly declares that she has prepared supper for Irina’s name-day celebration. During rehearsals, we have all had the absolute pleasure of sampling some of your own delicious creations. What would be on the menu at a dinner party hosted by Elizabeth?
Oh, that’s easy – but how do I narrow it down to just a few dishes! For entrée, I have a wonderful German recipe for a warm potato salad served with cured salmon; followed by duck confit with du puy lentils, and for dessert, lemon tart. There’s no chocolate in the dessert, so I’d simply have to make some truffles to have afterwards, because you can’t possibly have a dinner party without chocolate!

Dominique Nesbitt

Dominique Nesbitt

Elizabeth MacGregor: What drew you to the role of Irina? What do you like about her?
Dominique Nesbitt: I’ve always been drawn to stories that deal with the passage of time. In Chekhov’s Three Sisters we are given the opportunity to track the lives of these three women (and others) across four years. If nothing else, we learn that a lot can happen in that considerably short space of time! When we first meet Irina, she is 20 years old and full of life and promise. I think it was that youthful determination and spirit that first drew me to her. She has dreams and aspirations that are delivered with such vigour and passion that you just hope she can see them fulfilled. It is clear from the outset that those dreams have outgrown her provincial surroundings. She yearns to go home to Moscow and it is that unrelenting desire for the city which sees her through the next couple years spent working in menial jobs. There is something in her story that we can all relate to, I think. She is a fiercely independent and free-thinking young woman who strives for more than a life in the country can offer her. Being the youngest of the family, Irina seeks out the guidance and counsel of her older sisters – particularly Olga – whom she admires and respects. By 23, she has experienced tragedy and faced challenges the likes of which most of us will hopefully never experience in our lives. Her resolve and maturity at the end of the play is startling and it remains one of the things I admire most about her.

How have you approached preparing for your role, bearing in mind the era in which the play is set?
Despite it being set in Russia in the 1900s, I think the characters have been written in such a way that they are as relatable and approachable to modern audiences as they were to audiences 100 years ago. In terms of my own preparation, I have done a little extra research to ensure that my movements and gestures are in keeping with the period. I have also had a look at important historical events that framed this period in Russia because I think it is particularly crucial to setting the mood and tone of the play. In terms of characterisation, I think I have approached Irina as I would any other character. As I said earlier, I think the sentiments she expresses are timeless in that they speak to that youthful determination we all have to carve out a meaningful existence in whatever we choose to undertake. I just hope I can do that justice!

If you, Dominique, could give Irina one piece of advice, what would it be? Are there any other characters in the play to whom you would give advice, and what would that be?
Being 24 myself, I don’t really know what words of wisdom I can impart given that Irina and I are very close in age but I guess I would tell her to place a greater value on patience. There are several moments in the play where she lacks the patience to see that there is great beauty in the path that leads us to our destination. There isn’t one specific character to whom I would seek to advise but I would instead remind everyone that happiness is not overrated and they should seek it out and hold onto it as best they can.

Live theatre is dynamic – no two performances (of the same production) are exactly the same. What is the most unexpected (or funny) thing that has happened to you in a play, and how did you respond?
How true it is! I played Glinda, the Good Witch, in my High School’s production of The Wizard Of Oz and during one performance, I slipped and fell mid-song on the train of my voluminous skirt. Whilst I was unable to mask the fact that I had clearly fallen, I attempted to rally the munchkins around me in the hope that together we could make it through the rest of the song without further incident. It was incredibly embarrassing at the time but I do look back now and laugh.

You clearly have an eye for design and style, given the beautiful and distinctive clothes that you wear every day to rehearsals. Are you inspired by costumes? Is there a particular era or style of costume/clothing that you would like to design?
That is such a lovely compliment. Thank you! I have always been very interested in fashion and costuming, because I think you can glean a great deal about a period just by examining the different silhouettes and range of fabrics used to make garments. That may be why I collect vintage clothes because I love the idea of wearing garments that have a backstory. As an actor, trying on the costumes of your character can be a rather transformative experience. As silly as it sounds, I do believe that your costumes can help you to feel and move as your character. There is no one particular style or era that I would specifically like to design because I would probably pull ideas from several different eras. In saying that, my favourite silhouette is probably the 1950’s ‘New Look.’ If I were to design the costumes for a production, I would love to use that silhouette as a base. I’m also drawn to novelty patterns and rich floral prints. But then I also love Hungarian Folk embroidery, which was popular in the 1930’s and the drop-waist dresses of the 1920’s. It’s far too difficult for me to choose! The common thread is I’m drawn to clothing that signified a shift in the mindset and/or social circumstances of an era. I hope that answers the question.

Elizabeth MacGregor and Dominique Nesbitt will be appearing in Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, translated by Brian Friel.
Dates: 17 Oct – 14 Nov, 2015
Venue: Genesian Theatre