5 Questions with Francesca Savige and Damien Strouthos

Francesca Savige

Francesca Savige

Damien Strouthos: Do you scrunch or fold your toilet paper?
Francesca Savige: I scrunch-fold. It’s a metaphor for my whole life.

What has been your worst moment on stage in a past show?
General dire moments of insecurity aside, I had one incident of corpsing on stage that was was so inappropriate and unprofessional that I’m too embarrassed to go into detail. I regularly laugh in rehearsals (Anthony Gooley is making me giggle a lot in rehearsals at the moment) but I usually pull myself together for performance. This unspeakable occasion was out of control.

Who do you think will win Origin 1 next week?
Whether you mean football, electricity or Darwin, I lose.

What excites you about our production of Inner Voices?
The play, the director, the cast, the design the venue. Pretty much everything. That’s not me pimping for publicity, it’s fact. But if I had to pick one thing, it’s the brain stimulus. I’m loving good theatre that’s prompting discussions lately. I’m still reeling from Sport for Jove’s Taming of the Shrew, and this play is giving me plenty of delicious food for thought.

Where do you find the humanity in our show where there are no plain ‘good’ or ‘bad’ characters?
John Bell was the first director of Inner Voices in 1977, and in his intro to the Currency Press script, he writes that “There is a compassion in the play – not for Ivan himself but for his situation”. I think that’s the humanity in the whole play- we can all relate to the destruction of innocence, to abandonment and isolation… At least those of us who have been lost in shopping centres and put on leash. (Yep. Me too, Damien)

Damien Strouthos

Damien Strouthos

Francesca Savige: Having been on tour quite a lot over the past few years with Henry V and Romeo And Juliet for Bell Shakespeare, do you have a best and worst tour memory?
Damien Strouthos: Best and worst memory are probably one. Henry V 2014, performance in Sale, Victoria. A viral corpsing moment that effectively stopped the show (standard) during the last scene thanks to a Mathew Backer line fluff. 7/10 actors uncontrollably convulsing with laughter isn’t the best way to end a 2.5 hour Shakespeare. Or maybe it is. I had my fist half way down my throat trying to stop whilst we were meant to be signing a 3 part harmony of “I vow to thee my country”. To this day, mention to any of the actors from that company the phrase ‘Sale, Henry V‘ and you’ll get a good yarn.

What are you most enjoying about rehearsals at the Old Fitz at the moment?
$3 beers and working with some people I really admire.

Have you previously encountered Louis Nowra on page, stage or in person? And if so, what was that experience like?
I’ve read a few of his plays, never performed in one. Which is odd as Inner Voices is arguably his most obscure. The experience on working on it so far has been totally challenging in a good way. I haven’t met him but he hangs out at the Fitz a lot so I hopefully will get the opportunity to ask him why he put a bloke in a bear suit in scene 7.

Can you draw on any personal experience for your current role as the Russian infant King who was kept imprisoned for 23 years, with minimal human contact and communication?
My mother lost me a in a shopping centre once when I was too young to describe who I belonged to. I was also one of those kids who wore a child leash (there’s not really a better name for that?) so yeah, I totally understand oppression and isolation.

To be honest, I tend not to use my life in my work too much unless I’m really not hitting something emotionally. Just being informed by the given circumstances and using the words on the page and trying to be truthful. Without knowing it, your life informs your work I think.

If you could speak only one word for 23 years, what would it be?
I’ll just pop that there.

Francesca Savige and Damien Strouthos are appearing in Inner Voices by Louis Nowra.
Dates: 15 June – 9 July, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: The Olympians (NIDA)

nidaVenue: NIDA Parade Theatres (Kensington NSW), June 11 – 18, 2016
Playwright: Stephen Sewell
Director: Jeff Janisheski
Cast: Saxon Blackett, Callan Colley, Laura Djanegara, Megan Hind, Imogen Morgan, Wil Ridley, Louis Seguier, Emele Ugavule, Ross Walker

Theatre review
We take sport very seriously in Australia. Billions of dollars have been generated from the industry, and countless personalities have attained national iconic status over the years. Stephen Sewell’s The Olympians attempts to deconstruct the sporting hero, with a story set in the Olympic village of the 2016 Rio games. It is a piece of writing highly critical of sporting and popular culture, using a narrative about a fallen star lost in sex and drugs, appealing to the same need in our audienceship that keeps tabloid journalism in business. Its characters are familiar but caricatured, and although hugely ambitious in scope, the play would probably be more effective if scaled down to its simple essence. Greek tragedy meets television realism in The Olympians for a curious exploration of dramatic form, but the play would make a stronger point if its many subtexts are trimmed down to a more succinct articulation of its thoughtful message.

Direction by Jeff Janiesheski is equally adventurous and imaginative with its approach. The very generously sized stage poses a challenge that Janiesheski responds by delivering amplified theatrical expressions for every scene, resulting in a work that can often feel too obvious with how it chooses to communicate, leaving little room for nuance or irony. The production’s humour is rarely effective but energy from a tireless cast and vigorous lighting effects by Ross Graham help retain our attention. Lead actor Wil Ridley shows good precision and discipline as the dishonoured Porter, especially proficient in some of the play’s more heightened sequences of sentimentality. Imogen Morgan is memorable as Jess, a bimbo type who encounters the goddess Aphrodite. Morgan’s ability to convey consistent authenticity in her role sets her apart in a group that seems to work more intently on exterior presentations than on emotional efficacy and psychological believability.

In an arena where individuals are ruthlessly pitted against each other, the sporting field allows only one winner at a time. Perhaps it is the idea of making concrete the abstract concept of “the best” that gives sport an allure that art has been unable to compete with. Awards are given out in artistic communities the world over, but there is nothing definitive about the good and bad in art, and certainly, the judgements we may bestow upon them are almost never more than irrelevant privileged perspective. People are drawn to the certainties of sport, and the creation of winners and losers in its equations. The nature of art resists that singular objectivity. Great art dismantles systems of segregation and exclusion to speak with universality as though at the Olympics, except all are to emerge victorious.

www.nida.edu.au

Review: Inner Voices (Don’t Look Away Theatre Company)

dontlookawayVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 15 – Jul 9, 2016
Playwright: Louis Nowra
Director: Phil Rouse
Cast: Annie Byron, Julian Garner, Emily Goddard, Nicholas Papademetriou, Anthony Gooley, Francesa Savige, and Damien Strouthos
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
Ivan VI lived 23 short years in Russia, but in Louis Nowra’s Inner Voices, his destiny is transformed dramatically to tell a story about how kings are made, and how countries are ruled. Originally published in 1977, Nowra’s words in the play remain fresh and humorous, and although its political edge seems to have worn with time, Inner Voices‘ punk sensibility is still evident today in its iconoclastic characterisations and anti-authoritarian outlook.

It is a very exuberant production that Phil Rouse has directed. Notwithstanding our unfamiliarity with its context, the unrelenting and spirited acerbity of his style keeps us engrossed. The thoroughness at which the text’s comedy is explored, is not only endlessly amusing, it also helps provide depth of meaning to an outlandish narrative. Thoughtfully designed, the production’s aesthetic values are textured and powerful. Anna Gardiner’s set and Katelyn Shaw’s sound design are especially remarkable in the degree to which they are able to consistently add surprising dimension to the play.

Inner Voices‘ cast of seven is an exceptionally dynamic bunch. Ivan is played by Damien Strouthos, whose uncanny ability to portray eccentricity is a perfect fit for the quirky role. The actor takes the opportunity to showcase excellent range in a part that goes through several significant transformations, and we see various facets to Strouthos’ talents, all equally accomplished. Anthony Gooley is absolutely memorable as Mirovich, with razor sharp wit and a flamboyant theatricality that knows no bounds. Enthralling and hilarious, Gooley is outstanding on this stage and we are kept amazed by the genius inventiveness he injects into every line of dialogue.

It is the eve of another federal election in Australia, and we think about the likely candidates who will rule us for another three years. Inner Voices reflects our prevailing cynicism, and exposes the falsities associated with the state of our politics and governments. We want truth and honesty from those who represent us, but we have become all too aware of the hypocrisies and cunning that are required for people to attain positions of power. If good people cannot win in a broken system, all we have are at best, compromised and substandard. Nowra’s play does not offer us any solutions, but it certainly is a reminder that we should want to do better.

www.facebook.com/dontlookawaytc

Review: Our: Land People Stories (Bangarra Dance Theatre)

bangarraVenue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Jun 16 – Jul 9, 2016
Choreographers: Stephen Page, Daniel Riley, Beau Dean Riley-Smith, Jasmin Sheppard
Cast: Waangenga Blanco, Deborah Brown, Luke Currie-Richardson, Tyrel Dulvarie, Tara Gower, Rikka Hamaguchi, Elma Kris, Yolanda Lowatta, Rikki Mason, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley, Beau Dean Riley-Smith, Tara Robertson, Nicole Sabatino, Jasmin Sheppard, Kaine Sultan-Babij, Glory Tuohy-Daniell
Image by Wendell Teodoro

Theatre review
Three separate works are featured in Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Our: Land People Stories, each with a distinct flavour but unified by discipline, culture and history. Independently striking in style, they tell different stories of the Indigenous experience through the medium of dance at its most progressive and adventurous. Sumptuously designed by the formidable trio of Matt Cox (lights), Jennifer Irwin (costumes) and Jacob Nash (sets), the production is a feast for the eyes, brilliantly polished, with a level of sophistication that any theatre company would be envious of.

Jasmin Sheppard’s Macq is an analysis of the 1816 massacre of D’harawal people at Appin, 75km south of Sydney, and Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s complicity in the incident. It is an expression of British imperialism, specific to the carnage of two hundred years ago, but also serves as representation of the ongoing invasion of Aboriginal land and peoples that our society struggles to rectify. Imagery of death, sorrowfully depicted, provides the piece with an intense poignancy, and Daniel Riley’s performance as the governor amplifies its question of humanity by bringing an unexpected complexity to the tale.

Miyagan is about kinship, inspired by the cultural heritage of the Wiradjuri nation, of which its choreographers Daniel Riley and Beau Dean Riley-Smith belong. Mythology is given redefinition. Through this new manifestation, age-old stories are offered new life, and we see current generations relating to those ancient themes and ideas from a time and space that is real and personal. The dancers experience those narratives in their flesh and in their minds, and the audience shares in their ephemeral theatrical inhabitation of the Wiradjuri ethos. Also remarkable is music by Paul Mac, sensitively blending traditional with contemporary sounds, for a perfect accompaniment to an exciting movement vocabulary that contains more than a hint of hip hop.

Nyapanyapa Yunupingu is one of Aboriginal art’s biggest stars, and her story is put to dance in Stephen Page’s Nyapanyapa. Inspired by her paintings and set to oral stories thoughtfully incorporated into the soundtrack of the 44 minute epic, we are presented a work about the wondrous relationship between woman and nature, as observed through the life of the respected Yolngu elder from the Gumatj clan of North East Arnhem Land. Dancer Elma Kris is deeply endearing in the lead role, full of vital spirituality and an irresistible stage presence. The ensemble’s cohesiveness and their unity of message are a hallmark of the company, and luminously apparent in the piece.

In Australia, we rely on Indigenous cultures to give our art its soul. There is nothing that can replace history and age when we wish for art to be rich in essence and meaning, and it is people like those in the Bangarra company who are uniquely able to bring to materiality something bigger than economics, politics and even science. Theirs is a philosophy that is beyond the constraints of time, and speaks only with truth and depth. What they put on stage is sacred, but how the audience chooses to interpret is an important part of that equation, and it is that very act of listening that is crucial to the path of our collective civilisation.

www.bangarra.com.au

Review: Flame Trees (Tunks Productions)

tunksVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jun 15 – Jul 2, 2016
Playwright: Wayne Tunks
Director: Simeon Yialeloglou
Cast: Ryan Bown, Karina Bracken, Rebecca Clay, Isabel Dickson, Jace Pickard, Wayne Tunks
Image by Isobel Markus-Dunworth

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
Wayne Tunks’ Flame Trees is a lot like soap opera. Its characters are highly emotional, and all their families get entangled in the melodrama, which involve moral conflict, infidelity and bushfires. Unlike the most popular tv shows of the genre however, we do not have years of history with the personalities of Flame Trees, and consequently, their grievances are of little concern to us. Causing further alienation is the lack of authenticity that comes from the play’s desperation to arrive at heightened emotion without first engaging us appropriately with the high stakes that it sets up for itself. The script is unoriginal, and hollow where it attempts to induce passion, but is thankfully fast-paced in getting to its conclusion.

Staging of the work is appropriately cheesy, with every creative decision going with the conventional and obvious. Actors put on unnatural voices and indulge in extravagant eruptions of passion and anger, in service of a narrative that is devoid of depth and often unbearably silly. The cast shows conviction nevertheless, and is fairly well-rehearsed, with Rebecca Clay leaving a good impression by finding nuance in her role despite its inherent incoherences.

Emotion must emerge from meaning, and it is a storyteller’s responsibility to locate resonance with the audience. A work can achieve a lot with its surfaces, but without truth at its foundation, big gestures on the exterior will only appear pretentious and absurd. Going to the theatre is a sacred event for communities to share and connect. Commerce will no doubt be a part of its equation, but it must never be the overriding factor, or our participation will only leave us empty and resentful. Theatre is not the idiot box, and the audience deserves much better.

www.tunks.com.au

Review: The Block Universe (Or So It Goes) (The Old 505 Theatre / Cross Pollinate Productions)

crosspollinateVenue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Jun 6 – 25, 2016
Playwright: Sam O’Sullivan
Director: Dominic Mercer
Cast: Briallen Clarke, Jacob Warner
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
Andrew the philosopher tells his love story the only way he knows how. He believes that our time in the world is predetermined, and that our past does not simply disappear but exists in a different realm. He tries to access history to relive happier times, but finds his intellectual idealism unable to provide the comfort he requires. Sam O’Sullivan’s The Block Universe is about a man’s heartache, and his fascination with time. The play takes the thematic opportunity to build upon itself a thoroughly interesting structure, based on Andrew’s theories of determinism, for an unusual plot trajectory that depicts time in an unconventional manner. The boy-meets-girl story that it contains is however, nothing out of the ordinary, and although charming in its mundanity, is insufficiently dramatic for us to engage more deeply with Andrew’s anguish.

The play is directed with an understated elegance by Dominic Mercer, who brings surprising clarity to the text’s philosophical interests. Isabel Hudson’s work on set design is thoughtful and artistic, providing ease of functionality to actors and evocative symbolism to the audience. Further visual sophistication comes from lighting designer Alex Berlage, who creates a large number of scene transitions and a wide range of atmospheric manipulations with little resource other than sheer ingenuity. Equally accomplished is Alistair Wallace’s work on sound that guides us through the play’s complicated timeline with a penetrating sensitivity that accompanies its auditory dynamism.

The stars of the show are its captivating actors, both charismatic, and thoroughly authentic with what they present. Playing Andrew is Jacob Warner, vulnerable and truthful in every moment, with a subtlety that draws us in but delightfully energetic in his stage presence. Briallen Clarke impresses with a performance full of nuance and intensity, while maintaining excellent humour in her very vibrant interpretation of Kristiina. The duo’s chemistry, and the timing that results, is flawless and the relationship they portray is utterly believable.

Our emotions are shielded from Andrew’s heartache in The Block Universe. We see him crumbling before our eyes, but the play prevents us from responding with feelings, choosing instead to elicit an analytical acknowledgement of his pain. Indeed, philosophy and analysis can often ease our suffering, and the transference from heart to brain, can be an effective means to dealing with loss and mourning, but as demonstrated by Andrew’s experience, the solution is only temporary. There is no escaping the fact that matters of the heart need to be treated at the origin of their hurt, and Andrew will not be able to think himself out of his troubles. If we refuse to address the real issues that eat at us, we will be trapped in a perpetual cycle of agony, obstructed from resolution and emancipation, blocked from salvation and peace.

www.crosspollinate.com.auwww.venue505.com/theatre

5 Questions with Lauren Dillon and Caroline Levien

Lauren Dillon

Lauren Dillon

Caroline Levien: In The Heidi Chronicles, we bump into Heidi intermittently over the course of three decades. What were the challenges in portraying a character over from the age of 16 to the age of 40?
Lauren Dillon: I guess the biggest thing for me was having to make the connection between each year that we see Heidi and figuring out what happened that influenced her life, her state of mind and social standing in those blocks of time that we don’t see on stage. She goes through some pretty significant changes and they also happen during quite iconic political movements in America so wrapping my head around all of the historical context has been a big part of this also. It’s a challenge to find the subtle changes that are necessary to show the evolving nature of a person as they grow older, while also keeping everything true to that character. Also slightly terrifying trying to remember what I was like as a 16 year-old!

Through the play, Wendy Wasserstein tracks the waves of feminism through her character’s respective journeys. We see it through the nurturing women’s rap groups of the 60’s-70’s, the open protests for equal representation, women’s collectives, and finally the 80’s: ‘beating men at their own game’ and the rise of the business woman. In light of this journey, where do you think feminism stands today?
Somehow the topic of feminism can still make for extremely volatile discussion along with misinterpretation and confusion. I see fantastic initiatives where women who live in countries that are closer to gender equality are now also fighting for the basic equal rights of women in situations where they are still oppressed, politically or socially. I see really positive steps on the global stage towards acknowledging that feminism is about gender equality on the whole and how it not only benefits women but men as well. Yet there are still those who think that Feminism is a dirty word espoused only by man-hating witches, and some of the vitriol out there, especially online, is really quite upsetting and disturbing. The battleground is not only in the public arena, it’s still very personal and I think young people now are looking for ways to take it in to their own hands. It seems feminism has accomplished much yet there is ongoing work to do to tackle the anti-feminism ignorance that still exists.

We meet Heidi through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. As an actor, what era has been the most fun to revisit?
Hhmmmm…. That’s a tricky one. They’re all so great and full of fantastic music, political changes, fashion and social movements. I think I’d have to say the 60’s and 70’s though, as these are the years where Heidi has a lot of her political/ feminist awakening and becomes a little rebellious. Plus I have to admit that watching youtube videos of Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and Fleetwood Mac is very satisfying ‘research’.

What have you most enjoyed about working on this production of The Heidi Chronicles?
I’ve really loved working with our awesome cast and crew. Everyone brings their own slice of magic to the room, and is also really supportive and encouraging of each other. I’m inspired by everyone each time we rehearse as I’m learning from people who’ve been doing this longer than me and also watching great choices and incredible work ethic from others. There have been a lot of laughs in the rehearsal room, and some fabulous reminiscing on the past from our Director – lots of great stories and insight. Plus our stage management team are the business!

What do you hope audience members will take away from this production of The Heidi Chronicles?
I hope that the audience will have a really enjoyable couple of hours watching a play that’s got a heap of women in it and not your typical linear structure. I hope they will have the opportunity to reflect on what’s changed in the world since this play was written – but also what hasn’t and see if that moves something in them. I also hope they have a bloody good laugh – there’s some comedy gold in there!

Caroline Levien

Caroline Levien

Lauren Dillon: The Heidi Chronicles was a Broadway hit & Pulitzer Prize winner in the late 80’s – what keeps it relevant today?
Caroline Levien: So much. In a way I wish it was less relevant if it meant that we had come a little further as a society in terms of what we ask and expect of women.

The Heidi Chronicles really tracks the various waves of feminism from the 60’s-80’s and explores a wide variety of themes including ‘sisterhood solidarity’, sexual liberation, gay rights and ‘having it all’ to name a few.

I feel like the subject of feminism is something that has been tarnished a bit and I cringe when I hear women say they don’t need it, as though it’s the new F word and can’t be uttered. On the contrary: It should be studied, celebrated and reinvented. Heidi’s journey through the play highlights the ups and downs of the movement as it changed through the eras. Was it perfect? God no. These social and civil movement rarely go smoothly because what they are doing is shaking up the status quo- there are no rulebooks for how they are supposed to run so in each era the play visits, we see how the ideas have changed: from ultra supportive Consciousness Raising Rap Groups in the 60’s all the way to the rise of the Power Women of the 80’s and the corrosion of the early notions of ‘solidarity’ in favour for emulating traditional male roles in the pursuit of success- shoulder pads anyone?

The Heidi Chronicles looks at these changing incarnations of ‘feminism’ and does so with a certain humour and intelligence that I hope resonates with audiences today, and ask them to study where the role of women’s equality sits in our current era. I imagine most people will recognise that we still have a long way to go.

What are some of your picks of songs that were released in the years Susan features in the play?
Tough one. I’m a big fan of the 60’s and 70’s music so I’d probably have to pick The Kinks. Although my favourite Janis Joplin song happens when I’m off stage so I am free to rock out. Lucky me.

What have you most enjoyed about working on The Heidi Chronicles?
The ensemble. We have some wonderful people working on this production and it’s been such a pleasure to watch and learn from the other actors and the lovely work that they bring to the floor. It’s a challenging play, charting a whole lifetime in two hours, so having a great supportive group of actors and creatives is such a blessing.

There are several scenes in the play where you get to eat/ drink – what’s your pick of the food/ beverage options?
I seem to be either constantly eating or drinking wine in this play. Tough call but it’s got to be Jill’s peanut butter and granola cookies. The breadsticks are pretty fabulous too.

Do you quietly have a favourite character from this play? Come on – spill the beans…
I love all the characters for various reasons. I love my own character, Susan, for her ballsiness and confidence which at times feels so far removed from me as a person and actor, but if I had to pick a favourite I would have to chose Heidi. Her journey speaks so clearly to me that it’s almost eerie. A woman in a world that is constantly changing in ways that she cannot control or fathom, stoic in her beliefs in a society with a very mutable moral and social compass, people coming and going and morphing in front of her, leaving her with no solid ground to stand on. Jesus it’s like an extract from my diary!

The woman in a tempest of a changing world. For me, Heidi is an ‘everywoman’.

Lauren Dillon and Caroline Levien are appearing in The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein.
Dates: 7 June – 9 July, 2016
Venue: New Theatre

Review: A Man With Five Children (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

darloVenue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 3 – 26, 2016
Playwright: Nick Enright
Director: Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jemwel Danao, Chenoa Deemal, Charlotte Hazzard, Jody Kennedy, Ildiko Susany, Anthony Taufa, Aaron Tsindos, Jeremy Waters, Taylor Wiese
Image by Helen White

Theatre review
Like the “Up Series” from British television, Gerry in Nick Enright’s A Man With Five Children begins documenting the lives of five Australian seven year-olds in 1964 with his camera. Initially revisiting the group once a year, he becomes increasingly embroiled with his subjects, and the films he produces begin to lose their objectivity. The nature of Gerry’s art and his relationships are constantly transforming. We think about his responsibilities as film-maker, the validity of his work, and consequently, our collusion as a public that encourages intrusions of this nature. Enright’s play is highly sophisticated, with a big number of themes running through its stories, all thoughtful and sensitive, but its admirable complexity comes at a sacrifice of dramatic tension and focus. Several plot twists are revealed too abruptly, and its ambition to feature all five children with equal weight creates a narrative structure that our emotions struggle to find suitable empathy for.

The work is directed with excellent ingenuity by Anthony Skuse whose combination of live action and film expresses beautifully the way time and space is intertwined in the text (Christopher Page’s lights and Tim Hope’s AV design work together in perfect harmony for a presentation that will be remembered for its precise and elegant aesthetic iterations). Humanity is at the foreground, and Skuse’s remarkable compassion for every character is clear to see, but the ambiguous interpretation of Gerry’s traits and motives is ultimately too mild for its audience to respond with greater passion. Actor Jeremy Waters’ solid stage presence anchors the show appropriately with Gerry’s experiences, regardless of the character’s dubious attributes. It is a performance with power and sincerity, and although not a likeable role, we cannot help but be impressed by Waters’ professionalism and the obvious refinement of his craft.

The cast of nine forms a cohesive and engrossing ensemble. Every scene is lively and authentic, and every line of dialogue is delivered with wonderful conviction. Jemwel Danao plays the innocence and tragedy of Roger to great effect, creating the most poignant moments on stage with an approach that is unique in its subtlety, but also emotionally rich. He speaks directly to our sentimental sides, bringing us back to the play’s tender heart amidst its complications of ideas and incidents. Similarly heartbreaking is Jody Kennedy as Zoe, the girl who believes herself to be “ordinary”. The actor takes her character through many distinct transformations, each one striking in their accuracy, and is consistently charming with every portrayal. The “five children” perform to us not only in the flesh but also through the camera lens, and it is noteworthy that their work on screen is equally accomplished.

The media has played a major part of our lives for decades, but its increasing ubiquity from year to year cannot be understated. A Man With Five Children first appeared before the era of social media, so its major concerns are dealt with in ways that are perhaps slightly outmoded. Gerry is in a position of power that influences lives, in a way not dissimilar to how our own lives are being manipulated by corporations that seduce and insist on our reliance. On the surface, it is a love-hate relationship, but the play leaves little doubt as to the damage that any media can cause when we invite it into personal realms. Gerry’s children would have escaped his domination if their parents had not volunteered their participation but we can scarcely withdraw from the gaze of the modern world through the prevalence of smartphones and their infinite applications. There was a time before screens, and we all fall into the trap of yearning for those simpler days, but the truth is that humans have never been pure and life has never been easy. We have to identify the challenges of our times and their prevailing evils, and do our best to turn things for the better, even in the knowledge that the next malice is just around the corner.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: The Heidi Chronicles (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jun 7 – Jul 9, 2016
Playwright: Wendy Wasserstein
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Sarah Aubrey, Matt Charleston, Lauren Dillon, Caroline Levien, Olivia O’Flynn, Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame, Darren Sabadina, Benjamin Winckle
Photography © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles first appeared at the end of the 1980’s when American women were beginning to crack the glass ceiling, and when second-wave feminism was approaching its last days. The play examines the life of Heidi Holland from high school to middle age, beginning in 1964 through to 1989, charting the progress of white middle-class women through those three decades of the second-wave. Another thirty years (almost) have past, and we wonder how much has progressed since. “Can we have it all?” remains a question that only one of the genders asks herself, and the ambiguous conclusion to Heidi’s story confronts our contemporary sensibilities, leaving us to meditate on our place in society today.

Director Alice Livingstone presents a vibrant production that wears its heart on its sleeve, with an unmistakeable affection for the play’s nostalgia guiding us through Heidi’s years of development. It is a work painted with broad strokes, and although nuance is not always delivered, the staging of each scene is crisp and impactful. Refreshing and inventive use of space, along with Livingstone’s choice of projections help elevate the visual content of its otherwise basic design aspects.

Performers demonstrate an earnest conviction that encourages us to get involved with their stories. Leading lady Lauren Dillon does not seem to possess sufficient maturity for the portrayal of Heidi’s life in later sequences, but her confident presence stands her in good stead with the audience, and her passionate interpretation of a crucial monologue gives the poignant work its heart and soul. Darren Sabadina and Sarah Aubrey leave remarkable impressions with their exuberant and adventurous approach to their respective roles, both detailed with their characterisations and humorous at every appropriate opportunity. There are moments in the show of great chemistry between actors, but also scenes in which people do not seem to connect. Nevertheless, this production of The Heidi Chronicles is consistently enjoyable, and many will find its explorations meaningful.

Heidi lives a feminist life because she is in charge of her own destiny. The rules are her own, and she does not seek approval for her decisions. No one lives in a bubble, and we all find inspiration from other lives, but self-determination for every individual should be afforded and supported by our civilisations. A feminist does not have to look a certain way or prescribe to any particular doctrine, but she needs to be aware of her power, where it comes from and the battles that were fought for it to exist.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: The Big Dry (Ensemble Theatre / ATYP)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jun 4 – Jul 2, 2016
Playwright: Mark Kilmurry (from the novel by Tony Davis)
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Sofia Nolan, Rory Potter, Noah Sturzaker, Richard Sydenham
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Three children are stranded and left to their own devices in a dystopian future. An endless drought has hit Australia, and civilisation as we know it has collapsed. The Big Dry is about our abuse of the environment and the consequences that our children have to bear when the struggle for survival becomes abject and savage. They rely on each other to stay alive, and their bond becomes the centre of their universe. Tony Davis’ story is dark, but we respond with a natural thirst for hope, even though it gives us no indication of salvation. Mark Kilmurry’s adaptation gives mother nature a tremendous dominance, but its humans are insufficiently captivating, with dialogue and personalities that pale by comparison.

Stars of the show are lighting designer Benjamin Brockman and sound designer Daryl Wallis, both of whom use their considerable technical skills to tell a story of cruel and imminent tragedy. Brockman introduces a boundless variety of moods and spatial transformations with inventive hues that impose upon the stage, a brutal power evocative of harsh climates and their impact on our planet’s living creatures. Wallis is responsible for the show’s tensions, offering the audience a glimpse into the apocalypse with a series of clamouring and sinister rumbles that send our nerves shivering with foreboding. Young actor Sofia Nolan puts on an accomplished performance as Emily, demonstrating good focus and intensity. Her work is energetic, with a healthy dose of sincerity that helps endear herself to the audience.

The production depicts calamitous events but is itself moderate in temperament. We never quite connect with the characters, and even though we understand the high stakes involved, its scenes are unable to lead us convincingly to a suspension of disbelief. Its concepts are strong and universal, but its drama feels distant and elusive. To convey the pressing need for societies to escalate individual and political action on climate change is not an easy task, with habits of modernity firmly entrenched in all our lives and necessary sacrifices proving too difficult even to contemplate. Ecological messages are hard to take, especially it seems, when the ugly truth is revealed. The Big Dry is not a walk in the park, but to expect an easy ride from its subject matter is probably more than a little unwise.

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