5 Questions with Lucy Clements and Brandon McClelland

Lucy Clements

Lucy Clements

Brandon McClelland: As a writer, which piece of literature or drama do you most wish could have had your name in place of the author’s? Conversely, which are you most glad your name is absent from?
Lucy Clements: To have my name on: Hamilton, Wicked or My Fair Lady. I’m such a fan girl for the great musicals. I’d get writing on my own, but my ridiculous lack of music knowledge and taste makes me nervous to try… but hey, why make excuses, I should get writing! And absent from… I’ll go Mao’s Little Red Book. Pretty glad my name’s not on that.

If you could travel in time, but only in one direction and with no possibility of return, when would you travel to and why?
I’d definitely go forward, I think the unknown is so much more exciting than all the stuff we already know about from the past. But probably only one century max… as too much more and I’ll probably find myself in a global warming destroyed world and be consumed by man eating plants that have taken over the planet. And only if I could take you with me!

Fracture is a piece that has gone through extensive development, transformation and is a completely different iteration than its original Perth production. Since the first draft of Fracture to now, what has been the most significant change in your own life?
Meeting you of course! Because of our relationship I have moved out from my family home in Perth and am now living with you in the midst of the vibrant art scene of Sydney, I’m debuting my first work with you as my lead actor and co-producer… and I will soon be following to you to New York on your Broadway tour of STC’s The Present! If someone had told me that all of this was going to happen three years ago I never would have believed them.

Do you believe a playwright’s voice should be neutral (non-partisanal, apolitical, objective) or should they have a singular opinion that they back unreservedly? In relation to this, which of these do you think dominates the Australian theatrical landscape?
I don’t believe there is a “right” or “wrong”. There are many successful opinionated and neutral-voiced plays. My personal taste goes towards a voice that gives you both perspectives and lets you decide… so, a neutral voice. I recently read Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand. Although Rand is quite well known for her opinionated works, this particular play, set in a courtroom where the audience becomes the jury, plays on our own personal biases and how this can manipulate our judgment. The play does nothing to prove who is “good” or “bad”, but presents both sides of the story and challenges audiences to cast from this our own opinions. I loved this play. I find it much more challenging to have to find my own opinion with all the facts presented to me, rather than having one side of the story drummed into me as opinionated pieces can do. I believe Fracture has a neutral voice. It simply tells a story, and lets audiences decide what is good and what is truth within it. I think we’ve got both sides pretty covered in Australia, particularly with 44% of our programing being international scripts (which is also a very saddening statistic!).

You originally planned to be a nurse, so do you believe your earlier career aspirations have had an effect on who you are as a writer/artist?
Definitely! I’ve always been quite an empathetic person – hence my drive to become a nurse. I think all the characters I write are created from the same drive. In Fracture, my leading character (who you are playing) has abandoned his life partner without a goodbye or word of warning. But why do people make these choices? What’s going on inside them that from the outside can make them seem cowardly or cruel? Was it even in their control? What perspective can I tell this story from that could make audience’s understand, to question other people’s circumstances one more time before casting judgement? These are all the questions that Fracture interrogates – which are the questions that drive all of my plays.

Brandon McClelland

Brandon McClelland

Lucy Clements: Here’s a million bucks to put on a production in Sydney next year. What play, which venue, and do you have anyone in mind to direct and/or co-staring beside you?
Brandon McClelland: Well, a million dollars is a ridiculous amount of money. I’d most likely split it up and try to program a full season of independent shows from a range of different young writers and directors. Although if, like Highlander, there can be only one, then I would love to put that money towards a production of The Weir by Connor McPherson in a smaller theatre. I don’t know who’d direct it. Maybe I’d hold auditions just to turn the tables.

What’s the best and worst thing about dating your director?
Best thing is that we already have a shorthand in regards to communication and we can talk about the play pretty much round the clock. The worst thing is that there’s no excuses when it comes to doing my ‘homework’ as it were. You know everything about me. Example: I didn’t read the new addition to the scene because I was watching Mythbusters again.

What excites you most about realising Fracture?
It’s a show I’ve followed since its premiere in Perth. Being involved in the development and progression of the play over the past year it’s clear that it is a completely different beast and I think it’s an exciting project. The conversation it enables regarding mental health is particularly poignant and personally relevant. I’m fascinated to discover how audiences will react.

This is your second time taking on the dual role of producer and performer. What draws you to this combination?
I’m a sucker for punishment. I don’t know really. It’s a tough ask to take on both roles and I think you have to be a very special kind of mind to successfully operate and fulfil your duties equally. I don’t know how I’d do it without you. I really don’t.

You’re elected as Prime Minister of Australia. What’s your first call of action?
Treaty with the Indigenous, First Peoples with full recognition in the constitution. No hesitation.

Lucy Clements and Brandon McClelland are co-founders of New Ghosts Theatre Company, presenting Fracture in Sydney after a successful season in Perth last year.
Dates: 2 – 12 August, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Cristina In The Cupboard (The Depot Theatre)

depottheatreVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jul 13 – 30, 2016
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Nyssa Hamilton, Teale Howie, David Jeffrey, Emily McGowan, Tasha O’Brien, Sarah Plummer, Lucy Quill, Rachael Williams
Image by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
We hear of people going on therapeutic retreats, travelling to the countryside, away from everyday city life, to find themselves. Some sound like lavish holidays disguised as spiritual endeavours, while others seem too challenging for mere mortals to even imagine, such as those who require individuals to be shut off from the world, speaking to no one at all for weeks on end. Cristina locks herself up in her cupboard, compelled to look inward, rejecting efforts to intervene from family and friends. She is determined to withdraw from the noise, and listen only to her own heart.

In Paul Gilchrist’s exceptional and very contemplative play Cristina In The Cupboard, we join a girl on her journey of self-discovery, as she asks all of life’s big questions and takes it upon herself to provide the answers. Like Cristina, the script is charming, intelligent and brave. It is an invaluable expression of the universal but private experience of introspection, giving form to something that is usually subconscious, so that our hidden and buried realities comes to light, and that we may begin to have a better understanding of our minds, along with a warmer regard for our souls.

The vibrant and imaginative production under Julie Baz’s direction works effectively at enhancing the ideas of the play, bringing lucidity to the many deep meditations therein. There are powerful and oftentimes complicated concepts that require the physical dimensions of theatre to put to effect, and Baz negotiates them successfully. Sections of the show could be dealt with with a lighter touch, but the overall impression it leaves is dynamic and surprisingly entertaining. Each of the production’s characters are well considered and delightfully detailed, for a stage that is consistently abuzz with adventure and life. It is a strong cast, featuring Emily McGowan in the title role portraying the demanding duality of girlish innocence and a remarkable wisdom. McGowan’s confident presence allows us to connect with her character’s unusual circumstances, and the precision at which she delivers her performance turns the show’s context of magical realism into something quite profoundly authentic.

Life is hard, and art alleviates suffering by letting us know that we are not alone. As we relate to Cristina’s struggles, we are consoled by the mutuality of all our concerns and anxieties, and in the process come to a re-acquaintance with humanity and its inevitable vulnerabilities. Without art, we are sold only false representations of life that tend only to make things even harder. It is no wonder that we have to hide away, to retreat into spaces of safety that can only be provided by the self, the truth, and everything we trust to be real art.


Review: Proof (Freefall Productions)

freefallVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Jul 14 – 30, 2016
Playwright: David Auburn
Director: Derek Walker
Cast: Alex Brown, Julia Christensen, Peter Flett, Ylaria Rogers
Image by Michael Snow

Theatre review
Catherine has not lived up to her considerable potential as a mathematics prodigy because of sacrifices that have had to be made for her family. Also, her talents are constantly being underestimated and undermined in the patriarchal worlds of academia and maths, who insist on perceiving her as an insignificant shadow of her genius father. David Auburn’s Proof does not explore sufficiently the sexism experienced by his protagonist, even introducing a male love interest to help Catherine realise her dreams, but the narrative is nonetheless a fascinating one, with twists and turns that ensure a gripping experience.

Derek Walker’s direction of the piece brings a good amount of tension for drama to take hold, and although enjoyable for most of the duration, a stricter hand over actors’ choices would give the show a better sense of polish. Playing Catherine is Ylaria Rogers, a dynamic performer who delivers each scene with a thoughtful diligence, but there are inconsistencies in her interpretation that make her character feel slightly distant. Alex Brown leaves a strong impression as Hal, charming and authentic, with a natural sense of timing that serves to make his role effortlessly convincing. Also memorable is Jeremy Allen’s set design, beautiful in its rustic realism, and bold in the way it dominates and transforms space.

It is an entertaining production that will satisfy audiences who want a good story. Proof has got tragedy, comedy and a lot of intrigue, but the moral of its tale is uncertain. This show does not have a strong message that it wishes to advocate, leaving us instead to absorb what we can from its staging of a very popular play. Making theatre is essentially political. It involves strangers talking to each other. The artistic act in today’s pragmatic economies is by nature one of subversion, even if the work itself is polite to the degree of being nondescript. As long as artists remain dedicated, as they appear to be here, there is hope for the world.


Review: Resident Alien (Seymour Centre)

seymourVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Jul 12 – 23, 2016
Playwright: Tim Fountain
Director: Gary Abrahams
Cast: Paul Capsis

Theatre review
Quentin Crisp is the original and quintessential queer icon of our modern times. Wildly flamboyant and tenaciously outsider, he has left behind a legacy not only of words, but also an attitude and perspective of life that remains cutting edge and inspiring for subsequent generations that continue to be oppressed by the bourgeoisie and its prejudicial values. Tim Fountain’s Resident Alien is eighty minutes of extraordinary wit, unparalleled wisdom and genius observational comedy. Many of the standout lines are familiar to Crisp fans, whether lifted verbatim from his writing and interviews, or simply an accurate representation by Fountain of our memory of the hero. The monologue however, is more than a piece of nostalgic resurrection. It introduces shades of human emotionality to a character who was resolute in presenting a frosty and severe image. The British gentleman is given an opportunity to reveal his tender and vulnerable sides in Resident Alien, so that we can find an even deeper connection through the ever reliable mechanism of sentimentality.

It is a gorgeous production, designed by Romanie Harper (costumes and set) and Rob Sowinski (lights) who provide us with all the visual cues necessary to imagine the decrepit bedroom in which Crisp dwelled, while creating a sense of decadent drama that befits our protagonist, and bringing to sharp focus the physical subject of this monologue presentation. Paul Capsis is the star, captivating, glamorous and alluring with a kind of magnetism that we all desire but rarely encounter. There are efforts at mimicry, but we quickly give up on analysing the impersonation, and delve instead into the glorious essence that Capsis presents on stage, operatic in scale with his bodily and facial gestures, along with a bewitching voice that turns every syllable into song.

We see both Capsis and Crisp, or perhaps more than that, we see ourselves in Resident Alien. It is the meanings that become important. Director Gary Abrahams understands that personality and style are the weapons of seduction, but they play second fiddle to the words that attack with fierce resonance to shake us out of our drear realities. We came to be close to a legend, but are gifted instead a profound and subversive confrontation of our selves, as was Crisp’s very principle for his own existence. His facade was extravagant but flimsy, perhaps intentionally so, so that we can access the truths behind, that his mighty erudition was so generous to offer. Abrahams does the same. His cosmetics are delightful but transparent, allowing us to leave not only with insight into a celebrity’s biography, but the greatest lessons Crisp had learned through 91 years on this earth. His was a theatrical life that always had room for an audience, and the performance was about the alleviation of suffering and a disruption to prejudice. It is the most noble kind of theatre we can hope for, and in Resident Alien, his work lives on.


Review: Leaves (Bakehouse Theatre Company)

kxtVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 9 – 23, 2016
Playwright: Lucy Caldwell
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Bobbie-Jean Henning, Poppy Lynch, Simon Lyndon, Amanda Stephens-Lee

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
When news broke several months ago that a 10 year-old Aboriginal girl had taken her own life in Western Australia, our nation was stunned into a moment of grief and rare self-reflection, searching for reasons to help us understand what had happened. We knew that it was the fault of a wider community, but struggled to find a way to take responsibility for the deeply unfortunate incident. In Lucy Caldwell’s Leaves, a teenager attempts suicide and we must again investigate the causes of her calamity. The play takes place in Lori’s home, where everything is healthy and normal, bringing us to the conclusion that family is unable to shield us from all the failings of society. It is a tender script, confidently quiet but with subtle fluctuations in tone that provide unexpected hints of drama and comedy.

Situations in Leaves are volatile, so corresponding emotions are kept under tight containment by director Rachel Chant for a work that is elegant, melancholic and extremely thoughtful. It is a production full of nuance, aided by the considerable talents of music composer Nate Edmondson and lighting designer Sian James-Holland, both providing unobtrusive but essential elements of movement and tension to the piece. A strong cast provides the show with a cohesive and unique flavour (too rich and ephemeral to put to words), with each actor compelling in their respective parts. Poppy Lynch is especially memorable playing a 12 year-old, adorable and authentic in her emulation of childlike qualities, but complex in the relationships she harnesses with co-actors. Bobbie-Jean Henning plays the feisty Clover, rebellious in demeanour but innocent by nature. The actor is convincing and dynamic in her characterisations, effectively adding sprightliness to a largely sombre production.

Places have problems, and sometimes leaving is the best answer. Forming attachment with community is human, but where we call home might not be nurturing or gratifying. The grass is greener on the other side, but when given the opportunity, we must make the effort to discover the truth in what was once only imagined. Taking chances can mean win or lose, but to truly live requires motion. When Lori chose to give up on life, she gave in to stasis and hopelessness. The solution for her problems may not be concrete or certain, but the only way to find it is to get moving.


5 Questions with Jacqueline Marriott and Nicholas Starte

Jacqueline Marriott

Jacqueline Marriott

Nicholas Starte: If you could be a student at Hogwarts, would you still want to be an actor?
Jacqueline Marriott: Yes but only because I’m a strange human and am not crazy about HP… bad muggle.

2 chickens meet at a bar, one says to the other “I hear you’re in a play call Resolution, why should I come along?” What about the show would convince an alcoholic chicken to come along?
Oh so tough… maybe I’d tell the alcoholic chicken that there are five very charming chooks to check out on the stage. Chicks dig alliteration.

What is your character’s spirit animal?
A swan. Super graceful and has everything together… above the waterline.

Do you have a favourite pre-show ritual?
Yes, two – painting my nails in the colour suited to my character and binding my script with a ribbon that I am only allowed to choose once the show is up and running (actually it usually happens around closing for me)… I make sure the size, colour and texture of the ribbon matches the colour/feel of the show I’ve just finished. I am growing an ever colourful library of much loved, cried upon, yelled at and ultimately bound scripts. At a glance I only see the ribbons but I recognise each one as the gamut of experience it holds tight. The ribbon decision also is definitely only allowed to be made well into (after) the process too because the choice changes so wildly throughout. I think in colours. I am a dag. I also gave you a pre and a post ritual because I’m a colourful dag.

When do your super powered acting skills come in handy in every day life?
In my other job as a Captain Starlight – lots and lots of super powers employed there!

Nicholas Starte

Nicholas Starte

Jacqueline Marriott: If you could sit opposite yourself as a child of 7, what is the most important question you would ask yourself?
Nicholas Starte: Why don’t we hang out more?

When was the last time you cried?
I don’t cry, my heart is made of stone… I’m currently receiving treatment.

What is your one favourite line of the whole play? Can be your own, can be another character’s…
Easiest question ever. It’s a tie between all of Rosie’s lines about balls.

Why acting? Succinct answer please!
Because I refuse to grow up and stop playing make believe.

If not acting, then what?
A lion!

Jacqueline Marriott and Nicholas Starte are appearing in Resolution by Luke Holmes.
Dates: 26 July – 6 August, 2016
Venue: The Actor’s Pulse

Review: Singin’ In The Rain (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

singinintherainVenue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), Jul 7 – Aug 28, 2016
Music & Lyrics: Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Reed
Screenplay: Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Director: Jonathan Church
Cast: Grant Almirall, Robyn Arthur, Mike Bishop, Jack Chambers, Rodney Dobson, Erika Heynatz, Gretel Scarlett
Image by Hagen Hopkins

Theatre review
Regarded by those in the know to be the greatest movie musical of all time, Singin’ In The Rain takes place in Hollywood in the late 1920’s, when sound had begun to disrupt the silent film industry. This theatre production, based on the 2012 London revival, is similarly lighthearted, with a simple storyline that provides justification for a lot of song and dance in a style that harks back to the golden age of cinema.

Performers Jack Chambers and Erika Heynatz are called upon to provide the laughs in distinct comic sequences that showcase their talents appropriately, but the production suffers from a lack of exuberance that maintains an unfortunate muted tone over proceedings. Visual and sound design elements seem to be overly subdued, resulting in a show that often feels distant and lifeless. In the role of Don Lockwood is Grant Almirall, no less skilled and technical than Gene Kelly in the original film, but his very nifty footwork does not make up for the shortfall of charisma that we have come to expect of a Broadway style leading man.

Gretel Scarlett’s best efforts as supporting character Kathy Selden bring memorable moments of theatrical brilliance, leaving an excellent impression with polished execution of choreography and sublime vocals. Equally accomplished are the ensemble players, who present magnificent dance sequences that form the strongest feature of the production. Andrew Wright’s contribution as choreographer is outstanding, and almost compensates for the show’s minor but noticeable imperfections. Much excitement surrounds the heavy rain that pours on stage for the eponymous number; unquestionably gimmicky but also spectacular and beautifully realised. We go to musicals of this genre for amusement, and Singin’ In The Rain certainly does offer entertainment and escape, as well as bucket loads of nostalgia for the more romantic among us.


Review: Forbidden (Blood Moon Theatre)

bloodmoonVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Jul 6 – 23, 2016
Playwright: Visakesa Chandrasekaram
Director: Neil Khare
Cast: Dimitri Armatas, Neil Khare, Belinda Maree

Theatre review
Terrorism ranks atop our most pressing issues of the day, and we argue endlessly to find explanations and remedies for the actions of enemies that we seem never to be able to find an understanding of. Visakesa Chandrasekaram’s Forbidden is the story of one Sri Lankan woman’s personal struggle as we find her on a journey towards oblivion with a militant Tamil separatist organisation.

Chandrasekaram’s script is romantic, colourful and emotional, offering unique insight into a mystifying world. It does not make excuses for the abomination that takes place, but seeks to expand our understanding of a hidden microcosm. Where things are forbidden, there are secrets. The play may not be biographical or even factual, but it inspires a wider conception of an otherness, dissolving a threatening enigma to reach an understanding of what is always and essentially a shared humanity.

The production is a simple one, and too basic in approach for a highly imaginative text that features a non-chronological timeline and supernatural influences. Acting style tends to be overly dramatic for the very intimate space, but strong commitment by the cast helps us find meaning in the story. Each actor is clearly invested in their respective roles, but chemistry is lacking, which can make relationships confusing and events incoherent. The show needs more time to mature, in order that greater depth can be discovered in all areas and for its message to sing with better clarity.

Urmila’s reasons for adopting drastic measures are as personal as they are political. We forget the individual experiences of soldiers from all sides, choosing to conflate every disaster of war into the purely ideological. In Forbidden, the suicide bomber is given a name and her identity is exempt from simplification. To know even one sacrificed life is a powerful antithesis to the faceless apathy that we have come to accept as daily normalcy. No single work of art will solve the problems of the world, but an opportunity to broaden minds exists in every creation, and every bit of wisdom gained is an existence grown stronger.


Review: Hurt (White Box Theatre)

old505Venue: Old 505 Theatre @ 5 Eliza St (Newtown NSW), Jul 5 – 23, 2016
Playwright: Catherine McKinnon
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Ivan Donato, Meredith Penman, Gabrielle Scawthorn

Theatre review
A horrific road accident brings the breakdown of a relationship to its accelerated boiling point. Surrounded by trauma, Mel and Dom are in a state of anguished disintegration, trying to make sense of marriage and family amidst the smithereens. Catherine McKinnon’s Hurt is ruthless in its depiction of human frailties. Through themes of parenthood and misfortune, her play illustrates life at its most difficult moments, asking us to consider the importance of empathy and compassion, not only for others but also for ourselves. There is a complexity to the writing that demands of us, deep analysis as well as a humane response, bringing attention to the nature of our collective ethics and values. Hurt is both controversial and mundane, exposing highly contentious issues within a context of common occurrences, to orchestrate great dramatic tension for the theatre, and to challenge the ways we think about life and the way we treat one another.

Director Kim Hardwick brings a lethal combination of operatic emotionality and psychological acuity to a production that enthrals from start to finish. The interplay of characters constantly fluctuates to keep us mystified and on edge, but a sense of truth prevails no matter which way the show’s tone oscillates. An unrelenting and dark intensity drives the plot through its surprising revelations, with a seductive force, impossible to resist, drawing us further and further into its agonising quagmire. Production design adheres to Hardwick’s powerful but subtle aesthetic approach. Set design by Isabel Hudson, lights by Martin Kinnane, and Katelyn Shaw’s soundscapes provide the cast with elegantly effective backdrops against which their magic happens.

Meredith Penman plays Mel, the troubled mother of two, with a delicious daring that complicates our need to sympathise and deride. Resisting the temptation to turn her character into a convenient victim, Penman’s ability to portray convincing fallibility is key to the show’s brilliance. No parent can ever be perfect, but we hold them to a certain standard that Mel’s story shows to be impossible for many. The role of Alex is performed by the very impressive Gabrielle Scawthorn, whose work in Hurt is nothing short of spectacular. Perfectly measured and delicately balanced, Scawthorn’s creation is simultaneously brutal and tender, displaying an extraordinary vulnerability in her undeniably painful process. Ivan Donato provides excellent support as Mel’s husband Dominic, with a focused conviction that helps sustain the protracted and mesmerising hysteria of Mel’s world.

When it all comes tumbling down, we are faced with the choice of surrender or struggle. We watch the people in Hurt fight through incredible hardship, and worry if their spirit can pull them through. We want to believe that our fortitude can surmount anything, but the truth is that weakness co-exists with strength, and can sometimes be the element that defeats. It is in trauma, that one’s mettle gets tested, and even though every successful attempt to overcome must be celebrated, it is necessary that our failures are afforded forgiveness.


Review: Henna Night (Mercury Theatre)

mercuryVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 5 – 9, 2016
Playwright: Amy Rosenthal
Director: Glen Hamilton
Cast: Jane Angharad, Romney Stanton

Theatre review
Two women are brought together by their love of one man. They are not particularly inspiring people, but theatre does not have the responsibility to only give us role models. Judith and Ros are in a confrontation, both projecting their resentments onto the other, eventually finding commonality in their romantic dissatisfaction that allows them to discover a bond, unexpected of themselves, but completely predictable for their audience. They languish in all the imperfections of their love lives, but never question the futility of their efforts. Amy Rosenthal’s Henna Night is a story about desperation that shows an unflattering picture of what we look like when feeble and fallible.

It is a mildly comical work, with an emphasis on naturalism that tends to subdue the funnier lines of the script. The clash of rivals is conveyed with insufficient theatricality, but the show has a coherence that communicates logically in the absence of great dramatic tension. Actors Jane Anghard and Romney Stanton are convincing in their portrayals, if a little lacking in dynamism. The production’s shifts in mood and atmosphere could be more amplified for better sensory variation to keep us engaged further with nuances of the piece. Director Glen Hamilton attempts to unearth the truth in these women’s experiences, and is successful in bringing an honesty to the stage, but he requires more spice to accompany this overly polite creation, laden with too much sugar.

It is arguable if nice girls always finish last, but in Henna Night, we yearn for Judith and Ros to throw punches and smash vases. We want to see them lash out, because our own angers and frustrations need a safe space to experience a moment of salvation. Thespians are given the license to behave badly in their worlds of make belief, so that we can benefit from that exorcism of our shared demons. The people in the play have a message for us, but they appear gently and disappear too quietly, leaving little more than a dent in our memory.