Review: The Little Dog Laughed (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 7 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Douglas Carter Beane
Director: Alice Livingstone
Cast: Sarah Aubrey, Brett Rogers, Charles Upton, Madeline Beukers
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
It all feels a bit last century, with a movie star struggling to come out of the closet, and his agent seeming to model herself after the cutthroat antics of Wall Street corporate cannibal Gordon Gekko. Douglas Carter Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed is not the trendiest of plays, but its old fashioned structure delivers all we want from a good night out; lots of laughs and a few patronising observations about people we look down upon.

The story is not particularly interesting, but Beane’s dialogue is never short of wit. Diane (the aforementioned agent) is a manic personality with one-liners to die for. Performed by the show-stealing Sarah Aubrey, who ignites the stage with every entrance, the actor leaves a marvellous impression with an approach full of acerbic intensity and scintillating comic timing. Her chemistry with Brett Rogers, who plays Mitchell the movie star, produces extraordinarily precise and delicious scenes of comedy that ensure entertainment value for any viewer.

Alice Livingstone’s direction is trim and taut, for a fun show that asks questions about our values, even if its plastic Hollywoodness feels a world away (Tom Bannerman’s glamorous set design is quite remarkable). We all exist in a commercial reality where honesty and integrity are constantly tested in every social exchange. The Little Dog Laughed looks at the ease with which we make psychological and spiritual compromises for selfish gains, not only preying on others but also eating into our own sense of self-worth. Diane and Mitchell work hard to make their dreams come true, even when their lives turn miserable, they persist, blinded by an unexamined promise of something that cannot exist outside of their imagination.

www.newtheatre.org.au

Review: Losing You (Twice) (King Street Theatre)

kingsttheatreVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 7 – 11, 2017
Playwright: Kate O’Keefe
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Kate O’Keefe
Image by Liam O’Keefe

Theatre review
Kate O’Keefe learned about her brother Daniel’s depression shortly before he disappeared. The anguish in losing a loved one, and the feelings of guilt, are immense, but there is little one can do that is constructive, except to talk. O’Keefe’s Losing You (Twice) is a manifestation of grief. It is conscious of the effect it could have on its audience, and does incorporate elements of activism and public service, but the work’s real concern is catharsis.

We are present to witness and to assist in O’Keefe’s healing, captivated by the authenticity of her revelations, along with the emotional power that she embodies. As performer of the piece however, O’Keefe can tend to push too hard with what she wishes to convey. Director Paul Gilchrist is aware of the show’s effectiveness when the story is seen at its most honest, but how we experience truth can become diluted when we see a person in pain indulge excessively in their sorrow. In real life, we have to suppress emotions in order that trauma can be made verbal. On this bare stage where every effort is made to strip off theatricality and pretence, the performer’s ability to be without embellishment is key, and very demanding, even if it is a real story.

Ultimately we never for one second, question any of the suffering, or the validity of O’Keefe’s efforts at turning it into art, which are sublime. In Losing You (Twice), we come face to face with the fragility of existence, and the meaning of empathy for us as individuals and communities. Not all of us will encounter such horrific events, but we have to be mindful of people who walk next to us with their own wounds. Life often seems to be easier for others, but the truth is that everybody hurts.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

Review: A Strategic Plan (Griffin Theatre Company)

griffinVenue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 27 – Mar 11, 2017
Playwright: Ross Mueller
Director: Chris Mead
Cast: Briallen Clark, Matt Day, Justin Smith, Emele Ugavule
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Andrew works at a nonprofit organisation that brings new music to the young. On the surface are noble intentions, but bureaucracy and ulterior motives threaten its existence every day. Andrew finds himself in a sink or swim position, trying to protect his job, along with his sanity. Ross Mueller’s A Strategic Plan is an angry play for our angry times, a diatribe that pits integrity against exploitation, art against money, with little nuance in between.

Its characters are familiar well-worn stereotypes, some with a heart of gold, and others simply despicable. We never warm up to any of them or to their stories, but the actors who play these roles are certainly dedicated. There is a lot of screaming and shouting, presumably to stop our attention straying away from the predictable and lacklustre plot. Justin Smith and Matt Day play their parts with a lot of conviction, and not much else, as the writing provides little that would allow their personalities any complexity. There is a good level of professionalism in all production aspects, that keeps us sticking around until the end, but the resulting aftertaste is regrettably bland.

There is much to hate in how our corporations operate, and in government bodies that disappoint us repeatedly. It is admirable that A Strategic Plan looks into these failings, but it has a hard time getting us to share in its anger. Malfeasance and injustice occur often, and we have become increasingly disillusioned. We should expect more of community, but the state of the world overwhelms us with all its deficiencies, and to resist a descent into bitter apathy is a challenge we have to face.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Intersection (ATYP)

atypVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Feb 1 – 18, 2017
Playwrights: Peter Beaglehole, Angela Collins, Thomas De Angelis, Isabella Jacob, Suzannah Kennett-Lister, Louis Klee, Laura Lethlean, Isabelle McDonald, Kevin Ngo, Charles O’Grady, Eliza Oliver, Farnoush Parsiavashi, Zoe Ridgway, Anita Sanders, Michelle Sewell, Jordan Shea, Brenden Snow, Lewis Treston, Mark Tripodi, Jackson Used, Honor Webster-Mannison
Director: Katrina Douglas
Cast: Tamara Bailey, Asha Boswarva, Alex Chalwell, Alex Chorley, Sonia Elliott, Elliott Falzon, Rebecca Gulia, Monica Kumar, Steffan Lazar, Ingrid Leighton, Hudson Musty, Kurt Pimblet, Esther Randles, Iris Simpson, Adam Stepfner, Ilai Swindells, May Tran, Darius Williams, Jackson Williams
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Somewhere in the background there exists a high school formal, but what we see on stage are ten stories written and performed by young people, about young people who may or may not be connected with each other. Intersection is an earnest and wholesome collection of personalities, reflecting interests and concerns of today’s middle-class Australian youth.

Jordan Shea’s Little Differences is perhaps the most consciously political, in its passionate investigation of teenagers negotiating differences in religious and cultural backgrounds. Also significant is Charles O’Grady’s subtle depiction of queer identities in Pray 4 Mojo, whereby two lonely souls form a charming bond of friendship through their shared ostracism. Actors Kurt Pimblet and Adam Stepfner prove themselves sensitive and intelligent, offering up great insight into adolescence with their very charming tale.

Excellent performances can be found in Lewis Treston’s Starlight Plaza, in which romantic leads Ingrid Leighton and Steffan Lazar establish spectacular chemistry, transforming a sweet love story into the most engaging vignette of the production. Eminently memorable comedian Monica Kumar brings the laughs in Cassie And Saoirse by Suzannah Kennett Lister, a quirky piece involving an urn and the tricky business of mourning. Asha Boswarva is equally impressive with her delicately balanced portrayal of the recently bereaved.

There is an unmistakable warmth that comes through every one of the show’s segments. Director Katrina Douglas instils a soulful quality that translates as a sense of truth for the audience, even when the stories turn obscure. Creativity materialises in an infinite number of ways, and in Intersection we witness different dispositions and approaches, all finding their way to voice the things that matter. We may not always connect or indeed, agree on all of those things, but to be able to meet at a space of artistic expression, is a moment of harmony that is undeniably precious.

www.atyp.com.au

5 Questions with Skyler Ellis and Emily Havea

Skyler Ellis

Skyler Ellis

Emily Havea: So you’ve got quite a doozy of a role to play here Sky! Anyone who knows you personally would know that you’re about as far from an aggressively masculine ‘alpha-male dickhead’ as I am! How have you found playing Alex?
Skyler Ellis: Yeah, it’s a toughie, to say the least! Look, it’s easy to see a character described as ‘hyper-masculine d*ckhead’ and play it as ‘bogan, testosterone-filled mofo that drinks too much and starts punching the nearest person’. But that is not only judgemental towards him, but also dismissive of a lot of other information about him provided in the play. After a while of exploring Alex like that, I had an extremely insightful conversation one rehearsal with our wonderful director, Erin, which made me question everything about him, including why I, as an actor, was cast as him, and what I offer naturally as a person. It made me realise that I have much more in common with him than I anticipated. The ‘hyper-masculine’ stuff is very different in a UK context, than it is through an ‘Australian’ lens, and I hadn’t taken that into consideration. He’s “posh”, he’s a banker and he’s a business man, too. It’s these kind of seismic revelations about him that make him SO fun to experiment with. It’s challenging to constantly be questioning his existence within a harshly capitalist society, but boy is it fun!

Classic drama school character question; Are they nice or nasty? (thanks Jen Hagen) What do you think about Alex?
Well, if any character is just one or the other, they’d be pretty bloody boring to watch! It’s much more interesting to see a character’s imperfections and inconsistencies, right? If at one point, Alex was to appear ‘nasty’, it makes you question your own judgement of someone who is going through a pretty traumatic situation. It could be a coping mechanism of someone in pain. NOW who’s being nasty! Sure, I think Alex approaches situations differently than I would, but I think finding his heart, is the key.

As we all know, indi theatre is a love job! It doesn’t exactly pay the big bucks haha. What was it about this play that made you wanna jump on board?
Oh, wait, you’re not getting paid equity rates for this show? Awkward… Jokes! The whole conversation about the appreciation (or lack thereof) of arts within our society and the expectation of artists (in most mediums) to do their profession for the love of it, is a conversation for another time. For BU21, as soon as I read the script before auditioning, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. All it takes is a quick scroll of Facebook to be hit with the repercussions of living in a world dominated by fear, and I really think Stuart Slade tackles this in his work. It’s a tough world to live in right now, especially if you believe in having respect and love for fellow humans. BU21 addresses the mechanism of coping, of hope, and of human decency in an unimaginable situation, and I think that can resonate with a lot of us right now.

If you had to summarise/ describe the show in 3 words, what would they be?
“Onwards and upwards.”

What’s been your favourite part of the process thus far?
Watching docos about human tragedy. Think 9/11, London Bombings, Westgate shootings. Too soon?

Emily Havea

Emily Havea

Skyler Ellis: BU21 has some pretty hectic content, but also calls upon humour and lightness. How have you found it, having to insert yourself into an unimaginable situation to convey your character, Thalissa, with truth?
I mean, you’re absolutely right. It is truly graphic and unimaginable stuff we’re dealing with so there has to be an element of self-preservation for the actor whilst still playing for truth. I think that lightness and humour that our director Erin has pushed for is what gets us all through and stops the play from being a relentless gut-wrencher. Also having a great, supportive and fun bunch of cast members helps! The humour and camaraderie offstage is equally as necessary as it is onstage. It just pops that tension bubble and let’s us all off the trauma hook for a second. After all ‘If you laugh at it you can fucking beat it, you know.’

Along with being a wonderfully gifted actor, you’re also a damn fine dancer, an angelic vocalist, and a very talented painter and drawer. You’re artistic, to say the least! Why are these different artistic fields important forms of expression to you, and do they influence your acting in any way?
Oh my gosh Sky stahhhhp! You’re like a human personification of my Showcast! Great question too. I definitely think I’m lucky to have a number of creative outlets to express myself through and although they all come from the same place (me, der) I do wonder if they speak to each other.. Acting and dance seems like an obvious one as inhabiting a character is as much an embodied thing for me as a mental thing. I’m one of those actors who likes to have their character’s shoes so I can feel what it’s like to walk like them and that definitely comes from my dance background. But I guess at the end of the day it’s all storytelling isn’t it? Singing, dancing, acting, writing, drawing -they’re all just ways for me to express something and I’d be a sadder person if I didn’t constantly get it out.

What has been your favourite memory from rehearsals so far?
My favourite rehearsal was just the other day when we got to sit and watch everyone’s monologues! I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying, it’s a monologue heavy show -which is a whole other challenge. But it was so nice to be able to watch everyone’s work cos there’s some REALLY great acting going on. Every time I’m in a show, I always wish I could just sit out and watch it for a run and, because of the monologue style, it was finally kinda possible!

The original UK production of BU21 has just been transferred to the West End. The play has had a successful run in Spain, is opening later this year in Germany, and we are premiering it here in Australia. Why do you think it is so relevant now, in 2017?
I don’t think this play could be more relevant if it tried. One of Thalissa’s lines sums it up best for me; “You know how on the news these days there’s just this endless stream of horrendous shit going down, like every single night? Suicide bombings, mass shootings, genocide, drone strikes, school massacres -It’s like the end of the world or something.” You don’t have to scroll very far to know that to be true! Stuart Slade has written a beautifully detailed, raw account of people dealing with some of today’s atrocities head on. Terrorism is a huge collective fear of society today and I think Slade does an incredible job of confronting that and pulling it apart with all its complexities.

F*ck, marry, kill. BU21 characters. Go!
Hahaha! It’s year 10 all over again! Ok here we go… so I’d fuck Clive because he has that whole monologue about love so he’d probably be a generous lover. Marry is a hard one…. You know I might marry Ana! I could use a sensible Romanian woman to keep me on the straight and narrow. Annnnd I’d kill Graham (sorry Jeremy). Straight up. I won’t reveal any spoilers but Graham and I have some moral differences so I wouldn’t feel too bad about killing him.

Skyler Ellis and Emily Havea can be seen in BU21 by Stuart Slade.
Dates: 8 – 25 Feb, 2017
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

5 Questions with Charlotte Hazzard and James Raggatt

Charlotte Hazzard

Charlotte Hazzard

James Raggatt: What is your earliest memory of theatre that inspired you to become an actor?
Charlotte Hazzard: This is terrible, but I actually don’t have an early memory of theatre that made me want to be an actor… I have one memory of watching a production of Romeo And Juliet which involved a rap at some point, and remember thinking, this is just not right. However, I do remember watching Frances O’Connor in the film of The Importance Of Being Earnest and thinking ‘that’s what I want to do’.

If you could have been born and lived in any other period of history, which would it be and why?
Mmm tough question… Instantly I think I would want to live around the time of Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth, that could be because I’ve always wanted to play Queen Elizabeth the First and have always been interested in the stories from that era in history… interested but equally horrified.

Being an actor often requires continuous learning and adapting. In your career so far, what project have you learnt the most from?
It’s difficult to pinpoint as each project I’ve worked on has taught me something (or many things) and forced me to learn and adapt. However, I was lucky to work on a production of War Crimes by Angela Betzien for ATYP a couple of years ago. And in my career to date, it by far it has taught me the most in terms of life / skill / challenge / craft / everything. I think mostly because it really reignited in me the power and importance of storytelling.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever heard of anyone doing in the name of love?
I’m sure I’ve come across some other really crazy stories… However, the only thing I can think of right now is when I was in High School a friend of mine was seeing a boy and he got her name tattooed just above his pubic region. I remember thinking at the time that was very crazy. I think it has been covered over since.

If you could have anyone in the world stalk you, who would it be?
Besides you James? I’m not too sure, maybe Beyonce. Because she is Queen B.

James Raggatt

James Raggatt

Charlotte Hazzard: If you weren’t an actor, and couldn’t pursue the arts, what would you be doing?
James Raggatt: I have a myriad of answers ranging from marine science to politics. But when I was a little boy I was obsessed with everything to do with trains, so I’d likely be a train driver. Legit. I’d love to be a professional traveller, write for Lonely Planet or National Geographic from bizarre global locations. I’ll stop here before I get carried away.

You can have one superpower. What is it?
I’d be ‘super-lingual’, able to speak fluently any language from anywhere in the world.

What’s the greatest gesture of love you’ve ever given or received?
Years ago I had someone write a song about me. It’s one of the sweetest memories I have. I think I still have the track somewhere…

The play focuses on observation; the act of observing and the need to be seen. What would you prefer, to be watched or do the watching?
I’m definitely an observer. I love soaking up information and learning about things and people.

Finally… From now until forever you can only have one… sweet or savoury?
Savoury all the way.

Charlotte Hazzard and James Raggatt are appearing in Blink by Phil Porter.
Dates: 9 Feb – 4 Mar, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre