Review: Business Unfinished (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 27 – 29, 2017
Creator: Tom Christophersen
Director: James Dalton
Cast: Tom Christophersen, Tim Kemp
Image by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
Tom Christophersen has a fascination for the paranormal, and in Business Unfinished, we gather around him as though around a campfire, listening to ghost stories that he has amassed. A collector of metaphysical tales, the idiosyncratic obsession that Christophersen presents, is something we relate to, for what he does in the show, is to question a reality of which everyone is implicated.

Believable or not, depending on each of our own constitutions, episodes in Business Unfinished are an inviting exploration into the nature of time and space, as well as an examination of the human tendency to create relationships with the supernatural, religious or otherwise. It then extends into the idea of sanity, and that sense of coherence necessary for the world to exist as an understandable, rational whole. An acceptance of incoherence would suggest that phenomena is beyond all human control, and therefore devastating.

Christophersen’s work on soundtrack is outstanding; blending firsthand accounts with an imaginative selection of music and a broad assortment of effects and clips, what we hear is deeply evocative, and a thorough expression of the creator’s unbridled fascination for the subject. Sound design however, is underwhelming, with two basic speakers behind the stage unable to manufacture appropriate sensations that would trigger our more visceral responses. Christophersen performs a substantial portion of the show as a lip-sync act, mouthing to recordings of various personalities, with astonishing accuracy. Stage manager Patrick Howard’s precision in dispensing cues is noteworthy in this regard.

Lighting design by Alexander Berlage is charming and playful, offering a good level of visual excitement to the piece. The space is problematic, being right next door to a rowdy watering hole, and the production insufficiently compensates for noise, leaving atmosphere severely compromised, in a work that is all about things creepy and ominous. Nonetheless, it is unequivocal that what its innovative director James Dalton delivers, is a rich and artful theatre, one that is as interested in its subject matter as it is in the characteristics of theatre itself.

Live performances comprise both the concrete and the esoteric. We go to them in search of magic, trusting that although the flesh and matter we encounter are essentially ordinary, something beyond the mundane will be experienced. If ghosts can be created on stage, we can make them appear in other places, voluntarily or involuntarily. As with gods, we can only prove their non-existence, but their presence is resolutely persistent, and ultimately ineludible.

www.bondifeast.com.au

5 Questions with Amy Victoria Brooks and Emily Sulzberger

Amy Victoria Brooks

Emily Sulzberger: Why do you think this play is relevant in today’s society? 
Amy Victoria Brooks: Technicolor Life is relevant in our society because it is about a family and every family’s story is unique and important. This play examines the members of a family who are dealing with hardship, and how they cope with – and react to – their lives being upended. The audience will be offered a glimpse into the life of a war veteran who has returned home after active service in Afghanistan and is attempting to fit back in to her previous life, whilst dealing not only the loss of a limb, but the loss of her former self. What excites me most about Technicolor Life are the strong females, everyone is a protagonist. Way too often, substantial female characters can be under-represented, or even invisible, on stage. But by selecting this play for The Depot Theatre’s 2017 program, Julie Baz gives these women voices. Each character is compelling in her own way. She has her strengths and weaknesses and above all, she is determined. 

What are the similarities and differences between you and your character? 
Dorothy Shaw and I share a lot of attributes! We are strong, outspoken and confident women who are empathetic and fiercely loyal. The words “sassy” and “outspoken” also spring to mind. 
Dorothy can be more shallow than I am, and her wardrobe is a million times better than mine. Also, Dorothy Shaw has Lorelei Lee as a best friend! My best friend is a fantastic person, but I wouldn’t describe him as a Marilyn Monroe type (though with the right wig and frock…). 

When you’re not acting, what would we find you doing? 
When I’m not acting, you will find me attending the theatre, watching (mostly-) excellent quality Netflix, and reading plays and fiction. I also enjoy going on on-line shopping websites and adding items to the shopping cart, only to never purchase. And I don’t know if wine can be considered a hobby, but I am an enthusiast. I work in retail and I love interacting with customers. There are always interesting people around and I am fascinated by what makes people tick. 

What would be the funniest thing to fill a piñata with?
Certainly not dad jokes. Maybe the jokes that come in Christmas bon-bons. No, wait! Smaller piñatas! But the best thing? Lipsticks by MAC, please. So… many… shades. I want to collect them all. Although it wouldn’t really be fair on the non-lipstick wearers with whom I am competing. 

What do you hope the audience will take away from watching this show? 
Of course I hope the audience will leave the theatre having seen a great production. But further to that, I hope we make people FEEL. It is the role of creative people to challenge the views of those who view our work and I want them to have learned something. Or questioned their own opinions.  Theatre audiences are often some of the most open-minded people, willing to learn and be inspired. I hope we make people talk.

Emily Sulzberger

Amy Victoria Brooks: Why should people see Technicolor Life?
Emily Sulzberger: Technicolor Life reveals a lot about a beautiful family of four women, how they learn to deal with each other, as they have gone through trauma and how that has changed them as people. We get right down to a personal level, from the inside of a War hero’s diary, to the reality of living with fake tatas, an absent father and a missing limb. All of this, served up next to some fun dance numbers, promises to be a good night out. And if that’s not enough, come for the strong female leads, it’s great to have a play with so many female characters!

What has been the hardest thing about playing this character?
I think it’s playing a character that is so iconic. Everyone knows the blond bombshell who sings “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”, and finding the heart of who she was as a character and giving a genuine performance as opposed to just impersonating the old gal.  

Who inspires you?
I think being a theatre maker is a huge responsibility, we need to be in tune with what is happening in our world, and be prepared to be vulnerable, to be judged and criticised for our work, but nonetheless provide society with stories we believe they need to hear. There are many theatre makers out there who have dared to do this and made a huge impact on society. One of my favourites being Augusto Boal. Oh and my mum and dad of course.

What has been the weirdest thing that had ever happened to you in the theatre?
Hmm once in a very intimate theatre, we were just about to finish the last scene of the play. As I began to break down in tears over the death of my best friend, someone in the audience collapsed. Which brought the show to a standstill, and as the lady (who, not to worry- turned out to be fine) was taken care of, we just picked back up from where we left off and continued. A few people thought it was all part of the quirky show, and were a little confused to the ending.

If you weren’t an actor, what would be your dream job?
I think the most interesting thing about being an actor, is being able to spend time in other people’s shoes. Not literally the old second hand shoes from the costume department, but being able to play different characters, from all different walks of life, and that gives you a better understanding of why people are the way they are. If I wasn’t an actor, I think I would be a social worker or psychologist. I think they both have a great interest in people and their behaviour.

Amy Victoria Brooks and Emily Sulzberger are appearing in Technicolor Life, by Jami Brandli.
Dates: 26 July – 12 August, 2017
Venue: The Depot Theatre

Review: Velvet (Roslyn Packer Theatre)

Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre at Walsh Bay (Sydney NSW), Jul 26 – Aug 20, 2017
Director and creator: Craig Ilott
Musical director: Joe Accaria
Choreographer: Lucas Newland
Cast: Joe Accaria, Kaylah Attard, Emma Goh, Marcia Hines, Mirko Köckenberger, Rechelle Mansour, Tom Oliver, Craig Reid, Stephen Williams

Theatre review
The show begins when a young man appears on stage with luggage. Dressed as a Jehovah’s Witness, or maybe a Mormon, the wide-eyed innocent finds himself in a new city, and we imagine that he encounters disco for the first time. This would mean that the action takes place in the late 1970s, when Donna Summer and the Bee Gees ruled the charts, and in New York, the notorious night club Studio 54 was the epicentre of society and culture. Craig Ilott’s Velvet is essentially a variety show, an homage to the era of the hustle, the afro and cocaine. All is light and frothy, with the protagonist’s journey offering a vague sense of narrative, that holds everything together.

At the centre is a slew of hits, unforgettable songs that defined a generation, marvellously reassembled and executed by musical director Joe Accaria, who ensures that their sparkly appeal is always accompanied by a deep appreciation for the soul and funk roots of these dance-floor stompers. Living legend Marcia Hines plays the diva with effortless grace, trusting that her exceptional voice to take us away from daily humdrum to her realm of sequinned ethereality. Leading man Tom Oliver works harder to prove himself, in archetypal musical theatre style, energetic and earnest in his efforts to reach out to everyone in attendance. Acrobats and circus performers provide excellent spectacle and thrills, each of them accomplished and beautiful. The production relies heavily on two very versatile talents Kaylah Attard and Rechelle Mansour, to maintain its effervescence but later sections require more surprises, perhaps in the form of bigger costumes or additional dancers, to sustain our enthusiasm.

Colours of the rainbow flag make more than a few appearances. We cannot be sure if our boy comes out as gay, but he certainly does come out of his shell in the process. Disco may be about debauchery and hedonism, but we remember it also, for the liberation it inspires and represents, even today. At its best, disco is uplifting while it keeps us feeling dirty. It makes us think of sex as salvation, and creates a space where heaven and hell can meet to reveal so much that is dichotomous about being human.

www.velvettheshow.com

Review: Rice (Griffin Theatre Company / Queensland Theatre)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 21 – Aug 26, 2017
Playwright: Michele Lee
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Kristy Best, Hsiao-Ling Tang
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Yvette cleans Nisha’s office, but it is not the company employing them, that brings them together. Both are Asian-Australian women, and although their personal concerns and interests are miles apart, there is something intrinsic about being ethnic minorities, and of being “the fairer sex”, that makes it easy for them to bond. In Michele Lee’s Rice, we encounter two distinct and fascinating personalities; people we see everyday in our cities, but who rarely make an appearance in the stories we tell in the arts and media. They are regular people, as all our surface pretences portray us to be, but Nisha and Yvette have revelations that are rich enough for any stage or screen.

The two women are imagined with beautiful detail by their playwright. We learn about their worlds, their problems and the way they negotiate life at every turn. Through these keen observations, Lee is able to offer an accurate reflection of how many of us are, in today’s Australia. These ideas however, do not necessarily combine readily for great drama or comedy. The play begins very slowly, with excessive focus on Nisha’s tiresome corporate career, which she pursues with admirable ferocity and little humour. When we discover Yvette’s difficulties at home, the narrative suddenly tightens, but our focus is made to disperse, in Rice‘s ambitions for a more complex structure of storytelling.

We watch Nisha and Yvette go through an emotional time, but we are rarely moved. There is much to cover, and we are rushed through every scene and every possible piquancy. Actors Kristy Best and Hsiao-Ling Tang are the model of conviction, both unshakeable and glorious in their confidence. Best in particular is extraordinarily energetic, especially impressive when playing subsidiary roles, but there is a sense that the actors are compensating for a piece of writing that can otherwise feel muted and underwhelming. We are engaged with the show, usually because the performances are so intense.

The women are an unlikely pairing, and the trust they have for each other is reassuring, though surprising. Against the oppressive power wielded by white men, that attempts to destroy all that they hold dear, Nisha and Yvette find a friendship that offers support and strength. The disparities that exist between them, in the illusory shape of social status, education, wealth and sophistication, are dissolved by a patriarchy that is determined to leave them stripped of all but the perceived weakness of being feminine and coloured. We see them forming an alliance through those very qualities of disparagement, and we await retaliation.

www.griffintheatre.com,au

Review: Bluebeard (Lies, Lies And Propaganda)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 25 – 29, 2017
Original concept: Curly Fernandez
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Curly Fernandez, Melissa Hume, Gideon Payten-Griffiths

Theatre review
In this version of an old folktale, Bluebeard is a 42 year-old man who goes prowling in clubs, on nights known to be popular with students. They story begins for us, when he meets a 19 year-old girl. They drink and flirt, and everything seems quite normal, until she decides to go home with Bluebeard. Things begin to turn strange, with the man becoming increasingly menacing, and us wondering how much terror the girl is bound to undergo.

The story is unequivocally dark, but the show is whimsical, relentlessly quirky with all of its modes of expression. Situated in a beachside changing room, the staging space is unnerving, with its refusal of letting us hold on to our usual expectations of theatre. We should always think that “anything can happen” with art, but conventions are hard to defy. Bluebeard removes us from the security of a darkened auditorium, and successfully changes how we relate to the nature of live performance.

Having freed itself from the ordinary, the production is able to expose its audience to a truly creative and experimental exploration of the art form. Engulfed by the sound of rumbling pipes and the chill of concrete walls, our senses are more alive, and we want to read meaning into everything, because it all seems to embody significance.

Director Michael Dean embraces the exotic, making magic out of the impossible, to create an environment that allows us to share in his wonderful vision of a scary encounter. The absence of lighting design is restrictive in terms of the provision of atmospheric shifts for this grotesque piece, but the close proximity of performers ensures that we are kept engaged. All three are fascinating creatures. Curly Fernandez, Melissa Hume and Gideon Payten-Griffiths are completely vulnerable, unprotected from our unforgiving scrutiny at close range, under the cruel glare of fluorescent tubes. In a play where words are only a small element, their every move speaks volumes and the text we are presented is unexpectedly rich.

The girl is caught in a waking nightmare, but Bluebeard does not ask us for an emotional response. Our sympathy is not required. We absorb and analyse, finding an understanding of that which unfolds, and then relating that present event to the real world outside. Women are often disempowered, that is true, but how we navigate being in that position, is where things get interesting.

www.liesliesandpropaganda.com

5 Questions with Kristy Best and Hsiao-Ling Tang

Kristy Best

Hsiao-Ling Tang: What role do you see yourself playing in 5 years time?
Kristy Best: I see myself in a comedy that I’ve written for myself, after all, that’s probably the only way you can play the kind of roles of want to play!

You’ve used cats before as your animal influence for particular characters, what animal best describes you?
I would say I’m a dog, and then I figured that there may just be an online quiz that determines your animal, and hey presto there is, it agrees, I’m a dog. Obviously a dog that googles everything.

Whats your fave meal that prepares you before a show?
In Brisbane we discovered that a beetroot salad and vegan chocolate cake did the trick, right Hsiao-Ling? In Sydney, now that I’m home, it’s most definitely sushi. Anything light but filling really.

Which iconic male character, in film or stage would you like to play?
Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. I’m not too sure with theatre, I’ve always wanted to be a part of an all-female Glengarry Glen Ross. I think that would be fun. It’s obvious I prefer the flawed types.

Next project?
I have more hosting for Nickelodeon coming up and I’m hoping I will get the chance to do more comedy in the new year, I’d really love that.

Hsiao-Ling Tang

Kristy Best: What has been your favourite role in your career and why?
Hsiao-Ling Tang: I loved playing Pearl in Single Asian Female earlier this year. She not only was a strong three-dimensional female diverse character but she had real heart, a real story and she’s funny. Comedy is a joy to do plus I got to sing as well. That role had it all.

If you could play any kind of character, who would you play?
I’ve always wanted to play a villain. I don’t get cast as a baddy. I think they’re fun to play and more interesting in their intentions.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
Well, I’m doing it now as well as acting. I’m a mummy of two beautiful girls. Also travelling and eating my way around the world. I’m a massive foodie.

What would you like to see more of in the Australian theatre scene?
That’s easy, women and diversity. I think its happening more and there’s much more discussion about the issues so its in the theatre-makers consciousness, but we have a long way to go.

What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
End of a long schools tour, we had a trunk on wheels that we stood in as a ship. We stacked it, nearly fell out then got the giggles and took a while to recover.

Kristy Best and Hsiao-Ling Tang are appearing in Rice, by Michele Lee.
Dates: 21 July – 26 August, 2017
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

5 Questions with Kerith Manderson-Galvin and Tobias Manderson-Galvin

Kerith Manderson-Galvin

Tobias Manderson-Galvin: Kerith Manderson-Galvin, if that is your real name and by all accounts it is (and if anyone would know it’d be me because I’ve known you my whole life). Isn’t it true that you often impersonate yourself or me or Hollywood actor Jeff Goldblum when you give interviews?
Kerith Manderson-Galvin: Tobi, Tobi do you remember you got invited to read at some playwright’s event and you were overseas and you didn’t tell them you were overseas I don’t think and so I went and read as you. And then someone who I won’t name because maybe people won’t know the person but then that person always said I was a good actor. Which was so nice of them. Also I once performed in your place for another thing too.

That’s interesting that you bring up Jeff Goldblum because David Cronenberg once said to me, “No Kerith,” because I was and am an adept mimic, he said to me, “no Kerith, you’re doing it again.” And I said, “That’s right, do it the Kerith way, not the Jeff way.” And that’s just some of the fun we had.

Are you guys brothers?
We used to love that movie didn’t we but I think now I would hate it or be upset by it so I feel like it’s best we never watch it again.

Have you already lived this life and can you tell all of your fans an amusing story because if there’s one thing you’ve taught me it’s that people don’t really want to hear answer to a question?
I can’t think of anything amusing because you have put me under a lot of pressure Tobi, now I feel like it has to be the best and I can’t think of anything and can’t we do something else instead I really don’t want this to be the question and no I don’t need a glass of water. I’m just tired.

How old is the world and how much older will it be?
Age: 4.543 billion years
Mass: 5.972 × 10^24 kg
Distance from Sun: 149.6 million km
Population: 7.347 billion (2015) World Bank
Life expectancy: 71.46 years (2014) World Bank
Life Achievements: Best dancer on the Senior Single’s Cruise, 4 published Autobiographies, Runner on Law and Order Season 61, Episode 3.

So you have a show coming up is that right *slightly disaffected*?
I heard the exact same thing about you.

Tobias Manderson-Galvin

Kerith Manderson-Galvin: Yes Hello Tobi. Isn’t it true that you and I are twins, and that we are mirror twins, which is a superior form of twin?
Tobias Manderson-Galvin: This is a boldfaced lie, or misinformation, as I am two years your senior and in no way your twin.

Wait, I don’t understand. What do you mean we’re not twins? I’ve never heard any stories about you before I was born.
Yes there was the story of my first words: when I had seen some birds, then saw either more birds or the original birds for a second time and rightly or wrongly described them as “more birdy.” Also you’re conspicuously absent from the story of my first birthday (Hawaii), first steps (same day as birthday, in Hawaii), and the time that ASIO robbed our family home to steal photos of me (I was two weeks old, and you not born).

Did you ever wish that you had been an only child this is a very sad question I feel sick.
I have entertained the thought ‘what would it be like’, in the same way that I have wondered ‘what if I was dead’, or ‘imagine if we hadn’t done the one million things we’ve done that stop us from being presidents of Australia’ but have never wished it.

Tell me, how did the world begin?
That’s a secret I will only reveal in our show The Eternity Of The World (Parts Missing).

Thank you. Tell me, how did the world end?
Without incident or demonstration of any kind. Having refused the intervention of a priest, a last post to facebook, or even a final signing of an online petition, and having declared you had no revelations, or selfies to make – at first pale and trembling – you soon demonstrated an affected cynicism and exasperation, and in what can only be described as ‘a voice’ sang a few really Five Star Must See Highly Revoltingly obscene lyrics – an ironically failing to pronounce the word anarchy – then as all was put in place you gave out a last cry of “Long Live the Re…”.
Whether the cry was supposed to be Long Live the Republic or Long Live the Revolution we will never – ok it was Revolution. Complete calm reigned.

Kerith Manderson-Galvin and Tobias Manderson-Galvin are performing in The Eternity Of The World (Parts Missing), part of Bondi Feast 2017.
Dates: 21 – 22 July, 2017
Venue: Bondi Pavilion