5 Questions with Cheryn Frost and Thomas E.S. Kelly

Cheryn Frost

Thomas E.S. Kelly: What is your show about?
Cheryn Frost: Fem Menace is about how there is a monster inside me. It’s also about women; the fun we have, the fears we face, our lived and shared experiences. 

What made you want to explore this topic?
We wanted to make a work that is about being women, the world in which we live and the monsters we’re constantly facing and fighting. Considering the huge discussion at the moment with how women are being mistreated by monsters in the industry, it reinforces the importance of continuing that dialogue and getting our voices heard by wider audience.

Why now?
Why not?

What can the audience expect watching your work?
You can expect a warped fragmented party, with a slap of reality, a drop knee of what ifs, a shot of confidence and purge of monsters.

Who has helped bring your project to life?
Catherine McNamara & Tahlee Leeson! They are the other two spicy ladies that make up Fish Hook. The three of us met whilst studying at the University of Wollongong and realised that we all wanted to make dynamic kick-ass theatre. Fish Hook was born and here we are finally making our first show that actual people will see!

Thomas E.S. Kelly

Cheryn Frost: What is your show about?
Thomas E.S. Kelly: Shifting > Shapes is about shape shifting. Humans to animals to landforms and back again. Looking at it through an Indigenous and non-Indigenous lens, seeing it culturally and how it sits in today’s society. 

What has been the biggest challenge making the work?
The biggest challenge for this work is simply just time. Making sure that I’ve dedicated enough time to all the elements so that the show works on all levels.

What do you hope your audience will think about when they leave your show?
I always hope that when the audience leaves one of my shows that they find out something about the Aboriginal culture that they didn’t know before and then find a place for that knowledge in today’s society.

Who and or what inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my lineages of the past and future. The lineage of my ancestors, my family, my dance lineage.

You can have dinner with 5 people (living or dead) who do you choose and why?
Nan and Pop on my mothers side because they passed away when I was younger and I have so many questions for them. And a family member from each one of my heritages that is the knowledge keepers to simply listen and learn. 1 Aboriginal 1 Ni-Vanuatu 1 Irish.

Catch Cheryn Frost and Thomas E.S. Kelly in Fem Menace / Shifting > Shapes, part of the Afterglow season at PACT.
Dates: 22 – 25 November, 2017
Venue: PACT

Review: Time Stands Still (Eclipse Productions)

Venue: Tap Gallery (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 1 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Donald Margulies
Director: Claudia Barrie
Cast: Laura Dejanegara, Matt Minto, Terry Serio, Emily J Stewart
Image by Katie Barget

Theatre review
After sustaining serious injuries in Iraq, Sarah returns to Brooklyn, under the care of her partner James. For the first time, the independent woman turns reliant, and we watch the nature of their relationship go through a gradual but drastic change.

Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still examines the meaning of modern living for some of the more fortunate people of our times. The action is situated in a New York apartment, where its inhabitants engage in degrees of introspection, never having to worry about money, food or shelter. The play oscillates between concerns that are admittedly frivolous, with international issues that are unquestionably serious. It discusses responsibilities of the world’s rich, as other parts of the globe engulf in flames and disaster, while simultaneously worrying about the dwindling relevance of marriage and monogamy.

The production places its audience quite literally inside Sarah and James’ home. The intimate setting exposes us to the frequently caustic energy that seethes between its characters, although a greater sense of polish for the set, would improve the story’s ability to focus on its concerns regarding class and privilege. Claudia Barrie’s direction is strong for the piece; we are constantly reminded of its deeper resonances even when people are squabbling over the pettier things in life.

Leading lady Emily J Stewart is full of conviction, and effective in providing a quality of heightened sentimentality to the show, although her Sarah seems too persistently vulnerable, with an overemphasis on her role’s fragility, that can interfere with the play’s celebration of female autonomy. Matt Minto is persuasive as James, the journalist determined to retreat from the rough business of war correspondence. The actor is beautifully nuanced in his portrayal of a man struggling to dominate his household. Supporting players Laura Dejanegara and Terry Serio are both delightful and dynamic, adding charming effervescence with every appearance.

Guilt means nothing if it is not an intermediary emotion that leads to proactive action. With the proliferation of information technology, big business sells us news stories about terrible things happening near and far, and we live in a state of constantly feeling bad as a result of this new capitalism. Disaster porn is lucrative, and we pay for it with money and with languishing in sadness, wondering who is left to go and solve the problems.

www.eclipseproductions.com.au

Review: Hijacked Rabbit (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 11, 2017
Playwrights: Emma O’Sullivan, James Sweeny, Lincoln Vickery, Jane Watt
Directors: Michael Abercromby, Charlotte Devenport, Lincoln Vickery
Cast: Michael Abercromby, Elle Harris, Zoe Jensen, Emma O’Sullivan, Adam Sollis, Seamus Quinn, Jane Watt
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Hijacked Rabbit features 4 separate hour-long comedies, each with its own style and characteristics. The plays are individually surprising, although some are funnier than others, and not all are equally meaningful. A matter of personal taste would determine how an audience member responds to the varying comedic approaches, but this is an amusing collection of ideas, presented with infectious enthusiasm.

The one-woman piece Gate 64, written and performed by Jane Watt, sees Winnie, who resides at an airport, talking to her captive crowd, comprised of passengers awaiting a delayed flight. Exploring delusions and memories, fantasies and hopes, Watt demonstrates impressive talent in both artistic capacities. As playwright, she is witty and gently profound, and as actor, she is simultaneously sensitive and daring, tremendously likeable as a result of the extraordinary vulnerability she brings to the role.

Watt again appears in Orange Is The New Crack by James Sweeny, accompanied by equally funny players Michael Abercromby and Zoe Jensen, for some excellent scenes of hilarious tomfoolery. It is this accomplished trio that takes us through the delightfully messy story from ancient times, of sugar-peddling women, their junkies and other dependants.

Although not always executed with finesse, the plays prove themselves to be fantastically imagined. Hit by Lincoln Vickery is a dynamic, fast-paced story about hit men and gay love. It’s Mars Time by Emma O’Sullivan is inspired by the troubles of our times, and the desire to flee this anguished existence.

Each segment of Hijacked Rabbit offers moments of brilliance, and we are enchanted whenever a glimmer of genius is revealed, within these rambunctious, jaunty proceedings. It is the raw talent on show that has us excited, and on this occasion, proves itself to be more than satisfactory.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: Merciless Gods (Little Ones Theatre)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 1 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Dan Giovannoni (based on the book by Christos Tsiolkas)
Director: Stephen Nicolazzo
Cast: Paul Blenheim, Brigid Gallacher, Sapidah Kian, Peter Paltos, Charles Purcell, Jennifer Vuletic
Image by Sarah Walker

Theatre review
Art can reshape lives. It provides new perspectives and an accompanying freedom, so that we are able to imagine a way of being that is better, than what had been available before. Christos Tsiolkas’ books might have a penchant for all things gloomy, but their refusal to adhere to dominant myths of our culture, helps us define an Australia that is more authentic, and certainly more inclusive, than paradigms that persist in spite of their diminishing relevance. We all want to belong, it is only human to wish for acceptance.

In Merciless Gods, eight short plays, adapted by Don Giovannoni from Tsiolkas’ book of the same name, explore the bleaker recesses of our psyche, paying particular focus to universal concepts of family, violence and sex. The writing is lyrical, faithful to Tsiolkas’ own renowned style, though dialogue can sometimes sound stilted through its translation of forms.

Operatically evocative, the work involves huge emotions and flamboyantly devised contexts. Six powerful performers are called upon to manufacture a rhapsodic sense of theatricality, in the absence of more extravagant manoeuvres by director Stephen Nicolazzo, who approaches the show with a misplaced and redundant restraint. Merciless Gods contains a spirit that feels boundless, and very wild, yet the staging is adamant in its preference for abstinence, and presumably, good taste.

Actor Jennifer Vuletic is unforgettable in two of the stories, converting the literary into intimate moments thrilling and visceral, through her sensational portrayals of contrasting parental types. We meet Dan the benevolent father, just as his light dims into the unknown thereafter, and we meet the phenomenal Lisbeth, an evil mother whose destructive darkness, threatens to outlive us all.

There is no good, without the bad. In Merciless Gods, we encounter them both, with little judgement, only an acceptance of their inevitability. The exotic creatures resist our moralising, and reveal to us instead, with brutal honesty, the unrelenting imperfections of our humanity. Rendered immediately recognisable, our ugliness demands to be owned, but what happens after the curtains fall, is that eternal battle between hope and hopelessness, with neither emerging the decisive victor.

www.littleonestheatre.com.au

Review: Ghosts Of Glebe (Jetpack Theatre Collective)

Venue: Streets of Glebe (Glebe NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 11, 2017
Curators: Emilia Higgs, Kirsty McGuire
Cast: Gabby Florek, Nicole Archer, Chloe Leathlan-Higson, Kipp Carina, Tim McNaught and Elliot Ulm

Theatre review
The entire experience is disguised as a “ghost tour”, and we quickly forget that our tickets had originally been acquired, for a theatre production. Ghosts Of Glebe works best when we submit to the fantasy, and actively participate in the creation of its narrative. The more we are able to behave and react like tourists, the greater its results.

We walk the streets of Glebe, rich with a history of murders, accidental deaths, and spooky stories. The spine tingles, in spite of our better judgement. Things get eerie, when our minds fail to decipher fiction from reality, but we relieve the tension when the inevitable sense of awkwardness starts to make us giggle.

It is a well-conceived production, although less eventful sections of the plot do feel lacking in imagination. There is wondrous use of space; Glebe at night is beautiful, and the theatricality that is wrapped around its topography, is highly enjoyable, if unconventionally brief.

Theatre is group activity, but in the West, we are used to it being the most passive of adventures. Ghosts Of Glebe offers an opportunity for our involvement to go slightly beyond the usual “sit back and wait”, and like in the rest of life, it is when we are willing to put in the effort, that the rewards become even more gratifying.

www.jetpacktheatre.com

5 Questions with Lap Nguyen and Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame

Lap Nguyen

Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame: Did you bring any of your own experiences of being a foreigner in Australia to the rehearsal process?
Lap Nguyen: Yes, it certainly felt very odd playing a foreigner in an Australia Day committee and being a foreigner in Australia itself! I bought a lot of unnecessary awkwardness to the character simply because I had encountered so many of those moments but what I think I forgot about Chester is that he’s a lot more adaptable than I am. I think he handled the whole ‘fitting in’ thing a lot better than I did. Plus he’s so likeable and cute (I’m playing him by the way). 

What is the most rewarding project you’ve ever worked on and why?
It’s probably a year 10 school production I did in Vietnam hah! All My Sons by Arthur Miller. It’s rewarding in the selfish way that the audience probably didn’t get anything out of it but I learnt so much throughout the entire process. 

It was really an enlightening moment to be honest. I played Chris Keller and I was so shitty at it. I had this habit of dragging my feet back then and every line I said or when I moved, there would be this screeching noise on the floor. I would mumble my lines, forget my blocking, the whole shazam. It was horrid. The funny thing was that I actually thought I did a good job at the time! Looking back at it, the best thing I learnt is that, no matter how good you think you are, you’re probably shit. Which sounds like harsh advice but I personally take it with me on every production now. I always strive to be better than what I think I am. Sometimes it works, sometimes I end up crying myself to sleep…

Who was the first actor you saw that blew you away?
Johnny Depp. Jack Sparrow. He was infectious. The role’s gone a bit downhill now but back then, Sparrow was the jam. He was my Iron-Man back in the day! Depp did such a phenomenal job fleshing our that role, it made me realise that it doesn’t take an Oscar to make someone’s childhood. 14 years old me was hooked to the bone. 

Your character Chester has a tendency to make poorly timed jokes, has there been a time where you, Lap have done the same?
All the time. I also can’t tell jokes apparently. I find myself way too funny. I just laugh and kill the gag before it even arrives. 

An acrostic poem for Australia Day please:
Anyone
Up for
Satire
Theatre? 
Really
Amazing
Lap
In yet
Another play!

Don’t forget to
Accentuate
Your lovely actors! 

Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame

Lap Nguyen: Have you ever been involved with an Australia Day committee?
Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame: You know what, I absolutely haven’t. I actually haven’t sat on any committee. I am however from a rural country town, so I think I get the je ne sais quoi or lack there of, that comes from being part of such a small community. 

What was your last Australia Day like?
I’m not one to really celebrate Australia Day, as not all Australians see January 26 as a day of celebration, and I want to stand with them.  I would much rather change the date, so all Australians feel they can come together to celebrate what is great about this fair country of ours. 
 
My favourite Australia Day however, was spent in Pokhara, Nepal. Started the day with some vegemite & cheese on toast (!!), that was spread so thick it stung our gums, followed by tandem paragliding. Catching those sweet thermals, that sent my friends into a cold sweat, with the most magical view of the lake in front of us, and the Himalayas behind. Put it on your bucket list if you haven’t done so already!
 
What’s it like to work with the New Theatre’s Australia Day cast and team?
Working with actors that have had so much more experience than me, is truly humbling. It has been wonderful to watch their processes and see how they tackle all the elements of the script. Everyone brings such a different quality to the rehearsal process, it’s a really warm, enjoyable space. 

What was your first performance and how was it?
My first performance was as a four year old, where I played the princess in Princess Smarty Pants at my preschools Christmas production. Whilst lapping up the attention, what I didn’t like was having to give my co-star Cory, a kiss on the cheek, because boys: ick! Having said that, it did turn Prince Swashbuckle into a gigantic warty toad and meant none of the other princes wanted to marry me, so I lived happily ever after. 

What is your dream role?
I don’t know if there is just one role that is my dream role. There are many characters that I have watched over the years and been enamoured with. Mostly badass chicks that get shit done! Lagertha the kick-arse shield maiden from Vikings is one, Tanya from the film Chopper with her brilliant one liners is another. Debbie Jellinsky from The Addams Family Values! *Sigh* So much fun! 

Lap Nguyen and Amelia Robertson-Cuninghame are appearing in Australia Day, by Jonathan Biggins.
Dates: 14 November – 16 December, 2017
Venue: New Theatre

Review: Atlantis (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Oct 28 – Nov 26, 2017
Playwright: Lally Katz
Director: Rosemary Myers
Cast: Paula Arundell, Lucia Mastrantone, Amber McMahon, Hazem Shammas, Matthew Whittet
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Lally Katz’s Atlantis is an autobiographical fantasy. It sprouts from the personal and authentic, then leads to something entirely imaginary. Lally, the protagonist, is consumed by anxiety, when at 35, she finds herself single and childless. We follow her on an odyssey that takes her from Sydney, to the USA’s east coast; an eventful, wacky journey that comprises a string of amusing characters and incidents. Lally goes through many discoveries, fuelled by a desperate search for love, or at least a husband and a baby.

It is not a quest that all will find persuasive. The deliberately silly scenes in Atlantis are certainly a lot of whimsical fun, but the central disquiet that motivates all the action seems too trivial, perhaps even narcissistic, to allow us to invest in a meaningful way. Through the plot, Lally comes in contact with more worthy concepts, of climate change, of poverty and of mortality, but they affect her only momentarily. We can all see that her problems diminish in significance as time passes, but nonetheless, Lally persists. She must find a man to fall pregnant with, or she simply cannot go on.

Amber McMahon plays a juvenile, although very likeable, version of the playwright. As though in a pantomime, McMahon’s exaggerated effervescence proves to be captivating, as she keeps us attentive through the highs and lows of Lally’s stories. The production is unquestionably humorous, directed by Rosemary Myers with a relentless sprightliness that offers entertainment and laughter, even when the narrative turns tiresome. Four other actors are called upon to perform a big roster of small roles, and they are all remarkable. The infinite versatility of the ensemble astounds us, with what they are able to achieve through sheer inventiveness. Also noteworthy are Damien Cooper’s lights and Jonathan Oxlade’s set, creating exciting images full of colour and movement, increasingly mesmerising as the show turns hopelessly hallucinatory.

Like in all our lives, the promise of a utopia propels the action in Atlantis. We need to believe in something, like that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, in order that we can set ourselves in motion, so that we can fill time with meaning. Lally Katz does so much in the play, through all its scenes of mischievous adventure, but we see her being neglectful of each moment, keeping her mind focused instead on a puerile objective. When there is joy surrounding us, we must take notice and take pleasure in it. Better days will come, but understanding that they have a propensity to surprise us, and learning to see the signs that wish to evolve us, is how we can experience the magical unpredictability of this existence.

www.belvoir.com.au