Review: The Wolves (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 14 – Apr 14, 2018
Playwright: Sarah DeLappe
Director: Jessica Arthur
Cast: Brenna Harding, Emma Harvie, Sarah Meacham, Sofia Nolan, Michelle Ny, Cece Peters, Zoe Terakes, Nikita Waldron, Nadia Zwecker
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Nine American girls, approaching the end of their teenage years, are in a soccer team together, warming up their bodies and figuring out their place, both on the field and in the larger world. Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves is no preachy melodrama about burgeoning womanhood. These characters may have seen little by virtue of their youth, but they all demonstrate wisdom and strength; each of their lives are richly established, not to provide some kind of tense narrative drive, but to foster, through the theatrical form, a modern social conception of our young and all the promise that they bear.

Director Jessica Arthur uses fragments of insight granted by the text, to manufacture on stage, quite marvellously, a dynamic experience that is relentlessly engaging, and unexpectedly powerful. We are only ever offered glimpses into each personality, but find ourselves forming emotional attachments as the show progresses, falling in love with all of their idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities. Unlike traditional, namely, patriarchal forms of storytelling, no protagonists and antagonists are necessary here, and for its 90-minute duration, we are intrigued, thrilled and fulfilled. The show is frequently very funny, and the poignancy it eventually inscribes, is stunning.

Performances are nothing short of brilliant. The cohesion and closeness of the cast is extraordinary, generating a warm joyful glow, palpable and wonderful, for all to share within the intimacy of the auditorium. Beautifully well-rehearsed, the actors deliver the play’s short and sharp dialogue with admirable precision and astounding nuance, precipitating meaning with impact and efficiency. The many sequences that feature legitimate sporting ability and fitness, are quite sensational, and thoroughly impressive.

Right in this moment, young people in the USA are fighting to force changes to gun control. They have galvanised in spectacular fashion and are out in droves, propelled by passion and idealism. The girls in The Wolves are no doubt part of that pack. Smart, fearless and loud, they discern the truth, along with the bullshit, and are now refusing to acquiesce where they do know better. We care for our young, but in that mode of protection, we often underestimate them. There is in fact, much to learn from the The Wolves, even if just a reminder of that youthful spirit, capable of achieving anything.

Review: Rudy & Cuthbert (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 13 – 17, 2018
Creators: Toby Blome, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin
Director: Ellen Cressey
Cast: Toby Blome, Zelman Cressey-Gladwin
Image by Phil Erbacher

Theatre review
We should be thankful when artists know their strengths and give us only what they do best. Two young men appear on stage, admitting that their intentions of staging Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men have not quite come to fruition. Instead, they perform a work of physical comedy, telling a charming love story; not only of the very special connection between these two innocents, but also of their shared passion for art and performance.

The trials and tribulations of putting on a show, provide Rudy & Cuthbert the context for their eponymous presentation. Toby Blome and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin play the quirky pair, in a traditional style that recalls all the famous duos from film and television history, with an emphasis on disciplines most associated with mimes and clowns. Both are excellent in their chosen field, but it is the chemistry between the two that is emphatically superb. They make magic happen, leaving us dumbfounded by their seamless union.

Ellen Cressey’s direction gives Rudy & Cuthbert a tenderness, that prevents the show from being a mere showcase for skill and cleverness. The element of emotion gives meaning to the humour being created so precisely, and the laughter that ensues is as much about being tickled, as it is about being moved. We live in extremely cynical times, and antidotes for hardened hearts are hard to come by. Rudy & Cuthbert is not the trendiest bit of theatre, but it is certainly the sweetest remedy for some very trying times.

Review: One Way Mirror (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Mar 14 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Matthew Abotomey, Alison Benstead, Angus Evans, Sylvia Keays, Sonya Kerr, Mark Langham, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Ash Sakha, Sheree Zellner

Theatre review
In the living of each day, humans use their mental and physical capacities for an endless variety of reasons, but whether conscious or unconscious, it is always a pursuit that involves us engaging with something quite mysterious. Nobody can know for certain, the purpose of being here, but we all participate in the project of figuring it out, whether we like it or not.

Paul Gilchrist’s One Way Mirror, involves a group of American actors in the 1960’s, hired to work with scientists conducting experiments to determine the nature of human conformity. Within this conflated microcosm of art and science, we observe all the individuals in a process of uncovering truths, whatever a truth might be.

It is a philosophical work, vast in its scope and therefore challenging for those who need a greater sense of certainty to hang on to. Gilchrist’s point of course, is that none of this can be certain, and to fabricate a narrative that is convenient and secure, would contradict its central interest, which is to arrive at some sort of knowledge about this thing we vaguely understand to be, and that we name, the truth.

The show features an intentionally fractured plot structure, with scenes differing in ideas and styles, some more appealing than others. Actor Matthew Abotomey is an intriguing presence in early sections, playing various subjects under institutionalised interrogation, intense and compelling with what he brings to the stage. Alison Benstead and Ash Sakha play young lovers, demonstrating good chemistry but also impressive with their diligence and focus as individuals.

Various storylines weave through the plot of One Way Mirror, but they come and go quickly, as though to evade our grasp. We wish to know these personalities better, because it feels natural to want to get to the bottom of things. Our curiosity is instead, turned outside in. One Way Mirror makes it vital that we examine for ourselves, that concept of truth, whether it be a matter of instinctual resonance, or rational meaningfulness, or enduring legacy, or whatever else one might find fulfilling. The conclusion is inexhaustible, and the journey inevitable. |

Review: Merrily We Roll Along (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 7 – 24, 2018
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: George Furth
Director: Alexander Andrews
Cast: Embla Bishop, Phoebe Clark, Blake Condon, Tiegan Denina, Caitlin Rose Harris, Patrick Howard, Tayla Jarrett, Katelin Koprivec, Jesse Layt, Victoria Luxton, Michael McPhee, Matilda Moran, Shannen Sarstedt, Zach Selmes, Richard Woodhouse, Victoria Zerbst
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It is the most straightforward rags to riches story, told backwards. Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along commences at the point where its protagonist has attained considerable professional success, but whose personal relationships are all falling apart. Observing the story unfold in reverse order, we discover little that is surprising, although Sondheim’s songs remain characteristically enchanting. The musical was first presented on Broadway in 1981, lasting only 16 performances, after 52 previews.

Director Alexander Andrews introduces an appropriate pizzazz to the production, working with a very exuberant cast for a standard of singing befitting the often tricky compositions. Leading man Patrick Howard gives his character Frank a strong presence, and a commanding voice, but lackadaisical costume design diminishes the personality transformations that the actor tries to portray. His besties are played by Zach Selmes and Victoria Zerbst, both accomplished and persuasive with what they wish to achieve. Shannen Sarstedt leaves a strong impression as first wife Beth, able to convey depths of emotion as well as unexpected dimension, for one of Merrily‘s many cardboard characters.

The two musicians, Conrad Hamill and Antonio Fernandez prove themselves reliably versatile and efficient in providing accompaniment for the entire duration, but the very small band can sometimes deliver underwhelming results. Similarly, visual design in terms of sets and costumes, are insufficiently ambitious, and the staging struggles to live up to Sondheim and George Furth’s quite grand piece of writing. Nothing however, can take away from the sheer delight of the master’s songs, all of which are sung with gusto and precision, and this for his legions of fans, is plenty.

5 Questions with Morgan Maguire and Wendy Mocke

Morgan Maguire

Wendy Mocke: Morgan my dear, there is a line in Britney Spear’s song ‘Radar’ that states, “confidence is a must, cockiness is a plus.” Describe Home Invasion using a title of one of Britney’s songs.
Morgan Maguire: Hmmm so many options… I’m going to have to go with the seminal work that is ‘Crazy’. Hopefully the home invasion would not intensify to hit me baby one more time, I was born to make u happy or I’m a slave for you.

This next one may be a deeply personal question but I want you to feel as comfortable as Tom Cruise did when he jumped on Oprah’s couch. What do you think your dance style says about your personality?
Hmmm thanks for being so respectful of my personal boundaries Wendy. I feel my dance style could be described as “thrusty chaos” (often without the support of proper underwear). So I like to imagine this says “that Morgan, she’s a thinker…”

In 2016, Danielle Bregoli famously stated, “cash me ousside, how bow dah”. What do you think was outside?
Her and cash?

In 1988, Paul Abdul released her smash hit single; ‘Opposites Attract’. According to science, this theory is false. Who are you most likely to believe, Paula Abdul or science?
Paula because she was dueting with an animated anthropomorphic street smart hip hop cat and it was implied that they had an intimate relationship so she obviously has a strong grip on logic and reality.

Besides me, who in the cast or crew are you most likely to have as your idol and why?
Wendy, are you flirting with me?

Wendy Mocke

Morgan Maguire: Oh hai Wendy, so I figure this is my *ultimate* chance to channel James Lipton from Inside The Actors Studio… tell me – what is your favourite word? What is your least favourite word?
Wendy Mocke: Wow, you jumped right in there didn’t you? Such a personal question… I consider myself more of the silent brooding type, you know the type that lounges in old leather chairs, face lit by ambient mood lighting, listening to James Blunt whilst tossing back a few bourbons and getting lost in a sea of my own emotions. Speaking of emotions, my favourite word right now is ‘raclette’. If you’re not sure of what that word is, google it, you can thank me later. My least favourite word is ‘couscous’. I’m immediately sceptical of something being so nice they named it twice. It’s presumptuous.

What’s your guilty television indulgence?
Umm, well Morgan, I would say guilt is not an emotion I like to carry around with me #NoRegrets. However to answer your question, I’ll throw into the ring the Chinese dating show called If You Are The One. Witnessing public rituals of humiliation, camouflaged as a romantic quests is somewhat awkward and uncomfortable – much like how I naturally get around in life.

What profession would you not like to do?
Probably a high school maths teacher. No parent should ever entrust me with their teenager’s secondary maths education. It’s like asking Donald Trump to tell the truth.

Top five books in no particular order?
‘Ain’t I A Woman’ – bell hooks
‘Where The Wild Things Are’ – Maurice Sendak
‘Sevenwaters’ Trilogy – Juliet Marillier
‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ – Reni Eddo-Lodge
‘Bad Feminist’ – Roxane Gay

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
Well Morgan if you must know, I sang to myself and my neighbour only just twenty minutes ago. My neighbour wasn’t a willing participant to my singing, they happened to be collateral damage. I’m confident they’ll thank me later after the initial shock has worn off, I’m a lot to take in.

Morgan Maguire and Wendy Mocke are appearing in Home Invasion, by Christopher Bryant.
Dates: 21 March – 7 April, 2018
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

5 Questions with Emma Harvie and Michelle Ny

Emma Harvie

Michelle Ny: What is your dream role to play?
Emma Harvie: I’m not sure my dream role exists yet. I do think Liam Neeson’s role in Taken would be fun.

How did the journey of wanting to be an actor begin for you?
Since I was a kid I loved performing. I used to make up dances with my sister and cousin and make films with my best friend. At some point in primary school I knew I wanted to be an actor.

What are the obstacles you’ve had to face as a POC actor?
The roles I used to apply for were very different to what I put myself forward for now. I was always aware of families and would look for roles that didn’t have any relatives on stage because I didn’t believe a non-white family would be cast on a Sydney stage. Now I apply for everything. The conversations around ‘diversity’ in the arts are so important, and I cannot wait for the time when I no longer have to have them.

Tell me about your most cringe audition?
Mmm I’ve done a few bad Indian accent auditions… I just have not mastered this accent yet. My family is Sri Lankan and the accent is similar so I slip into that and it becomes a mess.

Where do you want to see yourself in 5 years?
Somewhere with a few more screen credits to my name. My sister and I speak a lot about writing a comedy series, I want to make that happen and play the lead. I will also have a dog.

Michelle Ny

Emma Harvie: Can you remember a word/phrase you loved when you were 17?
Michelle Ny: I don’t know if I loved it… but I used to say ‘lol’ ironically until it became part of my normal speak lol. 

What’s your favourite post show snack?
A pint of VB or San Remo instant pasta.

Did you play sport in high school?
I played soccer and netball but in year 10 (year 9 here), I was put in a crappy netball team and (in no way a brag!!) I was the best player and I had to do all the hard work so I dropped out. Then I started playing social soccer with my friends and our team was called Dragon Fire Ninja Warriors. 

What are the challenges/perks of being a Cambodian/New Zealander actor in Australia?
I’ve been lucky to work with people who are conscious of diverse representation so the perks are actually being seen and standing out among my white peers. But the challenge of course is still under-representation and lack of opportunity for work. But there’s a reason I’m working in Sydney and not New Zealand. It may not be perfect but there is a conscious effort to support young POC artists and the quality of work is high, buzzing and exciting. 

What song do you think your character would pump before a game?
“Katy on a Mission” by Katy B. Listen to it. 

Emma Harvie and Michelle Ny are appearing in The Wolves, by Sarah DeLappe.
Dates: 14 March – 14 April, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

5 Questions with Dina Panozzo and David Soncin

Dina Panozzo

David Soncin: In five words how would describe your character, Momma Bianchi?
Dina Panozzo: Heart, big-love, the-boss, fire and wit!

Do you find your character, or the play as a whole, has any similarities to your life personally?
I think we’re similar in her immediacy and, sometimes, her hot head! The play is a direct shot to my heart of the past as my family, with my 18 month old brother and 3 month old baby me, arrived in Melbourne in 1955, just at the time of this play’s setting! So these people are so like my people back then.

Have you found any challenges with approaching this particular text?
To fight my prejudice against the assumption of its clique-ness! In my first read of the play, the Italians, written with the ‘accent’ in the lines by an Anglo writer, read as an Australian fairytale to me… non-authentic. But, as I’ve gone deeper into the process of telling this story along with my fellow actors, I find it to be profound and moving — with Tony Poli who plays my husband, we go into the sound of our first language — and it is coming to life and so, so much more complex than I first thought. It is an important study on racism and tolerance I believe.

Do you have any inspirations for approaching Momma’s character, or even your work in general?
My mamma e papà, Maria Panozzo e Bruno Panozzo, who were and are still brave and true, and — I have to say even if too “woggy” sounding — all the immigrants who want to belong (like Gino, our son in the play, who is really the only one who stands up for his right to belong).

If you could pick out of Momma Bianchi’s two children, why is Gino your favourite?
Because he’s still young enough to kiss and hit if cheeky!

David Soncin

Dina Panozzo: What five words would you use to describe The Shifting Heart?
David Soncin: Immigrants, assimilation, family, racism, pride.

What’s the most difficult part of bringing this play/Gino to life?
Probably exploring and understanding that part of Gino that seeks acceptance – understanding the struggle with indifference, and his determination to assimilate, which he does with total optimism – and finding those similar things in myself. That, and singing 4 bars of “Americano”.

What do you think Gino dreams about for the future?
I think Gino deep down just wants to live a good life in his new country: get married, have kids, have a successful business with his brother-in-law and, most importantly, be accepted by his Anglo counterparts as a true Australian.

What do you love about the play?
Well firstly, I love the fact we have an Australian classic that explores Italian culture and, having a full Italian immigrant background on both sides of the family, it’s exciting that I get the chance to tell these types of stories. It deals with the psychology of racism, discrimination, racial and domestic violence, and the cultural struggle of an immigrant family. But I also love the fact it doesn’t shy away from the humour of a loud Italian family because that shit is funny!

How do you think this play relates to us in the here and now?
I could probably write a whole essay answering that question, but the school students seeing the show might plagiarise. The short answer is, I absolutely believe the play is still relevant, for many reasons. The Shifting Heart highlights the negative patterns of thinking and physical behaviour towards immigrants, different cultures and ethnicities, and that those patterns seem to keep seeping through the cracks each generation. I don’t think the play’s intention though is to put Italians specifically in a sort of victim pigeon hole, but I believe it’s an important period of reflection of Australian immigrant history.

The play also comments on the interesting notion of subtle/subconscious racism in everyday language, like jokes about one culture being okay, but not others; when is it innocent and when is it racist? I have my own experiences but not necessarily the answers. But, as opinions are often the lowest form of knowledge, I’d have to say come and see the show! I’m always curious to hear about audiences’ own experiences on the play’s subject matter.

Dina Panozzo and David Soncin can be seen in The Shifting Heart by Richard Beynon.
Dates: 8 – 24 Mar, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre