5 Questions with Chelsea Needham and Cassandra Sorrell

Chelsea Needham

Cassandra Sorrell: Did you always want to be an actor and musician?
I always wanted to be loud and untameable. There is nothing more exciting than sitting across from other humans an expressing yourself in the rawest way possible. Nothing more exciting for both parties.

Why do you think it’s important that these characters are both women?
I think it’s more important that these two figures identify similarly. The play is a universal exploration of the gray area between truth and lies that is essential to functioning human interaction and relationships.

What has been most challenging about this play?
Leaving rehearsals with an adjusted idea of what your truth is.

What’s your favourite line in I (Love) You?
‘It tastes like spinach but chunky.’

If you could design a piece of technology for the future what would it be?
An endless plant based goats cheese growing machine!

Cassandra Sorrell

Chelsea Needham: So I hear you write and act and do all sorts of amazing things, is there one thing that draws you in the most?
Cassandra Sorrell: Acting had always been my main drive until I discovered a confidence in my writing. Now the two ebb and flow in regards to what serves me more as an artist at any given time.

What’s the best and worst thing about being in a play set in the future?
The best thing is having the luxury to create a world in the room, throw around ideas and explore what could be possible. The worst thing is not having definitive facts to rely on.

Would you implant a ‘truth chip’ in your brain to stop you from lying?
Potentially. I would like to know who that person is and how I would relate to the world. I feel like I would be more authentic. At the same time…would it be to the detriment of creative license, as an artist?

What do you think is most important message about I (Love) You?
That truth must first be discovered in oneself before demanding it from another.

Is it true that the playwright’s dog comes to rehearsals?
No comment.

Chelsea Needham and Cassandra Sorrell can be seen in I (Love) You by Eliza Oliver.
Dates: 18 – 29 Jun, 2019
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

5 Questions with Jemwel Danao and Eloise Snape

Jemwel Danao

Eloise Snape: If your character Jerry was an animal, what animal would he be and why?
Jemwel Danao: Well, Jerry is an animal control officer so I would say… a dog! He’s very much like a dog with a bone. He’s very persistent, tenacious, and committed. 

We’ve had to invent a sort of gibberish language for a few moments in the show – how challenging was it and how did you tackle it? Also, please write 2 random sentences in gibberish. 
It was mind-boggling! Unlike anything I’ve ever done before. As a cast, once we found our structure of the gibberish, I was able to go away and process it. Finally, it all came down to rigorous repetition and understanding the intention behind the thought. From there, everything fell into place. 
Emoc hctaw ruo yalp. S’ti a tooh! 

Why is a play like Trevor important?
It deals with the impact of what happens when you try to domesticate a wild animal. During the course of the play, it delves into some very human issues such as miscommunication. That happens on every level in relationships all the time. Especially in this complex human-animal/mother-son story we see unfold on stage. It also explores the allure of stardom and what happens when dreams become unfulfilled which ultimately becomes a source of pain, anguish and ruin.
 
What’s one of your favourite moments in the play?
Without giving anything away, when we dive into the facets of Trevor’s imagination. It’s sheer hilarity! In rehearsals I still catch myself laughing at the same jokes over and over again. So it’s a true testament to the actors who keep those moments fresh and alive. 

If you had a pet chimp, what would you name it and why?
Bubbles! Wait – didn’t Michael Jackson have a pet chimp named Bubbles?

Eloise Snape

Jemwel Danao: Eloise, what drew you to Trevor? 
Eloise Snape: The script and the team of actors and creatives. I’ve never read a script like Trevor before! It’s hilarious and dark and I love the whole element of miscommunication. Trevor’s voice is really strong and sharp. I love that the play encourages us to look at ourselves through the lens of an animal. And yeah, it’s a pretty wonderful group of intelligent and fun chums, so how could I resist?

What has been your biggest challenge in the rehearsal process? 
Without a doubt the biggest challenge for me has been turning off the voice inside my head that stops me from following the interesting, big and absurd choices because they are a little scary. And comedy is scary. Morgan is a wonderfully fun character but it’s very easy to feel eggy and silly and BIG. So I’ve really had to allow myself to make wrong choices and feel like a bit of a dick sometimes. I’m lucky that Shaun is such an excellent director so I’ve been able to trust him and feel safe in the room to play. But the challenge is allowing myself to also trust my instincts.

What’s the best or worst advice you’ve been given about acting? 
Good question Jem. I reckon the best piece of advice I was ever given was probably ‘don’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring…’

If you could attempt another career other then acting what would it be?
It would absolutely be something to do with travel and/or aviation! I’m a bit obsessed with planes. But I’m also a little frightened of flying. Once I deal with that minor (major) speed bump on my path to being a pilot I reckon that would be the go. I also love animals. I once considered working in animal quarantine at the airport. Prob need some skills for that. Not to be pilot though. Just chuck me in the cockpit whatevs.

Every actor has a dream role, what’s yours? 
This is one of those questions where I think I know the answer immediately but I can’t think of one thing probably because there are so many! But to be honest at the moment a little dream of mine would to be in a ripper film or TV show made by excellent funny women, like Bridesmaids. Basically, I wish I was in Bridesmaids. Or maybe I just want to be friends with Melissa McCarthy. All of the above.

Jemwel Danao and Eloise Snape can be seen in Trevor, by Nick Jones.
Dates: 14 Jun – 6 Jul, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

5 Questions with Eden Falk and Charlie Garber

Eden Falk

What’s it like working together?
Eden Falk: I’ve known Charlie for like 15 years, we’ve always been at the same parties and we now both have kids, so now we’re at the same kids parties. But we’ve never really worked together and I’ve always wanted to. And its been super fun, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed making a play as much. Sometimes rehearsals can feel like a bit of an uphill battle, but this room has felt endlessly playful, partly due to Charlie’s sense of humour and also to the team of wonderful actors he’s assembled. It’s been a real work in progress and the script has grown as we’ve reacted to it as actors, which has also been part of the fun. The show is ultimately an adventure love story, and so playing with the rules of those worlds and developing our characters with Charlie’s insane mind has been a real joy.

Favourite thing about Charlie?
His unashamed delivery of line readings. He knows these characters inside out and could kinda play any of them. Which means his direction is from the inside out and that’s lovely to work with. Seriously though, there was a moment in rehearsals where I thought he was going to act out the entire show as a monologue and I was like yep I’d pay to see that. 

Why did you say yes to the show?
I’ve always admired Charlie as an actor, I wish I was 10% as funny as he is. So when he asked me to be in his funny play I couldn’t say no. I also think he’s written a really clever exploration of identity, love and self belief. It works on many levels, the ridiculous, the comical, the fantastical, the sublime. I can’t wait to share it with people.

What is the biggest challenge when playing your character Dan?
This is the kind of show where the characters don’t always know exactly what’s wrong with them until it’s too late, so one of the big challenges has been not to over think that too much. As actors, we have to live in the moment as it happens, line by line. With Dan, there’s a lot of inner conflict that surfaces later in the show, but it works better if that isn’t played too heavily in the early scenes, which is in some ways different to how I’d usually approach a performance. But it’s also incredibly liberating; there’s a lightness of touch and an ease in the storytelling. You can just let go and let the play do the work.

Do you share any similarities with Dan?
Yikes. There’s a few – which considering he kind of becomes the anti-hero of the play (spoiler alert) is somewhat hard to admit. He’s pretty conflicted. Social media frustrates him and yet he spends all day in front of a computer. I don’t necessarily hate social media but I’m not crazy about it and having spent my early twenties without it I miss the days when we didn’t have so many ways to “connect”. But I can also sympathise with his need to escape these things, he just takes it way too far. It’s all about balance, and maybe Dan is yet to figure out what that is. I feel for the dude.

Charlie Garber

Why did you want to write this play now?
Charlie Garber: This play came about through wanting to write an adventure. A big show. I don’t know if I’ve achieved it at the quite the scale of storytelling I was hoping for but its still pretty big. I wanted to create a comedy epic – ridiculous, yet real. Big ideas, fun ideas, big scenes, big moments, yet funny and all that. to sucker punch the audience with stuff after opening them up with comedy.

Why did you want to write and direct?
I wanted to get the show up with a minimum of bother. If I’d been sitting next to a director who’s making their own mark on the play while I’m also revising the writing in rehearsals it could have been a difficult. Its an independent show – it has enough hurdles already. It’s not an artistic piece, it’s a comedy that needs to be staged simply. I’m not really a director. I’ve devised and co-directed a lot of stuff so I sort of know the ropes (and I’ve been directed by good directors) enough to get the thing up. 

What’s it like working together?
Eden is great to work with. We worked together ten years ago on Summer Folk directed by Eamon Flack which went on in Belvoir’s big rehearsal room for a week. Eden is a secret comedy weapon. He’s got great everyman appeal but with a strong sense of the ridiculous. He also has a lot of theatre experience so there’s a great short-hand. We’ve seen a lot of each other’s work so we sometimes know sooner what the other is trying to achieve.

What’s your favourite thing about Eden?
My favourite thing about Eden is that he has a daughter of a similar age to mine so we can relate. 

What is the biggest challenge when directing an epic, adventure comedy in the intimate downstairs Belvoir space?
The biggest challenge is treading the fine line of comedy – the epic and the ridiculous, getting performances which make it real yet slightly self aware. But these actors are gung ho masters of the art so we’re all good. Seriously I’m blessed with this cast to make the inherent ridiculousness of the show work. 

Eden Falk and Charlie Garber collaborate in The Astral Plane, by Charlie Garber.
Dates: 12 – 29 Jun, 2019
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre

5 Questions with Reza Momenzada and Michelle Ny

Reza Momenzada

Michelle Ny: What is the one piece of advice you’d tell your 10 year old self?
Reza Momenzada: I would tell myself to never give up on my dreams. Never ever. Never lose hope and never stop trying. It’s something that I probably wouldn’t have understood straight away but I would’ve definitely understood later and used for the rest of my life. It’s something I’m still struggling with, perhaps because I didn’t get that advice when I was ten.

You’re stuck on a desert island and you only have three movies to watch for the rest of your desert island life. What would they be?
If you had said a TV show I would’ve said Friends. I’d never get tired of it!

I think the performance that Heath Ledger gave as the Joker in The Dark Knight is something out of this world. Something that’ll never be repeated again. And it just shows what an actor is capable of doing once they’re fully committed to the role.

Django Unchained. Everything about this movie is just perfect, especially the performances DiCaprio and Christopher Waltz give. They’re the kind of actors whose performances just keep getting better and better.

And The Kite Runner. I’m not gonna tell you what it’s about and why I like it so much. I invite you to watch it, then you’ll know.

Describe your life when you are 60 years old in one sentence.
I’m retired, living with my beautiful wife in a big house surrounded by our children and grandchildren.

What is your favourite food and why?
There’s a dish called Kabuli/Quabili Palaw. It’s the most popular dish in Afghanistan (one might even say it’s the national dish). It consists of steamed rice mixed with fried raisins, carrots, orange peel strips with pistachios and almonds. It’s made with slow cooked lamb that’s placed in the middle of all this delicious mix. My mouth is already watering! Although right now I love anything that my wife makes and I prefer it to anything else.

What is your favourite line in Gloria?
“Why are we like this?” It’s probably the shortest line in the play but I think has a lot of meaning. It’s a question that I think the writer wants us to ask ourselves. Hopefully we can find the answer to it. I won’t say which character says it, when or why do they say it. If you’re reading this, come see the play and you’ll find out.

Michelle Ny

Reza Momenzada: You play two different characters in Gloria. In what ways are these characters similar to you?
Michelle Ny: Okay, Kendra is kind of a mean person who wouldn’t give a second thought to throw someone under a bus to get what she wants, but what I really connect with her ambition. She is highly ambitious and driven, and will do whatever it takes to be successful in her career. She’s also very honest and sometimes can be a bit hurtful. I’ve definitely learnt the hard way about being too honest with people and others reading it as being bitchy, but I’d rather just say what I mean than giving a white lie to make someone feel better. Jenna is a smaller character but, in a sense, much the same as Kendra — i.e. a power bitch.

What’s the most exciting thing for you about this play or the characters you portray?
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing is so incredible; I love discovering more things about it every day. Half of the characters are nasty to each other but I think/hope you fall in love with them because of their desire and ambition of success in their industry. And, also, how good is a spat when you have juicy, well written text? And some side trivia, the play used to have the subtitle after Gloria: ‘Or Ambition’.

And what’s the most challenging?
Definitely the amount of talking I do and justifying taking all this time and space for my opinions. Sometimes I hear myself speak halfway through some big text and I think “IS MY VOICE ANNOYING?”, but that’s probably just my anxiety talking plus my own need to work on justifying my character’s beliefs in what she’s saying and really wanting to make the other characters in the play believe it too.

What’s the rehearsal process been like so far, working with Alex Berlage [the director] and everyone else in the room?
Everyone is so, so, so great; I feel spoilt. Alex is a wonderful director who makes the room feel really safe and super fun as well! I love his process of asking heaps of questions after we’ve run a section of the piece so we’re thoroughly detailing every moment. I also love talking so much shit at Rowan Witt (Dean). It’s so much fun to play an awful character and know we can both berate each other without actually hurting the other actor’s feelings (or so I hope, hehe.)

Is acting something you always wanted to pursue as a career and, if so, when did you realise this? If not, how did you discover your passion for acting?
I actually wanted to become a ballet dancer! I danced ballet for 14 years, so I did drama in high school to help with acting when I was dancing and from there, fell in love with it. I was really lucky to be a part of Long Cloud Youth Theatre in New Zealand where the artistic director, Willem Wassenaar, truly changed my life by really believing in the power of young people telling stories.

Reza Momenzada and Michelle Ny can be seen in Gloria, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
Dates: 6 – 22 Jun, 2019
Venue: Seymour Centre

5 Questions with Janet Anderson and Joshua McElroy

Janet Anderson

Joshua McElroy: When did you first know you wanted to act?
Janet Anderson: I think because I was lucky enough to grow up in New York I was, in a way, immersed in the top brass of the theatre world. After that I think it was inevitable. I come from a very (and I mean very) large extended family and grew up singing and performing with all of them. So I think it was kind of born into it. Fun Fact: A Star Is Born is actually based on my life. What really cemented it for me was going to Newtown High School of the Performing Arts (as did Meg Clarke and Jack Walton) and being surrounded by so much talent and passion made me realise that that was the career for me.

Is there anything about this show that scares you?
Absolutely. When I first read the play I remember having to physically put it down and hide under my covers for a breather. There is a particularly gruesome and shockingly graphic depiction of the Kennedy assignation that put a few knots in my stomach. As well I think because Philip Ridley leaves a lot of the play vague, it leaves the audience wondering and jumping to the worst conclusions they can come up with. But after digesting the play a bit and getting past the surface level shock, Philip Ridley has really masterfully and in some ways beautifully used language to show how this world is collapsed into basic human instincts. In the end of it all, the play is essentially about this make-shift family trying to learn how love, and learn what family means in this absolute shit-show which Southend London has become. The truly scary part is that the plot is not far fetched at all, the kinds of language and acts depicted are a reflection of what truly happens when a society reaches boiling point. We saw it in Rwanda, in Guernica, in Vietnam. I think it should scare us all.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
None that come to mind. Maybe I just haven’t done enough shows to develop one. I try to get more zen then hyped I find. With a show as visceral and emotionally draining as Mercury Fur though, I think the cast should begin by shotgunning a red bull, or taking an ice bath while simultaneously being tasered in the chest, something to that effect. And not just the cast. Im advocating that the audience come prepared with a paper bag and a defibrillator just to be on the safe side.

How many stars out of 5 would you give yourself as an actor?
6/5. I would say 7 but modesty is one of my many talents.

How many stars out of 5 would you give yourself as a person?
2/5. Would not recommend.

Joshua McElroy

Janet Anderson: Why is this play important in the social climate we’re in now?
Joshua McElroy: Mercury Fur is straight up offensive which I think is great. I’ve always delighted in watching people become outraged. Call me sick but ever since being a little kid watching people who have the luxury of taking offence (aka my parents whom i love) squirm at “swear words”, “unnecessary” violence or sex would always bring me great pleasure. I guess I never understood why? In all honestly I still don’t understand. The classics are full of this stuff. King Lear pulls his eyes out. Medea slaughters her own children. Incest etc. KXT has a great fire escape if someone sets the theatre on fire I reckon most of us would survive. Maybe not Meg (Naz) but then again… she’s expendable 😉

What is your character motivation in the play? How does he fit into the piece?
I don’t want to give too much away but I am looking to fulfil a dream. Loose myself for a night. To immortalise a moment that is at the highest corner of the human experience. He is the final and most horrifying piece of the hideous jigsaw puzzle.

What is the favourite role you’ve played?
I like playing bad guys.The most fun I have ever had playing a role was in a development of show called Follow Me Home which featured a hyper aggressive abusive young man who was looking for his girlfriend on a train carriage at 2am.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the play?
As the heart is home to love, so does it house evil.

How would you survive the apocalypse?
What kind of apocalypse? I reckon for most types of apocalypses the first thing I would do would be grab my compound bow and knife. Steal my roommates motorbike because… fuck him he has a car. Wiz around and make sure a few mates who aren’t Meg and my family were okay and then fang it out west to the farm. Grab a big supply of tinned food, vegetable seeds, magnifying glass, bells and fishing line. Then head up into the mountains after grabbing some ammunition and a gun and set up camp on a hillside plateau near a natural spring. Set up a perimeter from there with the fishing line and the bells. Live off the the land. BOOM. COME AT ME APOCALYPSE.

Janet Anderson and Joshua McElroy can be seen in Mercury Fur, by Philip Ridley.
Dates: 24 May – 8 Jun, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

5 Questions with Tel Benjamin and Jennifer Rani

Tel Benjamin

Jennifer Rani: Tell me about a work of art you’ve experienced, of any art form, that changed you in some way.
Tel Benjamin: Lord, there are so many but three jump out as having had particularly profound effects on my life. Jim Carrey’s seminal 1994 classic The Mask was the first film I watched (on repeat) that triggered the realisation that being an actor was an actual occupation and you could do it for a living. I used to do a bunch of the musical numbers and scenes from that film and others at the bus stop with my mum or dad and it was kind of like ‘Damn, you can do this for work? Why isn’t everyone doing this?’. Steppenwolf’s 2010 production of August, Osage County at STC completely blew my mind. It raised the bar immensely for my expectations of what theatre could be and got me thinking more critically about stage craft than I had in the past. I still remember how I felt leaving that theatre. Finally, Cormac McCarthy’s short novel Child Of God opened me up to how prose can have a musical quality and rhythm and how line breaks, punctuation and breaking the rules of those conventions can elicit an emotional response. I try to remember that in any prose style writing I do for film treatments or the like. Blood Meridian is also a must read. You asked for one, I gave you three, I’m sorry!

The play’s title is Extinction Of A Learned Response. What is a learned response you’ve developed at some time in your life that would save you in an apocalypse?
Okay. Are we talking zombies? Or just a regular old Nuclear winter? If it’s zombies, you definitely want me in your colony because I’ve read Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide. Did you know, one of the most important items to have in a zombie apocalypse is ear plugs, because the incessant moaning from the undead can drive you mad? I did. Cos I read the book. But reading a book isn’t really a learned response is it. I’m a pretty good mediator and have some decent leadership skills so I could probably keep morale up and stop the group from eating each other. No promises.

Describe a creative work you haven’t yet made that is closest to your heart.
I’ve had quite a colourful upbringing, growing up in housing commissions with a rich close family history of addiction and crime. There’s a project I’m usually thinking about and often come back to that delves into and explores that world. It’s still very early development but it’s either an hour long format crime drama series or a feature film. I think it’s set in the inner west of Sydney during the heroin boom of the 90s, probably in and around a housing commission. Maybe spans to Cabramatta and involves a group of young teens who find a gun and don’t know what to do with it? I’ll make it one day. Get me on the hotline bling, SBS!

So you’re an actor, award winning screenwriter and director. Following a creative path can be a hard life to navigate, what keeps you coming back to it and do you ever lose faith?
It can be tricky right? This career is a vocation for me, I don’t really consider a life without it. I know that might sound a bit, whatever, but you really need to need to be an actor because it requires immense commitment and can be, as you say, hard to navigate and quite exhausting. I read a couple of years ago that T.S Elliot said “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business”. That resonated because, for me, the lack of control in an actor’s career is the hardest part. Your path is often at the behest of casting directors, producers etc which can leave you feeling kind of helpless. All you can really control is how hard you work, so that’s what I come back to. That’s part of why I started writing and directing film, I think there’s more autonomy in those pursuits. I’m also reminded of why I do it almost every time I’m in a rehearsal room or on set. After our first reading of Extinction I kind of floated home and couldn’t sleep, I was giddy. Not much else does that for me.

Your character in the play could be described as having questionable ethics. If you were sent to jail, what crime would it be for?
Classic Marlow, passing the buck. You’re in on these questionable ethics too! It would be a crime of passion, for sure. I like to think it would be a Robin Hood, steal from the rich and give to the poor type situation. Or like, an overexuberant romantic gesture. Egging bigoted far right-wing politicians feels like a crime worth going to jail for to be honest.

Jennifer Rani

Tel Benjamin: Um, so your Showcast says you are ‘‘Highly skilled in Military culture including: weapons handling; combat training; marching drill.’ Can you please explain how you came to gain those very specific set of skills and if you could utilize them in any action franchise, which would it be?
True! Secret past revealed! I was in the Army and am a highly trained military operative: think SAS Who Dares Wins– lots of running and shouting and “breaking through pain barriers”. It was more a social experiment; it was such a hidden world. I mean, what did the Australian military really do? Where was it like for women? As a young woman of colour navigating a specific, isolated and predominantly male environment was… challenging. Great fodder for character study though and I reckon I’d be right at home in Terminator, Mad Max or Indiana Jones. You’d definitely want me on your team if the world were ending.

Extinction deals with memories and the way they shape your current place in the world. Is there a specific memory from your life that you remember being the catalyst for wanting to be an actor and work in the arts?
I distinctly remember stepping into the streets of Singapore, my mother’s birthplace, for the first time. The smells, the colours the noise and languages, there was something deeply familiar and comforting about it. It felt like home, I’d never had that sort of visceral experience with Australia. So that kinda blew my mind. It was such a relief knowing those ethnic markers were intrinsic to me, even though they weren’t necessarily prevalent during upbringing. It wasn’t the catalyst for wanting to be an actor but it was pivotal to me understanding that story was a way in which I could unravel that experience, that I could create a narrative that I hadn’t previously felt a participant in. The question of whose and what stories we tell, and what they say about our national psyche, underlies this.

You’re a first generation Australian who grew up in Tasmania. Is there a story or aspect of your culture and background that you’re interested in creating work from and exploring as an artist?
Absolutely. My experience growing up in a regional Australian city was like a ‘101’ in cultural confusion – I was one of only two Asian kids at my school! Theatre and the arts opened worlds of possibilities that weren’t available in my everyday, especially the diversity on the art and creative I saw when living overseas. The potential impact of the arts, that it can shift something seismic in you and create space for you is a driving motivation for me. Don’t write off regional cities. Take work there. Support regional artists. Seek them out. Australian stories exist all over the country. Currently I’m developing my maternal ancestral history, traversing South East Asia, England and Wales to Tassie. I hope that this can help deepen my understanding of my heritage and what ‘belonging’ and ‘homeland’ actually look like to me. That experience in Singapore particularly was a stimulant to connecting with my cultures as a first-generation Australian.

How weird are auditions! Got any pre audition rituals or sage advice you’ve been given to keep you focused and in a good headspace?
Weird, but they can also be warm and creative. Nah man, just be prepared and chill. There is so much I can’t control so focusing on my work and managing nerves and expectations is key. Be present, be open and trust yourself – I’ve discovered excellent things in the room by being flexible in my approach. It’s all practice for the right gig. Then chuck the script out.

If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what would you eat?
Mate. This question. Um. Monty Python. I’d make us all toasted cheese and caramelised leek sandwiches and I’d react all the scenes from all the films and we’d have so many laughs. And so many sandwiches.

Tel Benjamin and Jennifer Rani can be seen in Extinction Of The Learned Response, by Emme Hoy.
Dates: 7 – 25 May, 2019
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre

5 Questions with Lloyd Allison-Young and Branden Christine

Lloyd Allison-Young

Branden Christine: You’ve played an Irish character before, was that a blessing or a curse in developing your character for Cyprus Avenue? 
It’s a little from column A and a little from column B! Last year I had the chance to play Padraig in a production of The Lieutenant Of Inishmore; considering the tonal similarities between David Ireland and Martin McDonagh, slipping back into that world was an absolute blessing; the rebellion, the desperation and ideology-through-paramilitary, it’s all been very enjoyable to revisit. On the other hand, wrangling the dialect has been a battle. Slim is a die-hard northern unionist; unlearning the lilting, lyrical southern and wrapping my mind around the more brash and broad northern has been a fantastic challenge.
 
Were any unexpected political or social aspects of Cyprus Avenue revealed during the rehearsal process?
I’m surprised by how broadly and wholeheartedly I’ve always accepted the story of the Republican Irish as the total Irish meta-narrative. That is to say, when I think of Irish cultural identity, sure it may conjure all the tropes and clichés associated with the Emerald Isle, but part and parcel of those ideas are those of ‘the freedom fighter’ and ‘liberation armies’, the rebel songs and the glory of fighting the unfair oppression of northern occupation. I’d never bent an ear in any significant way to the perspective of the Unionists. I’d always subconsciously cast them as the villains. This play has given me a terrific excuse to really dive into the finer motivations of this ‘other side’ and it has been most illuminating.
Slim actually explores this idea of this narrative ownership on stage and it is absolutely one of my favourite moments in the play.
 
This play employs a unique balance of absurdity, tragedy, and comedy. Did any of these themes in particular attract you to this play?
All three! David Ireland has written play that manages to intertwine all three together so closely, and each scene is written with such agility that more often than not I find myself toeing the line between two or more major thematic elements. And this is the mark of a brilliantly written play! Each moment reflecting and refracting through other moments. The lines that are the funniest are often the most heartbreaking, the situations that are the most absurd are the most revealing.

I found the need for both objectivity and emotional investment from my character quite challenging. Did any juxtaposing traits come up for your character? 
Without going too deep into the philosophy of Slim, I’m compelled by his particular hierarchy of values, which are as rigid and as furious as they are convenient. A violent and volatile scholar of film and philosophy, with a romantic nostalgia for a truly terrible time in his country’s history he never had the opportunity to experience. 
 
During the arduous rehearsal process of Cyprus, did you rely on any specific food groups to get you through?
Fuji apples, almonds, black tea!

Branden Christine

While preparing for the role, you had the opportunity to spend time with a forensic psychologist. Can you describe one or some of the more surprising/insightful takeaways?  
Getting the inside scoop from a forensic psychologist was fascinating for many reasons. For one thing I was quickly made aware of all my preconceived notions based on watching too much Criminal Minds and Law And Order (my personal fave) and thought being judicious and scientific when portraying a psychologist would be a way in. I came to find out, it’s those things but so much more. A criminal psychologist’s job is also about building a relationship, being open to possibilities, and staying curious — a kind of empath who takes on other people’s feelings and energy, while also being still objective and scientific. This insight gave me a nuanced motivation with which to shape my character.  

You play the character of Bridget, a psychiatrist tasked with treating the play’s prejudiced protagonist Eric. Are there any particular qualities that you recognise in Bridget that you would like to integrate into your own life? 
Totally! Bridget has a kind of courageousness that I would love to be able to embrace in my own life. To do the kind of work she does, working with extreme forms of pathology, she must be self-assured enough to let go of ego, i.e., her own beliefs in order to take the plunge and walk hand in hand with Eric down the path of recovery. Although she’s just as fallible as any other character, and is not always successful, the effort alone requires an enormous amount of confidence to face the dark sides of humanity and ask questions that I personally would find too confronting.  

What was the most surprising thing you learned about the conflict in the Northern Ireland while exploring and researching for this production? 
I went in somewhat ignorant about the conflict in Northern Ireland and had a bit of a learning curve in rehearsal. What primarily astounded me in the process, despite the particulars of this story, is the universality and insidious toxicity of nationalism, prejudice, and ideology. I’m from the U.S. so these themes are very present at the moment and hugely relevant given our current political leadership or lack thereof in the States and many parts of the world. 

What are some of the best experiences you’ve had in a theatre over the last twelve months? 
I haven’t been to many shows lately, but I have a good excuse, a new baby and the being in the cosiness of motherhood. So, I’m going to be cheeky and say that working with the wonderful creative team on Cyprus Avenue is the best theatre experience I’ve had in years, let alone the last twelve months. 

Favourite line from the show? 
“How can a baby have a beard?”

Lloyd Allison-Young and Branden Christine can be seen in Cyprus Avenue, by David Ireland.
Dates: 15 May – 8 Jun, 2019
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre