5 Questions with Jack Walton and Sheree Zellner

Jack Walton

Sheree Zellner: When friends ask you, “What is Distorted about,” what do you tell them?
Jack Walton: When I think about Distorted I often see it as is a fractured story about fractured people. We get to glimpse into key stages of people’s deepest relationships as well as witness the most isolated moments in their lives. So much of the play is flavoured with this brilliantly witty humour but then you get to have these beautiful, intimate moments of just living with these people as they go though things like addiction, mental health, pregnancy and loneliness.

What is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about yourself through playing the role of Alex?
I feel like there’s a new discovery after each run but what sticks out to me is just how much I value the key people around me. When I think about the people I’m closest there’s a bond that I also see Alex discover with his girlfriend where they each allow their best and worst versions of themselves be presented to one another which creates all kinds of drama but it’s also the kind of relationship that you don’t always fully appreciate until it’s at risk of being taken away.

Without giving too much away, what is your favourite scene or character from Distorted and why?
There’s a great scene near the middle of the play where my character and Poppy Lynch’s character have this wild screaming match. It’s hilarious because what they’re arguing about is so ridiculous and off topic but under the surface we start to see a new side to their relationship. That’s definitely the scene I feel most free in as well, there’s no point where you can hide from the audience so you just have to dive into it head first.

What do you think people will take away with them after seeing Distorted?
Each character in the play has some surface level identity. Some kind of stereotype that people would attach to them passing by on the street. I think what’s so great about Distorted is that it gives the audience a chance to see the humanity that lies below these assumptions. You suddenly have more empathy for people when you get to see their story in front of you. So in short, if there’s anything an audience could take away from this show I hope it’s some version of empathy.

What was your initial reaction after we did our first full run of Distorted?
I was exhausted! I have most of my scenes with one other actor so I didn’t actually get to meet most of the cast until we all came together for our first run. Having not rehearsed with everyone in the room before that point I was really impressed with how everything slotted into place. Usually doing a first run of any production is pretty bumpy but because this play moves at a such lightning pace everyone was switched on and ready to pounce onto whatever cues were thrown at them. There was a great sense of achievement after that run.

Sheree Zellner

Jack Walton: Distorted has such a distinctly energised writing style. How does it feel to perform something that is always so active?
Sheree Zellner: I love the energetic style of Xavier Coy’s writing, really keeps us on our toes, there’s always something happening onstage and off, it’s a great lesson in keeping the ball in the air at all times. For my 62 year old brain that’s got to be a good thing! Thankfully I love to be challenged and there’s always Berocca… Seriously though, because the writing is so energised, it informs our performances naturally, so it’s like getting caught in a theatrical vortex.

What do you find exciting about playing with new works?
Being involved from the ground up is so satisfying because we are the first ones to put our stamp on these characters. We’re not following in others footsteps, we’re making the first forays into the lives of our characters and everything we experience as actors in creating these characters is completely original. For an actor that’s pure gold, we’re a very fortunate ensemble.

Why do you think people value relationships so intensely?
Generally speaking I’d say that it’s about connection. I think it’s something we’re always looking for in every aspect of our lives, at home, at work, on social media. Connection can bring out the best and worst of humanity and I think we see that very clearly in Distorted. This play really shows all aspects of how we connect, the lengths we go to for connection and the lengths we go to when we want to avoid connection because it’s too painful. Our director Richard Hilliar has been instrumental in bringing those connections, or lack thereof, into sharper focus. He’s been so unwaveringly supportive, we’re all very thankful for that.

What have you found most challenging about rehearsing Distorted?
Ha ha, how long have you got! Well let me see… firstly my character Louise is a bit of a hot mess and her way of coping with her issues is not something I’m familiar with at all on a personal level. Let’s just say that the research was very interesting! Then of course, as an actor I have to find my way of playing that, of inhabiting her world and her views. Also as an older actor I have to keep my focus laser sharp for every second of this play, whether onstage or off. I’ve got notes pinned to walls everywhere so I don’t forget anything!

This play has changed a lot since we got the initial script. How has your view of your character changed/developed?
It’s changed so much since the initial script, but one thing was very clear to me after that first table read, which is that I was going to have to just surrender to each development. After deciding on backstories to suit, Xavier then reworked all the scenes incorporating the original scenes, but adapting them to suit and expanding exponentially on our characters, as did Richard in the rehearsal room. The changes and developments just kind of happened, and my views about my own character Louise became a part of the whole ‘surrender’ philosophy. Looking back I am amazed by the process and how much I’ve learned from it. This season of Distorted is going to be a wild ride, that much I do know!

Jack Walton and Sheree Zellner can be seen in Distorted, by Xavier Coy.
Dates: 10 – 22 Mar, 2020
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

Review: Good Mourning (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 3 – 8, 2020
Playwright: Sonia Dodd
Director: Hannah Armstrong
Cast: Gabrielle Aubrey, Coen Lourigan, Madelaine Osborn, Ben Rodwell

Theatre review
Told from the perspective of an 8 year-old, Good Mourning by Sonia Dodd is about a young family dealing with the impending death of a parent. The four children have to grapple with a diagnosis that can only be described as traumatic; their father has advanced cancer with only three months to live. It is however not a grim story that we discover. The family finds uplifting ways to spend their remaining time together, cherishing their precious days and doing what children do best, to find the light under any circumstance.

At just forty minutes or so, Dodd’s writing is concise but satisfying, with an honesty that circumvents sentimentality, for a discussion on grief that always feels authentic. Hannah Armstrong directs this story based on her own experiences, inventive and effervescent in style, surprising us with the optimism and entertainment she is able to provide. Also noteworthy are Rhys Mendham’s efforts with lighting design, successful at providing consistent visual variation to a very bare stage.

The ensemble is charming and well-rehearsed, beautifully cohesive with all that they present. Gabrielle Aubrey, Coen Lourigan, Madelaine Osborn and Ben Rodwell play a range of characters, each one spirited and cleverly imagined. Their portrayal of the children’s innocence is especially effective, able to tell a sad story without excessive despondency, thereby encouraging us to think about death and mourning in a healthy manner. The very definition of life means that we must encounter loss. Learning to cope is essential, and knowing how to live with vibrancy after saying goodbye, is crucial.

www.old505theatre.com

Review: Hamlet (Bell Shakespeare)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Feb 29 – Apr 4, 2020
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Peter Evans
Cast: Jeremi Campese, Tony Cogin, Jack Crumlin, James Evans, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, James Lugton, Jane Mahady, Lisa McCune, Robert Menzies, Aanisa Vylet, Sophie Wilde
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Having very recently lost his father, the young prince is understandably grief-stricken. Hamlet obsesses over his mother’s quick remarriage to the new King Claudius, almost as a form of distraction, but when the ghost of the dead king arrives to reveal that it was his own brother Claudius who had killed him, Hamlet becomes overwhelmed with fury. More than a revenge story, Shakespeare’s Hamlet examines the meaning of death, from the vantage point of a man obsessed with bereavement.

It is a handsome production, with Benjamin Cisterne’s lights giving a glamorous finish to the staging, and designer Anna Tregloan’s 1960’s costumes adding a sense of whimsy. Tregloan’s cyclorama depicts a beautiful Danish snowscape, but an awkward house-shaped frame sits centre stage, doing little more than to confuse with its lack of purpose. Video projections by Laura Turner helps us empathise with Hamlet’s tragic circumstances, as does Max Lyandvert’s restrained music compositions.

Director Peter Evans’ conservative style may not deliver anything unexpected, but his rendition is likely to appeal to fans of Shakespeare who favour a more conventional approach. Actor Harriet Gordon-Anderson is insufficiently charismatic as the lead, but displays clear dedication to her craft. What she offers as the Danish prince is not always convincing, due in part to her slight stature, although there is no questioning her conviction and focus for the role. The two problematic women in Hamlet, Gertrude and Ophelia, are played by Lisa McCune and Sophie Wilde respectively, both performers able to convey a certain level of power and integrity, in spite of Shakespeare’s intentions to portray them as useless. Robert Menzies leaves a strong impression as Polonius, animated and entertaining as the court’s chief counsellor.

In the twenty-first century, it is easy to take issue with the representation of women in Shakespeare’s work. We are far less likely to accept as reasonable, the extremely unbalanced way in which gender is expressed in his oeuvre. The current trend of placing women actors in key male roles does, to some extent, soften the blow of insults to half of humankind, but the strategy is rarely if ever, able to comprehensively address the gender problem that figures so centrally in all of Shakespeare’s narratives.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au

5 Questions with Eddie Orton and Tim Walker

Eddie Orton

Tim Walker: The show is a very physical piece of theatre. What has been the most difficult skill you’ve had to learn and which scares you the most?
Eddie Orton: I’ve had some experience with dance and played lots of sport in the past which helped with picking up the skills, especially the acrobatics. The hardest one to learn and master is probably a two high, with you standing on my shoulders. Once you’re up it’s fine, it’s the timing that’s difficult

We’ve worked together in the past, performing Shakespeare in pubs, these are vastly different shows, have you learnt something new about me?
They are certainly super different shows. I’ve learnt that you’re actually a good actor. Haha sorry. I joke. I’ve learnt that you’re an extremely proficient acrobat, both as a flyer and a base. I didn’t know that last year.

When we began rehearsals Shane presented us with over 10,000 pages of research, were there things that surprised you or shocked you?
All of it is shocking to be blunt. You think you have an understanding of Australia’s history but I was very naive. The lack of police action and the sheer volume of cases that are still unsolved is deeply shocking.

We have a couple of school shows throughout this season, why do you think it’s important for young people to learn about this part of Australian history?
It needs to be recognised because I think it’s a part of Australian history that is largely forgotten and ignored. We think we know everything about our history but we don’t. This is not just a problem for the past, it’s a problem for today.

What’s next for Eddie Orton?
Next up is something which I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but I’m very excited about it.

Tim Walker

Eddie Orton: What’s something no one knows about Tim Walker?
Tim Walker: I was once an impromptu stand-in for Neil Gallagher of Oasis. We had similar hair apparently so he and I exchanged shirts and I drove Mischa Barton of The OC around in a 50’s cab while he went to the pub for a feed.

What’s the most difficult part of the show physically for you?
Haha can I say rehearsal? No probably the two high with you. As you say it’s in the timing. I’m excited to do it in front of an audience with even less space to work with haha.

How does movement and physical theatre inform this work?
One of the things that really shocked me in the research was how graphic and horrific the violence was. We felt it was necessary to find a language outside of text that informs this whilst acknowledging the sensitivity of violence for audience members. What we’ve created is a physical language, that abstracts the violence, whilst remaining true to the intention of the verbatim text.

Why do you think it’s important that these stories be heard now?
This show isn’t just about history. It’s also about hope for the future. About how important recognition and acknowledgement are for healing. We know there are thousands of people who have never spoken about their experience with hate crimes and the parliamentary enquiry into these hate crimes has been reopened. The Aids Council of New South Wales are actually still calling for submissions from people affected by hate crimes up until 28th February. We are having an event co-hosted with ACON, post show on Sunday February 23rd and we hope the show will encourage people to make these submissions.

What’s next for Tim Walker?
Well last year I received a small commission to make a few of my own projects. I’ve just finished post production on a short film I wrote and about to start pre on my next one which I’m excited about!

Eddie Orton and Tim Walker can be seen in Our Blood Runs In The Street.
Dates: 19 Feb – 21 Mar, 2020
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Artslab: Behind Closed Doors (Shopfront Arts Co-op)

Venue: 107 (Redfern NSW), Feb 26 – Mar 1, 2020
Images by Clare Hawley

Stalls
Playwrights: Lana Filies, Lily Hensby
Devised and performed by: Lana Filies, Olivia Harris, Lily Hensby, Cara Severino

Little Jokes In Times Of War
Written, directed and performed by: Charlotte Salusinszky

Stripped
Written, directed and performed by: Luke Standish

Theatre review
Artslab: Behind Closed Doors features five works, three of which are in the theatrical form. Created by young emerging artists, they combine to offer a refreshing experience, even if style and tone are extremely varied from one to another.

Stalls is a collaboration between Lana Filies and Lily Hensby, exploring toilet humour with a feminist approach, inspired by the concept of an idealised woman that allows no capacity for the most basic of all bodily functions, defecation. The performance is devised by the writers, along with additional cast members Olivia Harris and Cara Severino, for a riotously funny show that stridently rejects notions of sugar and spice and all things nice. Chemistry between the four is joyous, for an effervescent thirty minutes that entertains from an unmistakably political perspective.

Charlotte Salusinszky goes in search of her Hungarian roots in Little Jokes In Times Of War, and unearths a story of inter-generational trauma through an examination of her grandmother’s life. Salusinszky’s almost psychic impulses function as a mode of connection with her family history, inspiring a sort of time travel, going back to locate ancestral meanings, so that she can find, and crystallise, herself in the process. It is a rich text that comes to be, and the artist’s remarkable proficiency on stage, as performer and director, is a revelation.

The thoughts of an erotic stripper are documented in Luke Standish’s Stripped, a poetic and melancholic look at one man’s experience of employment in the adult industry. It is, appropriately, a predominantly physical presentation, but made abstract in a way that reveals, more than anything, the subject’s emotional state. Even at just half an hour, Stripped is repetitive, unable to provide significant elucidation beyond the predictable and obvious, but its imagery is compelling, whether Standish chooses to be clothed or not.

We live full lives behind closed doors, but it is what can be shown to others, that determines so much of identity. Art is most valuable when it lifts the veil on that which lays dormant. Art helps us know ourselves, and as narcissistic humans, that promise of reaching deeper into our own truths, is a huge thrill. Theatre furthers that mission, by coalescing truth into consensus, so that when we sit side by side in a darkened room, something magnanimous unites us, if and when the magic happens.

www.shopfront.org.au

Review: Hello Again (The Factory Theatre)

Venue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Feb 20 – 28, 2020
Words & Music: Michael John LaChiusa (after La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler)
Director: Jerome Studdy
Cast: Denzel Bruhn, Lyndon Carney, Grace Driscoll, Stacey Gay, Charlie Hollands, Brendan McRae, Kate O’Sullivan, Anna-May Parnell, Harrison Vaughan, Emelie Woods
Image by Junior Jin

Theatre review
When first staged in 1920, La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler remained a scandalous work even though it had taken 23 years to go from initial publication to a theatre in Vienna. It dared to depict progressive sexuality as somewhat natural, and certainly spoke about promiscuity as as a phenomenon far less reprehensible than was the convention. A century later, there is little left in the work that feels even naughty, thankfully as a result of substantial advancements over time, in attitudes about sex.

Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again is a 1993 reiteration that transforms the ten dialogues from Schnitlzer’s original, into songs for the musical format. LaChiusa’s music is often experimental and infrequently melodic, with lyrics that now seem unsophisticated and lacking in wit. Each chapter takes us through the decades of the twentieth century, but direction by Jerome Studdy never makes that at all clear. The production feels rough around the edges, admittedly clumsy at points, but an enthusiastic cast almost holds everything together. Without microphones, the acoustically challenged auditorium proves demanding of those with smaller voices, but it must be said that the ambition of all involved is admirable.

La Ronde is about class as much as it is about sex. It represents an effort to look at humans at our most vulnerable and essential, stripped of all ornamentation and pretence, trying to understand ourselves at what should be our purest. Using sex as a common unifying mechanism, and hypocrisy as a theme through which we can access notions of manufactured identity, Schnitzler urges us to be honest, in the belief that truth will set us free.

www.facebook.com/HatTrickProductions

Review: Veronica’s Room (Flight Path Theatre)

Venue: Flight Path Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Feb 26 – Mar 1, 2020
Playwright: Ira Levin
Director: Ehsan Aliverdi
Cast: Parisa Mansuri, Hamed Masteri, Shiva Mokri, Arash Salehi

Theatre review
At the beginning of Ira Levin’s Veronica’s Room, a young woman is locked in a room by an older couple. She insists that her name is Susan, even though those who hold the key say that she is Veronica. The suspenseful mystery keeps us guessing, as its characters feud with parallel narratives. We vacillate between wondering if the story is about mental illness, or a strange tale of entrapment and gaslighting.

It is an entertaining work, featuring an appropriate dimension of eerie supernaturality rendered by director and lighting designer Ehsan Aliverdi, who fills the show with flamboyant gestures that give the experience a delicious theatricality. Performed entirely in Farsi (with English surtitles), the cast brings exceptional energy to the piece, for a passionate staging that has us absolutely mesmerised.

Actor Parisa Mansuri plays the young woman, with an emotional complexity and intensity that makes the central riddle even more captivating. Shiva Mokri and Arash Salehi take on a bizarre range of roles, each one compelling and intriguing. Both performers are powerful presences that impress with a sense of fastidiousness to their approach. A fourth character is brought to extravagant life by Hamed Masteri, whose gradual escalation to a state of lunacy is a joy to watch.

Ira Levin’s women may not feel realistic, but it remains a pleasure that they occupy central positions in his play. It is true that women can be naive, and women can be evil, as represented in Veronica’s Room, but we are also resourceful and strong. Although Levin has put on paper something that is truly fascinating, we should question his choices, especially if we believe that humans have become more sophisticated as a species, half a century on from the play’s original staging. Fiction always allows us to manipulate outcomes, and how we choose to see ourselves, is entirely in our hands.

www.nomadartgroup.com | www.flightpaththeatre.org

Review: Pit (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 25 – Mar 1, 2020
Playwright: Jackson Used
Director: Mikala Westall
Cast: Tony Barea, Margarita Gershkovich, Briony Williams
Images by Morgan Moroney

Theatre review
Bridget’s only daughter has been abducted. Needless to say, the aftermath is traumatic, and as we see in Jackson Used’s Pit, a constant state of disorientation and pain. One can attempt to find ways to move on, but there is no escaping the all-consuming damage that must result from an incident like this. Bridget tries on every kind of survival mechanism, none of which proves satisfactory, and we must confront the idea that when things go this bad, no solution can exist. It becomes a case of sink or swim, and we see that the remaining hope is about resilience and spirit, even if all they do is to keep a person breathing.

Direction by Mikala Westall is often imaginative, although a bolder approach is necessary for a more dramatic experience. Actor Briony Williams does most of the heavy lifting, focused and purposeful in the lead role. Tony Barea plays the lost girl’s father Serge, a surprising performance that has us won over at the end. Margarita Gershkovich provides sturdy support in a number of smaller parts, able to engage the audience without causing distraction from the central plot and character.

The emotions displayed on stage can feel slightly restrained, but theatre should not ask of its makers, thorough authenticity under all circumstances. What Bridget has to go through, is beyond inhumane, and no actor should have to take on anywhere near that level of torment. There are techniques however, that can help the show convey greater intensity, so that we may come closer to the reality being rendered, even if bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors are how we can get there.

www.old505theatre.com

5 Questions with Isaro Kayitesi and Mansoor Noor

Isaro Kayitesi

Mansoor Noor: If you could take one thing with you to the after life what would it be?
Isaro Kayitesi: My great tchotchke collection would be comforting, but actually I think I would take the good memories from my life to play over and over again whenever I wanted. Though, that’s assuming that I’d have a mind to experience them in…?

What’s it like learning every role in a play?
Well “nearly” every role… I reckon it must be really good for my brain (the nervous system, not so much). I’ve been doing a lot of shutting off of that little voice inside my head that’s saying: “this is impossible!!” I just hope I don’t start mouthing the other character’s lines while I’m not supposed to be playing them!

Who would you turn to for help on a presentation about your life?
Probably my mother because she is a glass-half-full kind of person, so I think she would leave out all the bad bits for me.

Who’s your favourite cast member slash which one of us would you take to meet God?
I’d probably take you, only because you naturally talk much more rapidly than I do so you could ask “God” like a million questions and do all the talking until I could actually wrap my head around the whole weirdness of the fact that I was apparently meeting “God”! (I don’t have favourites! That is crazy!)

Are you nervous about not knowing which role you will get to play each night?
Not knowing means that I’m going to have to just go for it without any time to over think. It also helps to know that there are 5 of us going through the same thing. So, no, not yet, but ask me again on the first night!

Mansoor Noor

Isaro Kayitesi: Would you rather go to an afterlife or just disappear in to nothingness, and why?
Defs the afterlife. Have you not seen The Good Place? It’s a never ending party where you can do whatever you like! The Good Place is based on facts… right?

Which kinds of lines do you find the hardest to remember?
All of them… apparently. Nah but seriously… the ones where you have to remember EVERY CHARACTER’S LINES.

Are you going to call “line!” during a show if you dry? Or what will you do if you forget your lines in front of an audience?
My usual trick is to just freeze and hope that nobody notices. Nah I’m kidding… I’ve only done that once. In this show we’re lucky because the actor opposite us knows all of our lines too. So the real question is, what will you do Isaro if I forget my lines?

How existential do you get in your day to day life; has working on this play affected that?
You might say I’m constantly in existential crisis. But it has nothing to do with this play. More with the fact that I’m a single, sometimes working actor (and headshot photographer at www.mansoornoor.com – I’ve mentioned this in another Suzy interview, she’s down with it) and living in a share-house. But no, I’m fine. I’m really, really fine.

Would you walk out on your friend’s death bed if they irrevocably insulted you?
Walk out? Never. I’d most likely smother them… with forgiveness… just so I could look like the bigger person… and then watch them die anyway. If that got too dark then I’m blaming the play.

Isaro Kayitesi and Mansoor Noor can be seen in Everybody, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
Dates: 6 – 21 Mar, 2020
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Australian Open (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Feb 14 – 29, 2020
Playwright: Angus Cameron
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Di Adams, Gerard Carroll, Miranda Daughtry, Patrick Jhanur, Tom Anson Mesker, Tom Russell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Inspired by her son Felix, Belinda decides to change the nature of her marriage, in order to try out new things. Felix adamantly objects, even though it is his own open relationship with Lucas, that had acted as the very catalyst for his mother’s radical transformation. Australian Open by Angus Cameron looks at the way we let our most personal lives be dictated by others, and how we in turn feel at liberty to intervene with other people’s private business. It is a wonderfully progressive piece of writing, that takes the discussion of sexuality and marriage into the twenty-first century. Framed by some fabulously mischievous wit, the play is often hilarious, with its strengths clearly residing in dialogue rather than in plot.

Relentlessly camp, the show is directed by Riley Spadaro, whose penchant for grand gestures makes the experience a vivaciously engaging one. Spadaro is meticulous with the comedy of the piece, never letting any opportunity for laughs go wasted, although it must be said that more serious moments at the end, can in comparison, feel perfunctorily handled. There is a sense of refinement to the staging, with Grace Deacon’s work on set and costumes proving enchanting with her refreshing palette. Phoebe Pilcher’s lights too, bring an exuberance to keep us in the mood for all the bubbly goings on.

An extremely adorable cast keeps us enthralled in their slightly naughty story, with Di Adams particularly charming as Belinda, full of pointed nuance and jubilant playfulness, for a character luxuriating in being able to get back her groove. Felix is played by Tom Anson Mesker, whose proficient comic timing establishes pace for the proceedings. Also very funny is Gerard Carroll as Peter, able to portray vulnerability whilst bringing cheeky humour to the role. The millennial tennis star Lucas is given a surprising authenticity by Patrick Jhanur, who hits the mark effortlessly, both in terms of his acting and allure, for the very sex-positive part. Miranda Daughtry is appropriately stern as Annabelle, a commanding presence who offers a valuable counterbalance to her flighty family members. Finally, Tom Russell is memorable in the smaller role of Hot Ball Boy, simultaneously playing clown and eye candy, for a delighted and appreciative crowd.

As demonstrated by Felix, the hardest part about love and sex, is the discovery for oneself, what it is that one really wants. The inundation of messages relating to those subjects makes it nigh on impossible to know, if one is acting in response to influences, or if one’s true nature or essence is actually being expressed. As children, we are given explanations about partnerships and gender, that are at best interpretations of phenomena. There comes a time in adulthood, that each individual must determine for themselves, and themselves only, what those things should mean.

www.presentedbybub.com