Review: Silent Night (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 10 – Dec 10, 2017
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Glynn Nicholas
Cast: Amanda Bishop, Richard Sydenham, Aaron Glenane, Michael Denkha
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It is Christmas in the suburbs of Sydney, and the Lickfolds are freaking out, because of course, there is just so much to be done. In Silent Night by Mary Rachel Brown, we take a look at our behaviour during what is meant to be the most sacred time of the year. We may not be a religiously homogeneous nation, but the silly season of December insists that we all act at a surprising degree of uniformity.

Australians take Christmas seriously, but rarely for the right reasons. In the Lickfold household, an occasion for charity and goodwill is turned into an opportunity for exacerbated narcissism and magnified paranoia. Anne wants at all costs, to win her neighbourhood’s annual competition for the best decorated house and yard. Her husband Bill’s doomsday preparations are at fever pitch, fuelled by the incessant talk of diversity, in politically correct representations of Jesus’ birth on rooftops, and other places. Their son Rodney is determined to get in the way of everything; even at Christmas time, he refuses to share his parents’ attention with anyone, God included.

It is a moralistic tale, predictable in its messaging although imaginatively conceived. Clever ideas abound in Brown’s play, but they are not presented well. Its comedy is relentlessly laboured in the first half, and when things get serious later on, its dialogue turns confusing. Director Glynn Nicholas makes sure that we know when punchlines are delivered, but moments of genuine laughter are few and far between. There is no doubting the grace and spirit that motivate the creation of Silent Night, but intentions on their own are rarely insufficient.

Production design is competently rendered, as are performances from the cast of four. Energy and conviction are delivered in spades; we see the actors work hard, and their determination to keep us engaged is, to some extent, effective. Richard Sydenham impresses as Bill, animated and precise in his approach, able to communicate a hint of complexity that is absent from other characters.

It is true that Christmas makes our ugly sides more pronounced. When we compare our lives to the best of the Bible’s stories, we can only see beings contemptible and profane. All the wasteful decadence and hollow frivolity that inevitably take over our celebrations of that sacred dawn, expose our values to be no more than utterly dismal. We are not bad people, but when we are careless, there is little than can differentiate us from the scum of the earth.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

5 Questions with Toby Francis and Teagan Wouters

Toby Francis

Teagan Wouters: What was the first album you ever bought?
Toby Francis: The first album I ever bought with my own money was “Punk-o-Rama 6” when I was in Year 7. But the first album that was ever mine was “Aqua Aquarium” when I was about year 7 in age. Those two albums tell you everything you need to know about me, really.

Who was your inspiration as a singer growing up?
Farnham. Hands down. I mean, Freddie Mercury and Barnsey were also gods to me. But Farnham was and is the voice. Around my early 20s, I became obsessed with his voice. I wanted to be able to do what he did and I’d just belt the shit out of his songs until my voice gave out. What he does vocally is incredible.

If you could make any album into a stage show, what would it be?
“My Chemical Romance” – The Black Parade. It’s a great album, it’s theatrical. It has that old school high concept rock and roll that you don’t really see anymore. It is so open to incredible set pieces and costumes. It has such vivid imagery and characters. I’ve thought about what that album would be like on stage a lot.

What song would you choose for your first dance at your wedding? And what song do you want people to play at your funeral?
Wedding: Bright Eyes – “First Day Of My Life”. I found Bright Eyes when I couldn’t sleep one night in high school and a clip came on Rage. I thought it was incredible. And this song is such a simple joy. It’s lyrics aren’t pretentious. But they also aren’t ashamed of being a little twee in places. It’s just real and happy. It’s perfect.

Funeral: Johnny Cash – “We’ll Meet Again”. This song, but not this version, was played at my grandfather’s funeral. He loved to sing and we’d watch Singin’ In The Rain together all the time. When he died, it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I also adore The Ink Spots and their version of this song is the one Johnny Cash covered. So it all fits. I mean, I don’t believe in an after life but I believe in my grandfather.

Top 5 Albums people should listen to?
This isn’t in any order and I’m going for a bit of variety so:
1. “The Feel Good Record Of The Year” – No Use For A Name
2. “Lizzie: The Musical”
3. “Hospice” – The Antlers
4. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D city” – Kendrick Lamar
5. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” – Against Me!

Teagan Wouters

Toby Francis: What was the first album you ever bought?
“1995 Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras Party Anthem”. I was 9 years old and heard it playing in a music shop and had to have it! I think I was destined then to have a career in musical theatre.

Who was your favourite artist growing up?
Tina Arena! I just love her effortless voice.

What is your guilty pleasure album?
Anything musical theatre. I’m a musical theatre nerd at heart. And maybe a little Alanis Morissette – “Jagged Little Pill”, to belt out in the car.

What song do you want to be played for the first dance at your wedding? And at your funeral?
Wedding… it will be on loan from my brother because I sang it at his wedding but, “You And I” by Ingrid Michaelson. Something borrowed right?

Funeral… I don’t know! Something that’s happy?!

Song that breaks your heart, and another that lifts you up?
Heartbreaking, Sara Bareilles – “Manhattan”. Uplifting, Wilson Philips – “Hold On”.

Catch Toby Francis and Teagan Wouters in High Fidelity, the musical.
Dates: 18 Nov – 17 Dec, 2017
Venue: Hayes Theatre

Review: Three Sisters (Sydney Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Nov 6 – Dec 16, 2017
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Andrew Upton)
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Alison Bell, Peter Carroll, Callan Colley, Miranda Daughtry, Harry Greenwood, Melita Jurisic, Brandon McClelland, Eryn Jean Norvill, Rahel Romahn, Chris Ryan, Nikki Shiels, Mark Leonard Winter, Anthony Brandon Wong, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The existential angst in Chekhov’s Three Sisters is timeless; the need to understand what we are here for, and how we can find happiness, are fundamentally human and eternal. Once again, we see Olga, Irina, Masha and all their friends babble on for three hours, about how hard it is to do life. Andrew Upton’s adaptation gives the play a slight refresh, but it is a predictably faithful rendering that takes on the burden of the original’s dreariness, as it ruminates on the tedium of the bourgeoisie.

As is characteristic of director Kip Williams’ style, the show is presented with remarkable polish and an impressive elegance. Alice Babidge’s set design establishes an inescapable air of glamour for the production’s minimalist aesthetic, while Nick Schlieper’s delicate lights bring sumptuous beauty to proceedings. Music by The Sweats and sound by Nate Edmondson help us locate the contemporary relevance in Chekhov’s story, whilst retaining its intrinsic sense of Russian austerity.

It comes as no surprise that this is yet another dry and dreary rendition of Three Sisters. For all the reverence associate with the play, it is at its core, a work about the lifelessness of the privileged. The point is its stasis, that nothing happens for years, and that these women are mysteriously incapable of taking meaningful action.

Williams is inventive in the first half, introducing energy wherever possible, but the depressive quality of the text proves insurmountable. Although some of the flourishes can be distracting and excessive, there is no denying our appreciation for the effort put into injecting animation and comedy, derived from the sheer desire to see some theatricality.

Actor Miranda Daughtry is memorable as Irina, with explosive emotions that are both captivating and genuine. The cast understandably adopts an extravagantly declarative approach to performance, but Daughtry’s way of connecting with her audience is particularly truthful. Alison Bell’s droll humour as Olga shines a light on the often neglected irony in Chekhov’s writing, and Eryn Jean Norvill’s exaggerated comedy as Masha is similarly delightful. We are glad to be spared too much bleakness, but it is arguable if these interpretations are effective, in helping us absorb the philosophies in Chekhov and Upton’s writing.

There always seems to be a Chekhov play on a stage in Australia somewhere. We are so much like the sisters, understanding the concept of progress but unable to extricate ourselves from the old and deficient. We may not be able to create anything without being informed by tradition, but this Three Sisters draws attention to the parts of us that refuse to move on, that are rigid in their worship of a conceptual “home”, undeviating from sacred points of origin. These parts of us that are backward and regressive must be interrogated, if not demolished.

www.sydneytheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Danielle King and Johnny Nasser

Danielle King

Johnny Nasser: Is theatre dead?
Danielle King: Fuck, I hope not! Maybe it’s starving. But it’s, historically, proved resilient. And, surely, somebody who has the insight, ability and fortunes to recognise the benefits of having a thriving arts scene to the mental health, education, evolution and tourism trade of a society will realise that it needs support….? Aren’t there studies saying this by far, far greater minds than mine? It’s hard enough trying to justify being involved in productions within the Independent Theatre scene where the actor is sponsoring the production with their time and resources for free without holding onto the ideal that Theatre will, any day now, be restored to health. Risks are still being taken, new writing still being discovered and classics still being performed- we just need to turn up and support the companies doing it.

Why do you act?
Because- you’ll be relieved to know- I’m not qualified to diagnose you, operate on you in surgery, defend you in a court of law, educate you in a classroom or even mix you a cocktail but I can be part of a company that tries to tell you a story to make you think differently, laugh, fall in love, chill you, break your heart and help you forget a shitty day. And I think that should have its place, and I’d like to be a part of that.

You have a lot of experience with classical text, does your approach as an actor differ with new writing?
I don’t think so. You’ve still got to find the truth and humanity in any text and attempt to communicate that. The difference is that you may be one of the first, if not the first, performer to attempt to find that characters voice in new writing, whereas you’re often following in other actors footsteps- sometimes extremely well documented and lauded and, therefore, intimidating footsteps. In new writing, you often have the writer there to be able to develop the piece and the language within it with the cast. Phil is handling our mangling of his writing with a gracious patience and, at times, a stick…

Have you ever been involved in a riot?
I haven’t. Especially not like the one Sharon describes in the play. I guess I can understand how a group of people can quickly and seemingly inexplicably become a mob and its terrifying. Even something as innocuous as a group of fans for a celebrity or a football match that’s particularly heated can become dangerous if the hysteria gets out of hand. To have that number of people powered by protest, frustration or passion it doesn’t seem to take much for civil human behaviour to become riotous. Maybe it’s something about being a group, you’re faceless and so the consequences feel removed. That seems to be Sharon’s experience in the play.

Do you have racist friends?
That’s such a tough question. Yeah, I probably do. Thoughtless, careless comments are made by some, which I may or may not call out at the time. So that’s something for me to address.. Snap judgements made, and shared, whilst watching the news etc. Having conversations with the cast and other creatives around events and sentiments in this play has been really challenging, however, with what’s happening around the world these are conversations to be had- and our medium happens to be the theatre.

Johnny Nasser

Danielle King: This is the first time we’ve worked together. Who are you and how’d you start acting?
Johnny Nasser: I’m someone who still doesn’t know what they want to be when they grow up, so I will continue to act until that happens. When will that be I wonder? I got a taste for acting as a teenager and had an older brother who was an actor who introduced me to the storytelling caper.

You recently did a creative development on another show and Night Slows Down is a new work, is this a coincidence or do you particularly enjoy being involved in the new writing process?
75% of the theatre work I have done has been new or actor supported devised work and I think I’m naturally drawn to that. Working on a new work takes a lot of commitment, energy and there’s no guarantees of an amazing product. When a show you’ve been involved in from its infancy works and resonates with an audience it’s very satisfying.

The subject of the play is pretty close to the bone looking at world events. Have you ever experienced similar behaviour to Martin, though not to the extent of the events in the play?
I’m of Lebanese descent and growing up got called the usual names: Wog etc… can’t say I enjoyed that and didn’t understand why I was being belittled when I felt like any other Australian kid. Even in terms of casual racism people should consider how a comment is received rather than intended.

When is violence acceptable?
When a cockroach invades your home. That sounds like a Seth comment from the play doesn’t it? My answer is never and sometimes. I have great admiration for those who refuse to resort to violence in the face of violence and tyranny. Could I be that brave? I doubt it.

What music are you listening to and are you discovering anything new?
In the play, Martin and Seth get into a passionate discussion about Kendrick Lamar, so I’m listening to plenty of Kendrick. Especially “M.A.A.D City” which is totally…… dope? Is that what the cool cats say? It’s quite a departure from my usual diet of ABC local radio I tell you!

Catch Danielle King and Johnny Nasser in Night Slows Down, by Phillip James Rouse.
Dates: 17 Nov – 9 Dec, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

5 Questions with Zoe Jensen and Emma O’Sullivan

Zoe Jensen

Emma O’Sullivan: What do you find the most challenging about performing?
Zoe Jensen: The thing I find the most challenging is pretty basic: it’s the absolute fear that I will second-guess myself in the moment and drop a line, or forget some blocking, or (worst thing ever) lose my shit and start laughing and not be able to pull it back! Thank goodness though most of these things aren’t issue if you practise often enough!

What’s your secret for getting into character?
Everyone’s got their own way of doing it. What I find works for me is to spend at least half an hour before the show going over the big moments in the play for my character. Clarifying this to myself. I find that once I’ve found those 2 or 3 moments, I can drop into it a lot easier. Also just being in the space, walking around and warming up, going over lines or speeches, even just listening to some music – these are all extremely helpful tools.

What’s your dream role?
My dream role would be to play a super bad-ass cold-hearted private detective, and solve some really messed up crimes. (This is what I would love to do in real life but I don’t have the patience to go to uni and do some science thing for years and years, so playing a character who does this would be the BEST THING EVER!) One day…

Tell us about your show Orange Is The New Crack?
Our show is a silly silly silly little show, that will make you laugh A LOT and forget about everything outside of the theatre 😊 There’s no big morals, or messages or anything like that. It’s just myself, Jane and Michael reverting back to childhood and playing a funny make-believe game. I assure you it’s very entertaining!

Why should people go and see Hijacked Rabbit?
Four new pieces of Australian Work?!?! That’s incredible! And they are all under an hour, and have really talented actors, writers and directors behind them, and you can have a drink and a HUGE laugh. It’s such a fun, chilled, entertaining night 😊

Emma O’Sullivan

Zoe Jensen: What do you find the most challenging about performing?
Emma O’Sullivan: There’s a tonne of great challenges for me when performing. One big challenge is making sure I leave whatever day I’ve had at the door. Some days a billion different things happen before I’ve even headed in to the theatre, I try my best to make sure they don’t bleed into the story I’m about to tell onstage.

The second big challenge for me is if I’ve got the luxury of doing heaps of runs of a show then finding that sweet spot between all my preparation and keeping it fresh as a new pair of sneakers every night, you know? You don’t want to go nuts and do stuff like throwing a chair across the room mid scene to keep it fresh – I just want it to be nice and aired out for each audience. Trusting the work I’ve done and then going out there and performing it like; I haven’t done it for the last 2 months, and I didn’t trip over and rip my pants in act one the night before and just go for it. Each show may be the last one I ever get to do so I try to just go for a ride.

What’s your secret for getting into character?
I just try to get the hell out of my own way. Before each show I warm up like there’s no tomorrow, then just sit somewhere for 5 minutes. I just close my eyes, breathe and try to tune out any noise from the day – and any thoughts that are useless for the task I’ve got ahead of me. I started doing that a few years ago and it really seems to help me.

Now, tell us a about Hijacked Rabbit and how you’re involved?
Hijacked Rabbit is this rad season that Jackrabbit Theatre have put together. They’ve selected four one-act, really punchy and tasty pieces of theatre to show at Blood Moon Theatre in Kings Cross from October 31st- November 11th. It’s such a fantastic opportunity to get some theatre onstage that ranges from balls-to-the-wall comedy through to some seriously heartfelt moments.

I’ll be performing in Hit which is written and directed by Lincoln Vickery. The cast also includes heaps of serious talent including Adam Sollis, Seamus Quinn and Elle Harris. It’s such a treat getting to see them all work. The show is honestly like nothing you could ever imagine and is such a blast to perform in. And on every other night I’ll be performing in a one-woman show I’ve written called It’s Mars Time, directed by Charlotte Devenport. I literally cannot wait to do it!

Oh, and then of course there’s your show Orange Is The New Crack written by James Sweeny and Gate 64, written and performed by Jane Watt.

And your one woman show, It’s Mars Time, where does the inspiration come from for your character of Judy?
It comes from loads of different points of interest for me. One of them is the fact that some people (including myself) are just not natural born leaders. I honestly find it hilarious having to really figure out any sort of leadership position I’m in as I go along. Sometimes doing it right and sometimes getting it so so wrong. But what I’m really interested in is watching someone deal with that in a super heightened situation such as; being in a leader in a WWIII bunker, and being severely under-experienced for the job. There’s a comical amount of people in leadership positions in the world who – like Judy – are not natural born leaders and have to just deal with it. It can be hilarious to watch but the results can also be a real tragedy.

I’m also really intrigued by people who have extremely heightened survival instincts. And I love that they’ll prepare for a war no matter the circumstances, they’re survivors and just do what they need to do. I’m fascinated by their natural instincts to get organised, and get prepared for a tragedy at any given moment. You name it – they’ve got a plan for it.

And which show is better do you think, Orange Is The New Crack or It’s Mars Time?
(Laughs) Both of the shows are brill! But lucky for everyone they’re on the same night as a double bill, so the they/I don’t have to choose 😉

Zoe Jensen and Emma O’Sullivan are appearing in Hijacked Rabbit, an anthology of 4 comedies.
Dates: 31 October – 11 November, 2017
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: Plastic (The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 18, 2017
Playwright: Mark Rogers
Director: Sanja Simic
Cast: Nick Bartlett, Hannah Goodwin, Harry McGee, Douglas Niebling, Michelle Ny
Image by Carly Young

Theatre review
When we first meet Franz, he seems nice enough. A young scientist excited for the opportunity to discover wonderful things about the universe, he soon gets absorbed into the big machine of corporations, academia and the fourth estate, and idealism turns corrupt, as the golden boy attempts to carve out a name for himself in Mark Rogers’ Plastic.

Having little more than Franz’s personal reputation and career at stake, the context is admittedly dry, but although not a particularly moving story, Plastic is written with remarkable inventiveness and nuance. Its dialogue is consistently amusing, and the playwright’s theatrical flair concocts a range of characters that come readily to life on stage.

Sanja Simic’s exacting and energetic direction makes for a marvellously captivating show. We may not care very much for Franz’s predicament, but we find ourselves nonetheless fascinated, and thoroughly entertained by the production’s clever presentation of sequences that reveal its plot.

The spirited cast of five has a whale of a time, and we go along gleefully with their infectious exuberance. Their work is impressively well-rehearsed, and each actor demonstrates a thrilling sense of passionate conviction, along with an arresting fastidiousness required of the script. The charming Nick Bartlett keeps us attentive to Franz’s narrative even as the character proves himself to have few redeeming features. The roles are not particularly likeable, but there is no resisting the charm offensive from these players.

We often worry about our art being stifled by commercial forces, but in Plastic, we see that things are no different for those working in the field of science. Instead of discovering and cultivating the best that one has to offer the world, individuals pursue only things that promise reward and glory. With our eye on the prize, as it were, we lose sight of the bigger picture, and of greater possibilities. Innovation pertains to that which is yet unknown, but if we focus only on results already predetermined, progress will forever be suppressed.

www.bodysnatcherstheatre.com

Review: Paper Doll (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 7 – 18, 2017
Playwright: Katy Warner
Director: Lucy Clements
Cast: Martin Ashley-Jones, Lucy Goleby
Image by Kate Williams

Theatre review
At its most fundamental, theatre is an instrument that wishes to get us together, and have us find consensus, or at least to gain valuable awareness on issues of relevance. We share space and come to an understanding of what each other thinks, when we laugh together, or when we hear people gasp in demonstration of their disapproval or outrage.

Katy Warner’s Paper Doll is a topical work about sexual predation and paedophilia, depicting a grown woman meeting her abuser, years after the fact. Dialogue is well crafted, but the work takes a safe approach, rarely controversial in how the subject is handled. The plot and its characters offer little that is new to how we regard the matter, although individuals who might be personally affected, would probably identify more palpable qualities.

Director Lucy Clements’ obvious attempts at manufacturing dramatic tension vary in effectiveness. The show has many captivating moments, but can at times feel laboured, in its efforts at creating something theatrical out of a quiet piece of writing. Both performers are strong personalities, with impressive stage presences. Lucy Goleby’s intensity dictates the tone of proceedings, while Martin Ashley-Jones brings a more organic interpretation that reads with a better sense of authenticity. We may not always be convinced of the action on stage, but the production makes all of its assertions crystal clear.

In representing the zeitgeist’s hot topics, a conundrum exists when our minds are already made up before entering the auditorium. There can only be one way of considering issues surrounding rape, and unless the production takes exceptional risks, the chances of it being less than predictable, are close to none. Paper Dolls is careful to say all the right things, but we have heard it all too many times before, and it is not fair to expect fabricated controversy where none is permitted. We want our art to be inventive, but it seems that not everything can be talked about in unexpected ways.

www.redlineproductions.com.au