5 Questions with Tyler De Nawi and Aanisa Vylet

Tyler De Nawi

Aanisa Vylet: I have been watching you play Uday Hussein. He is quite a cruel man and you as a person have the demeanour of a teddy bear. How do you channel his cruelty?
Tyler De Nawi: When I am behind closed doors in my own space I experiment with how far I can take something. I can have quite a lot of fun with myself… (I know that sounds dirty) but I know how to entertain myself. When I am alone, I can actually push myself to those extremes, to those states of anger, distress. I can drop my mask of Mr Nice Guy and play. It comes from play, playing at home, really taking time to understand what the text is saying. The play is written so well. I just try to let the text breathe on stage.

What is your relationship to Iraq as an Arab Australian?
I grew up with Iraqis and Asyrians in Western Sydney. The word ‘Saddam’ was thrown around loosely at school. Some loved Saddam, some hated Saddam, some didn’t even know how to feel about it… After more research, I have started to see the Husseins as ordinary people. Even though people considered him to be crazy, Uday Hussein was a boy who grew up with a father who would kill his own friends if they betrayed him. His father was unfaithful to his mum and Uday loved his mum. He was product of his own environment. Uday used to own tigers. To me, if he was an animal, he would be a tiger – a predator in captivity.

What is your favourite thing about your Uday Hussein costume?
He is like an “Arab Hugh Hefner”. He wears a three-piece suit with gold buttons on it and a gold tie. It is something else. We are so lucky to have found it. I am still trying to get my hands on a ring, a gold pinky ring. I think that will be my favourite part.

Have you ever been to Iraq?
Never. I have been to Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Turkey… Wow, all the countries around Iraq but I never been there, no.

Do you feel targeted as an Arab?

I am proud to be Muslim. I am proud to be from an Arab background. We are complex just like every one else. We are messy. We are passionate. We are beautiful, just like everyone else. It is time to stop assuming you can label anyone. Just because I am Arab-Muslim does not mean you know me.

I believe art is the best way to help a society overcome these assumptions.

When I was a kid growing up, driving down the highway I saw big banners from world vision that showed an African child suffering. 20 years later, there are now Syrian kids on banners in the rubble that was once their city. How did we get to this? We haven’t even resolved what is happening in Africa. People from my own heritage have become a charity case. What is next?

Aanisa Vylet

Tyler De Nawi: In this play you are playing two characters – an Iraqi civilian whose home is being raided and a leper. I watch you embody these characters very well. To what extent do you go to embody a character?
Aanisa Vylet: I can inhabit distressed states of being very easily. I don’t know where it comes from. Perhaps it is in my blood, an ancestral pain. When I access those states I think about everyone who is currently suffering in Arab countries and the world right now. I channel anyone I know who is an outsider due to their health as the leper.

I also work in colours and through the physicality of that character. For the Iraqi woman, my feet are bare and I am trying to put on my scarf. As a person from an Islamic background, I understand the vulnerability and nakedness that she would feel when those parts of her body are bare in the presence of foreign military.

With the leper, my body is diagonal and made of sand. The leper is the color grey – the black moves inward, the white tries to reach out. The Iraqi woman is red – passionate and explosive.

If you were stranded in the middle of the desert as an outsider, decaying, what is the food that you would be wishing for?
My mother’s homemade vine leaves. Even though my mum hates cooking, her food is always made with love and makes me feel like I am at home. And Lebanese vine leaves with yoghurt and mint? That is the dish that describes my life. It takes forever to make but tastes so delicious you fight for the last mouthful.

What is your mission as an artist and why were you interested in telling this story?
My mission is to tell stories that are difficult to tell, stories that express the voices of people who are silenced who cannot tell their stories themselves. I aim to tell provocative and engaging stories that don’t exist yet.

And as for Bengal, when I first read the script I thought – “Fuck yes!” and then… “Thank God!” The writing hits the primal part of ourselves that we often forget in our daily life. We need writing like this. We need to be moved in our seats before our brain kicks in.

On top of that I was keen to share a narrative that dealt with “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and to work with the wonderful Mad March Hare Theatre Co.

If you had three wishes from a lamp what would they be?
I would wish that we had proper world leaders again, like Nelson Mandela, leaders who perform not for themselves but for the people they represent. My second wish would be that we respect and improve our treatment of animals and the environment… and I would want my mum to get the operations she needs and my brother, who has Down Syndrome to receive the best and most inclusive life possible.

Why should someone pay $40 to come and see this play?
Because it is incredibly moving, everyone involved is generously bringing themselves and their hearts to the work. Because this play is so relevant to our lives today. Because the play is funny – it is a wonderful and entertaining night at the theatre. This isn’t a close and open your eyes “why the hell did I watch this?” show. At this show you will see artists at play, trying new things. This is ground-breaking, brave theatre. Do yourself a favour – go.

Tyler De Nawi and Aanisa Vylet can be seen in Bengal Tiger At The Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph.
Dates: 12 Apr – 6 May, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Hysteria (Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

Venue: Eternity Playhouse (Darlinghurst NSW), Mar 31 – Apr 30, 2017
Playwright: Terry Johnson
Director: Susanna Dowling
Cast: Miranda Daughtry, Michael McStay, Wendy Strehlow, Jo Turner
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Sigmund Freud is near the end of his life, and the past returns to haunt him. We all change our minds, but writers have the burden of their work set in stone. In Terry Johnson’s 1993 play Hysteria, a fictive version of Freud is made to regret his declarations about women’s rape fantasies. It seems that the legendary psychoanalyst had misrepresented experiences of his patients, turning their reality into imagination, so that his work would be better received. Johnson’s piece about the need to redress denials of rape and molestation, is a timely discussion in the current climate of renewed interest in feminism, but Hysteria is a dry, and often inelegant, work that proves to be less than captivating.

The production looks smart enough, with Anna Gardiner’s set and costume design establishing a splendid first impression. Projections of Julian Tynan’s cinematography appear later in the piece, equally delightful with the imagery it presents. It is an accomplished group of actors, each one demonstrating a good sense of presence and conviction, but chemistry is lacking, and the stories they tell never seem to fortify. We are left feeling confused and detached, unable to adequately follow its narrative or to satisfactorily engage in any of its ideas. It is a laborious exercise for the audience, trying to work out the point of the exercise, and when we eventually gain clarity, Hysteria‘s concerns fail to resonate.

Individual elements of the show all look to be at least adequate, but they coalesce to form something that is altogether disappointing. Its characters are not lifeless; Salvador Dali is written in, presumably, to further enhance the quotient of eccentricity in Freud’s colourful world, but there is little in Hysteria that excites. Art does not owe us entertainment, nor does it promise to always be meaningful. In art, there is no right and wrong, but a work can certainly fall short of the standards it sets itself.

www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Review: White Rabbit Red Rabbit (Freefall Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 4 – 15, 2017
Playwright: Nassim Soleimanpour
Cast: Ylaria Rogers
Image by

Theatre review
The play requires that its actor comes to the performance “blind”, not knowing anything about what lies on the pages of the playbook. It is a complete mystery to the person on stage, and also to those in the audience who are seeing Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit Red Rabbit for the first time. It is significant that the 2010 work was created when its 29-year-old author was forbidden from leaving his country Iran. The autocratic regime that he had to endure is not directly denounced in Soleimanpour’s writing, but its presence and influence on the piece, are clear.

We are made to consider how a police state operates, especially in terms of the complicity and compliance of citizens that allow inhumanity to thrive. The play shifts attention away from the way authorities intrude upon private lives, and looks instead at how the everyday person monitors and subjugates one another unconsciously, especially in cultures where freedoms are severely restricted. We are urged to think about the deficiencies in free will, and how easy it is for society to manipulate our empathy and deprive us of compassion. It wants us to see the tragedy that exists in our exploitable susceptibility to mistreating each other, and our readiness at forming habits of intolerance, hate and violence. It is to the writer’s credit that these grave and important issues are not only communicated powerfully in spite of its need to be cryptic, White Rabbit Red Rabbit is surprisingly humorous and entertaining.

Like Soleimanpour at the time of writing this script, actor Ylaria Rogers is in a position of vulnerability as she moves through the lines and instructions of every page. She submits to the text that she holds in her hands, but like those of us who have gathered to witness this unusual theatrical moment, our volition is constantly called to question. Ylaria’s obedience, and ours, come into examination, leading us to confront the nature of authority, and how it is constructed. Authority is often imagined, but even when it is real and life-threatening, the power of the masses can overthrow any dictator that sits atop. The conundrum is in our inability to perceive that collective force, and our failure to understand that the fear we experience is shared and can only manifest if we allow it to.

www.freefallproductions.com.au

5 Questions with Alison Bennett and Dymphna Carew

Alison Bennett

Dymphna Carew: What’s the best thing about devising your own work? What’s the worst thing?
Alison Bennett: Best thing would be letting your imagination run off to different places. Worst, is getting stuck and having no idea what to do.

If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
A journalist or a bird.

What has been the highlight of creating and performing Trade so far?
Honestly, the highlight of Trade so far is seeing people turn up even when it’s really hard. Also, once we get into performance it is really fun.

Are you a romantic or a realist and why?
I am definitely a romantic but sometimes I think I’m a realist. It’s because I love to escape into my own world. When I was little I had an imaginary place called Ali Land. Not much room for realism in Ali Land.

During the creation of Trade, the biggest question we have had to ask ourselves is “how responsible are you?” What are some of the things you have discovered about yourself? Are you responsible? Have you changed after confronting yourself with this question?
This can get really dark because you start to think that the world can never change. Then I realised that I am responsible. I’m really responsible and I realised what a weird relief that was because that is something that can change. I had trouble seeing the light of the subject matter of change and I think that that’s it. If we can just put our hands up and recognise our own responsibility, then we can change. If it’s always bigger and scarier than us than it can’t.

Dymphna Carew

Alison Bennett: What would be your perfect Monday?
Dymphna Carew: My perfect Monday would be enjoying another day off after the weekend! Escaping for a long weekend and doing something active and adventurous.

What was the last dream you remember?
I had a really vivid dream a few nights ago and dreamt there was someone at my window trying to climb in. I remember desperately trying to move and call out to my partner, but I was paralysed. Then apparently I started to make some strange sounds and screamed, waking myself and my partner up. It was all a bit scary and weird. We probably watched too much Homeland before going to bed. Ooops.

What gets you really excited in the theatre?
I love live theatre and experiencing something so intimate with other people. When the space is used in an innovative and surprising way, that really gets me going. I appreciate experimentation and love original, imaginative and daring pieces of theatre. Any show that uses different art forms to make a story come to life and take the audience on a journey makes my heart sing.

How do you feel about being nude on stage?
Hmm. I don’t personally have a huge issue with being nude on stage, however I wouldn’t be getting my kit off for any old reason.

Skinny dipping? Love or hate?
I don’t mind a little skinny dip now and then.

Alison Bennett and Dymphna Carew can be seen in Trade .
Dates: 4 – 15 Apr, 2017
Venue: Old 505 Theatre

5 Questions with Lucy Goleby and Moreblessing Maturure

Lucy Goleby

Moreblessing Maturure: Fallen is a new Australian work. Why do we need new work and why did you choose this new work?
Lucy Goleby: I think it’s really important that theatre reflects, questions and challenges its social, geographical and political context. New work speaks to audiences with an immediacy, an urgency and a familiarity that makes an audience’s experience inside the theatre change the way they interact with the world outside it. This play, Fallen, allows audiences to do some of that metaphorical work themselves, asking them to draw conclusions and discover points of similarity and difference between London in 1848, we create for them onstage, and the world of Sydney in 2017, as they create for themselves offstage. Fallen seeks to explore the role of women in a patriarchy, how their relationships within a patriarchy are constructed and destroyed, and what, ultimately, empowerment looks like.

Is working in the female-led space that She Said Theatre encourages different to your previous acting experiences? If so, how?
Working with She Said and the incredible company of women has been challenging and empowering. I talk of Facebook and social media as an echo chamber, with my own opinions and passions reverberated back at me by like-minded individuals. In this room, I am surrounded by opinions and passions as fervent as my own. In simultaneously supporting and challenging each other, we have been strengthening ourselves as women to support and challenge the society we live in. Knowing that these remarkable women are conducting themselves with poise, passion, determination, intelligence and love makes me feel stronger and safer in my pursuit to do the same.

How can today’s 21st century society hope to relate to this text and its characters?
I think today’s audiences are smart story-recipients. They’re clever and quick with metaphor and symbolism, and easily capable of drawing comparisons between their own lives and experiences and those presented to them. Beyond that, the enormous revolution in television in the last five-odd years has created an audience that understands how to invest in multiple characters and multiple plotlines. Stories matter to us when we can see ourselves in them. This play and its women are both deeply familiar and uncomfortably confronting to the experience of 21st century Australian women. And men who’ve ever met a woman.

What would your character, Matron, think of 21st Century Australia?
I think Matron would be entirely overwhelmed and relieved. She is in the unenviable position of upholding and maintaining the very system that disenfranchises and devalues her. We’ve been talking a fair bit in rehearsal about the perpetuation of bad advice, and the insidious inheritance of unconscious bias. I believe in that idea that you can only dream what’s seen, and Matron’s capacity to make any kind of difference for the girls in her care is fundamentally flawed because she can’t dream a life for them that’s any different from her own.

Who should I invite to come and see this show?
Anyone who cares about what it means to be human. And those who like a stunning multimedia, fragile soundscape, emotionally rich direction, clever, detailed language, an intricate flexible set or a fully boned corset complete with hand-sewn period dresses. And your mum.

Moreblessing Maturure

Lucy Goleby: Describe the world of the play Fallen in five words.
Moreblessing Maturure: Precarious. Tense. Measured. Full. Live

What is one of the questions you hope this play asks or answers?
This is probably the thing I look forward to the most about this play- the foyer conversations before the play, during the intermission and in pubs, cars and trains after the curtain call. I asked a lot of questions after my first reading and I’d be more than content if the audience was also curious after watching the play, curious enough to read up about the history of Urania Cottage, the history of Australia, the herstory of women and particularly, these women. One burning question I’d hope this play asks is “where are we know?” Compared to 1846- where are we as a society when it comes to our relationship with our history, with femininity and liberation.

What has been the most unexpected moment or discovery of the process so far?
Aside from the phone call from Penny (the director) telling me I was going to play Julia, realising how noticeably different working in an unapologetically female-led and centred space was. Not only for myself as an individual but also as an artist, realising that “the norms” of a theatre space, which I’d learnt to be the ‘rules’ of theatre making-didn’t have to be so- that there was a different way to approach, to analyse to process to imagine stories- and that way was equally as valid . #suchdeep #muchwow

How is your character, Julia, similar to and different from you and what have you learned from her?
Julia, unlike myself, has a steadfast faith in the system she finds herself, in meritocracy- the notion that hard work leads to success (however that manifests) and thus any failure is due to individual inadequacy. That was the first big obstacle i had to work through in understanding Julia, as to WHY someone who has been wronged by her society in so many ways, continues to obey by the rules that actively maintain her lowly position. Julia also manages to be very similar to me in the way she navigates her world, in her ability to master the act of appeasing and knows how to keep-up-appearances when all she wants to do is yell to the heavens..yeah, we’re pretty Kool Kats

How will this play have changed you, as an actor and a person?
As a testament to Penny’s incredible ability, It’s introduced me to a new way to approach, discover and understand a character. This play has also set a precedent for myself as an artists as to the amount of complexity and nuance I am will accept in a role. Female roles aren’t accessories to adorn a male centric narrative- they deserve to be written with truth and dimension and dare I say: virility.

Lucy Goleby and Moreblessing Maturure can be seen in Fallen by Seanna van Helten.
Dates: 6 – 22 Apr, 2017
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: Ellie, Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 29 – Apr 8, 2017
Playwright: Monica Zanetti
Director: Monica Zanetti
Cast: Meagan Caratti, Margi De Ferranti, Sophie Hawkshaw, Geraldine Viswanathan, Monica Zanetti

Theatre review
Ellie has developed a crush on Abbie, and is trying to figure out how best to ask her along to their year 12 formal. Having only just come out to her mother, who is, predictably, struggling to come to terms with her daughter’s sexual identity, Ellie is lucky to have the ghost of her lesbian aunt show up to help navigate new terrains. Monica Zanetti’s Ellie, Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) introduces a new paradigm to the story of same-sex attracted girls. Not only does Ellie benefit from the guidance of role models, the play’s portrayal of lesbian and gay relationships in Australian high schools, as entirely normal and accepted, is thoroughly refreshing.

The work is elevated by Zanetti’s incorporation of LGBT political history. By placing emphasis on the hard won rights of Ellie’s community, we experience a gravity in our protagonist’s story without having to see her go through archaic narratives of homosexual agony. It is important that we make representations of LGBT youth in our art and storytelling that reflect the increasing normalisation of their place in society, while preserving their significance within conceptions of social diversity. Zanetti’s writing is sentimental but considered, innocent but sophisticated; it speaks intelligently to our young, and helps advocate for greater inclusiveness of sexual minorities.

The production is staged with minimal fuss. Little ingenuity is put into direction, and set design is overly bare, but the roles are soulfully realised. Appropriately, leading lady Sophie Hawkshaw is strongest of the cast, with a natural charm that endears Ellie to her audience from the very beginning. It is a gentle performance that feels effortless, but one that is surprisingly convincing. Hawkshaw makes us want the best for Ellie, and it is this emotional investment she elicits that keeps us engaged to the end.

www.thedepottheatre.com

Review: Consensual (New Theatre)

Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 14 – Apr 15, 2017
Playwright: Evan Placey
Director: Johann Walraven
Cast: Callum Alexander, Michael Brindley, Claire Crighton, Rhys Johnson, Eloise Martin-Jones, Eliza Nicholls, Eamon O’Flynn, Celeste Reardon, Lauren Richardson, Natasha Rose, Anton Smilek, Nicole Toum,
Benjamin Vickers, Paul Whiddon, Emma Wright
Image © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Freddie was a 15 year-old schoolboy when a sexual tryst occurred between himself and his teacher, Diane. Seven years later, a confrontation takes place, with Freddie accusing Diane of rape. In Consensual, playwright Evan Placey poses a challenge to our ethics, not only in terms of what we consider to be sexual assault and what constitutes consent, but also how, as individuals and as society, we determine what is acceptable and what is abhorrent. The play is as much about where to draw the line, as it is about how we find consensus in the way that line should be drawn.

Placey’s gripping drama is often outrageous, but balance is offered by ethical and intellectual investigations that are as considered as they are controversial. Urging us to respond on levels that are both emotional and logical, the play leads us to experience states of struggle and confusion, while we attempt to negotiate right from wrong in all the grey areas of what we see on stage, and in those of our own real world experiences. Characters in Consensual are believable and quite frighteningly, we relate to all of them. Even when we wish to castigate certain behaviour, we understand the fallibility on display, and realise how easy it is to make those same mistakes.

Freddie is played by Paul Whiddon, perfectly cast as the male Lolita, vulnerable yet seductive, manipulative yet naive. We see a man domineering with his sexuality, as well as a lost boy not knowing what he is getting himself into. Whiddon brings a level of authenticity to the show that is quite arresting, allowing us to observe clearly, all the conflicting nuances that make his story so provocative.

Lauren Richardson takes on the highly complex role of Diane, portraying concurrent but contradictory layers of truth that has the audience squirming in nervousness. Some of her motivations could be played with greater conviction, so that the climactic moment can ring truer, but it is an accomplished performance that reveals the disconcerting depths of Diane’s story.

A strong ensemble of extraordinarily engaging young actors make up the high school classroom, typically rambunctious but surprisingly (and unnervingly) grown up in their exchanges about sex. Particularly impressive is Callum Alexander whose excellent focus and commitment, makes the supporting part of the very wise Nathan, especially memorable.

Production design is simple but effective. Renee Halse’s set and Liam O’Keefe’s lights are polished, efficient and unobtrusive, while music composer Nicky D’Silva’s exciting electronica in scene transitions, brings great vigour to the stage. Director Johann Walraven’s exhibits a valuable talent in making Consensual both intelligent and entertaining. More detailed work in dramaturgy would give greater finesse, but the show is nonetheless engrossing.

A child wants ice cream morning, noon and night. No amount of explanation could make the consequences more real than the yearning they experience. Likewise with teenagers and sex. Adults must protect the young, even when they appear headstrong with what they wish to explore. Sex and relationships are complicated, and we will continue to make mistakes no matter how grown up we feel, but as long as the more experienced can keep a watchful eye, the minimisation of harm must always be a priority.

www.newtheatre.org.au