Review: A Period Piece (Glitterbomb / The Old 505 Theatre)

Venue: Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 14 – 25, 2017
Playwright: Gretel Vella
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Mikaela Atallah, Hannah Cheers, Julia Christensen, Clare Hennessy, Mat Lee, Julia Robertson, James Wright
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review (of a preview performance)
In Gretel Vella’s A Period Piece, menstruation takes centre stage in each of its madcap episodes. Mischievous and irreverent, its collection of short skits takes a look at the absurd taboo that surrounds the subject, and its significance as a mechanism of misogyny in our daily lives. The work presents entertaining observations, and an important perspective on how society is taught to be afraid and ashamed of women’s bodies, and how that irrational aversion informs the way we have constructed sexism through the ages.

The production, directed by Carissa Licciardello, is delightfully high-spirited, with an energetic cast that zips gleefully from one comedic scene to another. A band of three musicians add even more vibrancy to the atmosphere, playing silly songs that keep us in a giddy mood, while driving home further, the show’s message of female empowerment. Set design by Nick Fry is a simple idea, but fastidiously executed to help illustrate the antiquated values we carry, with unforgivable obstinacy, in order that systems of patriarchy may be upheld.

There is a rawness to A Period Piece that is unapologetic, and very enjoyable. It is an untidy affair, but inviting and joyful, although a more philosophical approach could provide greater depth (and a more lasting impression) to its concerns. When Aristophanes dreamt up the story of Lysistrata and foregrounded the fact that a woman’s womb, and her sexuality, controls all our existence, we should have begun to see that her holding up half the sky is an understatement.

www.dasglitterbomb.com

5 Questions with Ali Aitken and Marcella Franco

Ali Aitken

Marcella Franco: What is your favourite line in the show?
Ali Aitken: There’s no shortage of men, I promise to find you a dozen before evening.

What is the most challenging part of the production?
For me I think it will be remembering which character I am at which point in the play…

What was your first theatre experience?
I developed a love of theatre at a very early age, I remember seeing Christopher Biggins as Winnie The Pooh and Mia Farrow as Peter Pan when I was about 3. The rest, as they say… My first acting role was the lead in a school play about Christopher Columbus when I was six or seven (I always was a bit of a tomboy). The line that’s stayed with me is “I’ll to my books’, no idea why. That and the fact that someone stole my trick dagger.

The entire play takes course over 1 day, what is the craziest day you have ever had?
I think the craziest day I had was one Saturday in Hong Kong – in the morning I performed in a children’s show as part of a festival, raced across town to another theatre where I stage managed a musical, back to do another kids’ show and then stage managed the evening performance. The show I SM’d didn’t know about the other one until the evening performance, it was a bit of a rush to get back and I didn’t have time to take my make up off properly. I was the Lion in The Wizard Of Oz so the make up was quite noticeable!

Of all the food mentioned in the play, which dish is your favourite?
You can’t go past a good roast.

Marcella Franco

Ali Aitken: Who is your favourite character in the show and why?
I know I might be bias, but my character Beatrice Rasponi is my favourite. She is intelligent, cunning, passionate, courageous, ambitious and also compassionate when she needs to be.

What has been your favourite role so far?
Maria from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, I had the pleasure of playing her last year and she is great fun.

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done on stage (or screen)?
Wearing an orange sequinned bra and pink feathered shorts, I was making my way to the stage from the dressing room, in full view of the audience, tripped over some chairs, they rolled into other chairs, I quickly then popped back up and a cloud of pink feathers filled the air. What an entrance.

Why should everyone come and see this show?
Besides the fact that it’s hilarious, it’s a show that deals with gender roles, love, family pressures and status. All things which we are still battling in today’s society.

Is this your first experience working in the Commedia Del’Arte style?
I have participated in a workshop before but yes this is my first experience performing Commedia Del’Arte. Trying to take on the physicality, whilst wearing a mask, whilst pretending to be a man has come with it’s challenges but has also been very rewarding.

Ali Aitken and Marcella Franco can be seen in The Servant Of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni.
Dates: 14 – 25 Mar, 2017
Venue: King Street Theatre

5 Questions with Tessa James and Alex Packard

Tessa James

Alex Packard: The character you play in Blackrock, Rachel, has been accepted to study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – what animal form would her Patronus Charm be?
Tessa James: Cheetah.

Looking at Blackrock, what has been your favourite part of the process so far?
Being able to explore the text for such a long period of time, to be able to constantly challenge myself whilst discovering my character Rachel and being inspire by the cast.

We see a lot of the characters in Blackrock trying to suppress or ignore certain memories… What is your earliest memory you can recall?
Performing in front of my family in the lounge room and making them pay 20c for a performance 🙂

You’ve got one song stuck in your head, all day, everyday, for the rest of your life. What song do you choose?
Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams at the moment.

You’re walking alone through a forest at night, what are you most afraid of: ghosts, monsters or aliens?
Aliens… definitely.

Alex Packard

Tessa James: If you could work with any actor and director, who would it be?
Alex Packard: I really like the work that Scott Graham does with his theatre company, Frantic Assembly. It’s always very clever and imaginative, the kind of stuff that makes you say under your breath “wish I had thought of that” – it would be a delight to be directed by him. As for an actor, I could sneeze in the same postcode as Mark Rylance and die happy, so I choose him.

What are you most afraid of?
I’d like to answer with something profound, like ‘fear itself’, but I’m going to have to go with: getting into trouble. I’m not very good at handling it. I was one of those kids who would crumble at the thought of getting caught out by a teacher. Even now that I am (ahem) all grown up I still recognise it in myself – the other day there was a patch of fresh-looking concrete out the front of my house and I impulsively bent down to touch it to see if it was wet and got yelled at by a tradie watching over it (fair enough, I was about to mess with her construction). It took me the better part of an hour to get over the shame of being caught out.

If Beyonce offered to do a private dance class with you – which song would you choose (of hers) to dance to?
Last time I had a private dance class with Beyonce she said that I didn’t really need any more classes – she had “taught me all she knows”. But, ah… lets be honest, I would butcher any of her songs. So lets go with Single Ladies, cause I know that at the very least I am capable of flipping my left hand around.

If you could invite any 5 people, dead or alive, to a dinner party who would those 5 people be?
You mean aside from the wonderful cast and crew of Blackrock, right?? Ah, I’m generally more of an observer than a contributor when it comes to conversations involving more than a few people, so I’m going to cut it down to three: I’d go with William Shakespeare, Cormac McCarthy and Sharon Jones.

What is your least favourite word?
whiteboWhatever is the first word spoken on the radio when my alarm goes off in the morning. Hate that word.

Tessa James and Alex Packard can be seen in Blackrock by Nick Enright.
Dates: 9 – 25 Mar, 2017
Venue: Seymour Centre

Review: The Bleeding Tree (Wharf 1 Theatre)

Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Mar 9 – Apr 8, 2017
Playwright: Angus Cerini
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Paula Arundell, Airlie Dodds, Shari Sebbens
Image by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
A man has been killed by his wife and two daughters, shot deliberately in cold blood and left to die. It is rural Australia, so there is no hiding the disappearance of a person, or the circumstances surrounding the savage incident. Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree confronts the rules of society, exposing the inadequacies of how we live as communities and how we forsake the weak. The dead man had been violently abusive, but the women in his home were never offered sufficient help to escape his brutality. As neighbours begin to discover their actions, we are surprised to see their acceptance of the episode.

Cerini’s writing is dangerous, deep and devastatingly beautiful. It operates at the precipice of morality, for a play that uses the audience’s imagination and reasoning, to deliver remarkable thrills, on levels that are emotional as well as intellectual. It is a story that rarely gets told. Family violence is commonplace, and is slowly being removed from secrecy, but we are are still learning how to talk about it. The Bleeding Tree is a new kind of parable that admonishes the guilty so that repugnant behaviour is seen unequivocally as such. The death of the patriarch does not occur in grey areas, and we are challenged to look at the remains of the monster and consider what is right and wrong, in a reality that does not allow time to be reversed. We do not exist in coulda, shoulda, woulda, and in The Bleeding Tree, we cannot have our cake and eat it too, if justice is to be served.

It is an extraordinarily sophisticated production, directed by Lee Lewis whose take on the Australian Gothic is as refreshing as it is visceral. Exquisitely designed to transport us to its nightmarish parabolic outback, the theatrical space is consummately considered. Renée Mulder’s set, Verity Hampson’s lights and Steve Toulmin’s music, all conspire to bring us into their psychological wilderness, where good and bad have swapped places, and we must shift our beliefs accordingly. The trio of actors deliver an astonishing performance, with a cohesion in energy, style and objective, giving polish and confidence to a production that delivers gripping drama and convincing proclamations. Paula Arundell is exceptional as Mother, with a complexity in her presence that conveys both vulnerability and strength, helping us understand the precariousness, along with the inevitability of what happens. It is a quiet approach, but the power that we connect with is fabulously palpable.

Women are often trapped in systems that fail us, and we are taught to tolerate the denial of what should only be just and fair. The women in The Bleeding Tree were caught within a familial patriarchy, as well as a greater social one, that required of them their prolonged and painful subservience. When it eventually became clear that sitting around and waiting for situations to improve was a fruitless exercise, they found the only way out was to take radical action. Every day everywhere, people are kept down by power structures that benefit from their oppression, but when those at the bottom realise the truth of their condition, their compliance will be seen in a new light, and change can begin to take place.

www.griffintheatre.com.auwww.sydneytheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Declan Greene

Declan Greene

I’ve admired Declan Greene’s writing for a while now. A distinctive sense of irreverence and adventure means that his shows are always unsettling, unpredictable and brilliantly controversial. Greene’s modernly queer perspective of our world generates a kind of outsider art that speaks to anyone who feels a little bit excluded, and I would suggest that that is all of us. For this special edition of 5 Questions, I attempt to find out how he ticks.

Suzy Wrong: I’d like to ask your age to put some context around your experience of growing up within a particular point of gay activism history, but don’t answer if you don’t wish to, ‘cos I sure as hell ain’t telling anyone my age.
I’m 32, and I grew up in rural Victoria with a lot of deep set homophobia at school, which I really internalised. Like, I was very visible screaming queen, so was called a fag a lot – and then I turned mean and vicious and started calling other kids fags – anyone who was smaller or weaker than me… So… Yeah. After high school I still really wrestled with identifying as ‘gay’ for a long time – even after I started sleeping with men – because I still thought gay culture was lame and embarrassing, all just Priscilla and Queer As Folk and fake tanner etc. Meeting Ash Flanders when I was twenty sort of changed my life, because he really showed me that being gay was this very customisable sort of thing – I could love punk and DIY and drag queens and super camp divas all at the same time, and actually there was a subset of queer culture that cherished all that dirty, faggy shit. That’s where my political identity was sort of formed.

Do you often use the terms “gay” and “queer” (or others) to describe yourself? Do they point to different parts of you, and how you relate to the world?
I have definitely used the term ‘queer’ to describe myself, but I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with it. I guess to me ‘queer’ is sort of like ‘punk’ – it’s not a fixed category, it’s a type of resistance. It exists in a state of constant flux, in opposition to whatever bad stuff is happening in the mainstream at the time. What’s queer now isn’t what was queer five years ago. And at the moment I feel like to be queer means to demolish binary thinking, and to embody fluidity, intersection, and inbetween-ness as a form of resistance. All of which I really believe in, politically speaking, but it doesn’t describe me socially… I sleep with men exclusively, and my gender is cis male… so maybe in 2017 I’m too binary to be queer? I don’t know. I guess I could say that I’m politically queer and socially gay – but I also probably wouldn’t say that, because the amount of energy consumed in that sort of elaborate navel-gazing self-identification makes me really anxious sometimes, in an era of Trump and Le Pen and Pauline Hanson!

Do you think all that insight and self-understanding is central to the purpose of your practise? What would you say the nature of your art is?
I tend to interrogate my position in relation to my subject matter quite a lot, because I’m often drawn to stories that centre on some kind of social oppression, but I exist in a space of relative privilege – as a white cis guy with a decent quality of life… so I always want to make sure that my interest in this material isn’t patronising or paternalistic or blah-blah-blah. It’s funny: I was brought up Catholic and sometimes I think that influences my work more than I’m conscious of… like, this deep sense of guilt about the stuff I’ve been lucky about. My only big struggles have been with my sexuality and money/class, so maybe my practice is about atoning for that on some level…? I don’t know, it’s complex too, because the artists and thinkers I admire are people like Jean Genet and John Waters and Joan Rivers and Camille Paglia and Nina Simone: genuine iconoclasts, who never gave a fuck what people thought of them, who never felt guilty or apologetic or beholden to the opinions of others. So that’s the push and pull in my art always: like, trying to muster up the bravery to say what I really think or feel, while trying to minimise harm to people who might be more vulnerable than me.

How do you imagine your audience? What do they look like in your ahead? Do you write for a particular type of person?
I try not to imagine the audience as one big organism, because it’s obviously full of many varied people, all coming at the work from an incredible diversity of perspectives and lived experiences. With something like The Homosexuals, Or Faggots, which is located in a very specific part of the LGBTIQA+, there’s always the temptation to take shortcuts and assume that the audience will have a common understanding of the political terrain you’re addressing – but I always try to imagine the audience is coming to these issues totally fresh, and write a fair bit of context into the play.

Are you consciously political or subversive in your process? I suppose I’m asking, if it all needs to make a point? Is it a burden?
The politics in my shows are definitely conscious, but it’s not really a burden to include them because in a lot of ways they’re actually my starting point. There has to be some sort of formal challenge, plus a line of political enquiry I’ve got a burning desire to follow – something big and furious enough that it that can sustain me over the year or more it takes to conceive and write and redraft a new play. With The Homosexuals, Or Faggots I’d had this idea in the back of my mind for a long time that I’d like to try writing a farce, but I didn’t really know why yet – there was no impetus to begin. Then I read a weird semi-mocking article about a Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume on a big gay news website – like Gaily Grind or something – which threw up a bunch of questions for me about privilege, freedom of speech, political correctness, allyship, and the responsibilities white gay cis men have to the wider LGBTIQA+ community. And the two notions just sort of clicked together: a farce set in the world of queer identity politics.

The Sydney season of Declan Greene’s The Homosexuals, Or Faggots, is presented by Griffin Theatre Co.
Dates: 17 March – 29 April, 2017
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: Calamity Jane (One Eyed Man Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Mar 8 – Apr 1, 2017
Book: Ronald Hanmer, Phil Park (from the play by Charles K. Freeman, and film by James O’Hanlon)
Lyrics: Paul Francis Webster
Music: Sammy Fain
Director: Richard Carroll
Choreographer: Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Laura Bunting, Virginia Gay, Anthony Gooley, Sheridan Harbridge, Rob Johnson, Matthew Pearce, Tony Taylor, Nigel Ubrihien
Image by John McRae

Theatre review
It is the story of a frontierswoman from American history, a tomboy type with a big heart and very tall tales. A neglected musical from mid-20th century, Calamity Jane is probably best remembered as a film starring Doris Day in 1953. No surprises then, that the writing is squeaky clean, conforming completely to the ideology of the McCarthy era, when the USA convulsed at its height of moral panic.

Director Richard Carroll’s version aims to subvert the obvious camouflages at work in the original, especially in terms of its delusory representations of gender and sexuality. Archaic notions of how a woman should dress, and how her libido should manifest, are confronted head on, in this uproarious and very likeable comedy about a woman in charge. This iteration of Calamity Jane does not obliterate the existence of patriarchal oppression, but it foregrounds our heroine’s resistance, culminating in the spectacular exposure of her homosexual impulses in the number A Woman’s Touch. Originally conceived to inflict upon her, the sacrosanctity of housework, Calamity takes the opportunity here to find redress and expression instead, for the lustful desires she feels for another woman.

Virginia Gay is irresistible in the title role, charismatic, supremely confident, and hilarious. Her singing alternates between musical theatre, country and jazz, bringing a surprising quality of rejuvenation to the show tunes. Although not all performers are equally suited to their parts, it is overall an effective cast, with Sheridan Harbridge and Tony Taylor particularly delightful, and very gleeful, as residents of the Golden Garter. The majority of instrumental accompaniment is provided by lone pianist, and musical director Nigel Ubrihien, who brings tremendous atmosphere and excellent character to the staging.

The production succeeds in its efforts at sending itself up, and in the process, confronts the subjugation of femininity in traditional forms of storytelling. There is a sense however, of the show losing steam, as it progresses into a more sentimental second act. Its actors remain strong and convicted, but the audience needs greater convincing to adapt to the significant change of mood, and its subtle shift in meanings. We stay loyal to the riotous nature of Act 1 because it strikes a chord. It is a time for wild women and unruly behaviour, and now is when we fall in love with Calamity Jane.

www.hayestheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Daniel Monks and Aleks Mikić

Aleks Mikić

Aleks Mikić

Daniel Monks: What does this play mean to you?
Aleks Mikić : Aside from pressing burning buttons about what it takes to be a soulful, contributing human; Are We Awake is a mesmerising insight into human relationships. This wide, not-so-simple-to-navigate spectrum of ‘relationship’: from strangers to lovers – from isolated independence, through our balanced interdependence all the way to dependency has pros and cons on each end and this play masterfully swathes us through the ups and downs of love. All through the lens of one couples morning, in a deeply detailed, flawed and beautiful relationship. I’d love to say more but subjective spoilers ensue…

Not only are you an amazing actor, but you’re also an incredible rapper, singer & musician – how does your experience and connection to music effect your acting, and vice versa?
That’s very kind of you D Monks! Awh man. Well, we feel it as a viewer; art & performance is either embodied or it’s not. It’s swamped in truth and it hits the spot; or it’s drowning in ego and hits little. “I’ve gotta get this right/skilfully executed/made to look beautiful”. In regards to your q, every shortcoming on stage whether with a microphone in hand, at a drum kit, or in another humans clothes lends itself to growth. Inversely every moment of bravery lends itself to collective courage. Singing against misogyny with a tear falling out of the eye takes giving a fuck less if it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do. With our layers of vulnerability uncovered we shed layers of ego and this takes us ever closer to truth.

What about working on new plays do you find the most thrilling and the most challenging?
How fascinating getting to the core elements of a play as a team; finessing work for the context it is set for; (in this case, a 40min slot at the Old Fitz) and coming out with a product in the end. From the get go, Charlie had written an absolutely brilliant story which made it all the more enjoyable. It was a new experience. I’d never been in that seat, as an actor, free to be heard about what this person may say more or less of in a given situation; and then actually go and say it, night after night. The only evident challenge was locking things in and in time. There was no hardcover copy that said “I am final. This is what your team is telling.” I think we got there though. We got hard in the end…

Who are your dream artistic collaborators?
Aw man the list is large. I could ramble but to name a few… David Lynch, Anderson .Paak, Jordan Rakei, Esperanza Spalding, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, David Fincher, Peter Jackson, Ramble McHadenough, Yükant B. Serious

What do you love about Endymion, and what frustrates you?
Endymion is a kind soul. Love. Endymion almost gives his soul away. Frustration.

Daniel Monks

Daniel Monks

Aleks Mikić : What was your first performance experience?
Daniel Monks: I would say I came out of the womb performing – but my first performance experience was actually pre-birth, as the unborn fetus in my mother’s belly for her one-woman show, From Here To Maternity, which she performed when she was seven-months pregnant with me. I was really very good; natural, convincing, completely lacked any self-consciousness. My first conscious performance however was Peter Pan in year 2, which I “adapted” into a musical for my class to put on, with myself playing Peter – despite my horrendous singing voice.

What drew you to Are We Awake?
As an actor who is also physically disabled and gay, I was obviously drawn to this play as it explores both queerness & disability from a fresh perspective. More than that though, what most drew me most was its exploration of relationships. The play explores a really pertinent dilemma for a lot of disabled people of; how do you not let your relationships fall into unhealthy codependency, when at times, by necessity, you are dependent on the other for survival. The way in which Charles O’Grady explores this in his writing I find to be incredibly authentic and true to life.

You quake souls into awareness; what’s the first port of call?
Connection. When a person truly connects with another person, no matter their differences, their prejudices can’t survive. What I find so thrilling and motivating about being an actor and a storyteller is the ability to allow audiences to connect and empathise with people they might have otherwise judged. Being a double minority, I know incredibly well what it is like to be perceived as an “other”. Only through empathy and connection can we celebrate our differences and truly understand how at our cores, we are all the same and we are all connected. That’s what I think anyway.

If there were 10 days left on Earth; how would you spend yours?
With my family. Without a doubt. I would spend my final days snuggled up on the couch with them watching mindless tv, playing board games, going to the beach, and just being with them. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. My family are my favourite people in the world. Nothing like almost dying as an 11 year old to make you truly appreciate those you love, and become bonded like no other. I’m very grateful to have them.

Give us 4 bars from the mind of Hypnos?
I’m all alone.
I wish I was what you wanted.
I don’t want to be brave anymore.
I deserve this.
(At the time of the play, Hypnos is not the happiest of chappies haha.)

Daniel Monks and Aleks Mikić can be seen in Are We Awake by Charles O’Grady.
Dates: 28 Feb – 11 Mar, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre