Review: The Director (Active Theatre Productions)

Venue: The Actors Pulse (Redfern NSW), Oct 25 – Nov 10, 2018
Playwright: Nancy Hasty
Director: Simon Doctor
Cast: Josephine Bloom, Simon Doctor, Sarah Greenwood, Emilia Hristov, Brayden Palmer, Alex Rowe

Theatre review
Annie has written a play and wants Peter to direct it, even though Peter has become a pariah of the theatre industry, currently relegated to the position of janitor at a drama school. We soon find out that his ostracism is well founded, as his creative process unravels a series of unethical strategies that cause appalling harm to his team of actors. Nancy Hasty’s The Director talks about the tricky negotiations of boundaries in artistic ventures, especially when collaborative parties are involved, all wishing to invent new paradigms with their expressions. Some of the play’s ideas are exciting, with quite amusing dialogue, but its plot quickly becomes predictable, as the story begins to take on a repetitive configuration.

Simon Doctor directs the production, and stars in it as Peter, the titular director of the show within a show, for a fascinating confluence of truth and fiction. Doctor is at least adequate as director, but as actor, his abilities are breathtakingly poor, which delivers results that are quite surprising. Actors in the play struggle with their director Peter because of his questionable methods, whilst in our real life, we witness the cast going through a parallel struggle, having to find ways to accommodate Doctor’s sorely deficient acting sharing their stage. It is obvious however, that even though our cast is up against it, they are not in an adversarial relationship with their director/leading man. In fact, they are considerate and generous, proving able to overcome a significant hurdle, and eventually emerging with dignity intact. Actor Alex Rowe is particularly memorable as John, making the right decision to play up the comedy of the piece, to help his audience through the show, so that we feel secure about laughing with, and not laughing at, the performance.

The work of Jerzy Grotowski is referenced frequently in The Director, to represent a concept of unconventionality in the art of theatre making. Peter wishes his work to go against the established, which in his mind, requires an essential redefinition of the audience’s passivity. In some ways, we see these principles manifest in the current production. As actor, Simon Doctor unnerves us, and intentionally or not, he disallows us to engage with the show on the level of a regular dramatic experience. We hear Nancy Hasty’s writing unfold, but observe metatheatre taking place, one that thoroughly interrogates our position as viewer. We should not expect to be spoon fed on every occasion, but when left to our own devices, how we approach an oddity reveals so much of who we are, and how we function as part of this community’s artistic landscape.

5 Questions with Sarah Greenwood and Alex Rowe

Sarah Greenwood

Alex Rowe: What made you want to be an actor?
Sarah Greenwood: I was eight and the soccer season had finished so I needed something to do on my weekends. I started workshops at the Brisbane Arts Theatre on Petrie Terrace, the most haunted building in Brisbane, and I was hooked. I worked with them, and anyone else who would take me, for the next ten years until I was accepted into the WAAPA Acting course. I love the people you meet. I love the excitement in anticipating of an opening night. I love the joy of discovering a character. What’s not to love?

From graduating drama school and settling in Sydney, how has the journey been so far?
I haven’t been here very long. I moved here in January 2017. I was lucky, as a WAAPA graduate there is an enormous community here to help you settle in. Nearly my entire class moved over from Perth as well. We’ve all had different journeys but it made it easier to have my friends here to commiserate and drink red wine. I miss Brisbane but it’s nice to be out of uni and getting my stride.

What’s been the biggest challenge and biggest joy of the rehearsal process so far?
The juggling act is always a challenge. I have a terrible habit of over committing myself but I always seem to find the energy to do everything! I have found great joy in acting out the creative process in this play within a play. It’s a little tongue in cheek and it’s always fun to laugh at yourself.

This play involves some confronting and terrifying experiences for the characters, how has it been acting in these particular scenes?
As my character Meg would say, I was acting! Isn’t that what we were supposed to be doing? Acting?

Will you invite your grandparents to this play?
I wouldn’t have been able to stop my Nanna from coming although I’m not sure she would have approved of some of the content. She used to take me to shows all the time. My Grandma on the other hand is waiting until she sees me in TV Week!

Alex Rowe

Sarah Greenwood: What was your first impression of the script when you read it?
Alex Rowe: My first impression was that even though this was written by an American and debuted in the year 2000, these issues and characters are prominent in Australia today. The writer, Nancy Hasty has successfully captured the different types of actors and also the submissive nature towards people with ‘power’ in the industry.

As a play within a play, what has The Director taught you about your own creative process?
It’s been interesting to play an actor in rehearsals, whilst being an actor in rehearsals. What this play has made me think about is James Dean’s relationship with his directors. I read a few of his biographies and he was known to argue with directors about his craft, that he thought actors were treated like puppets, told what to say, when to say it, where to say it and how to say it. I think actors now, at a time when everyone wants to be in the spotlight, are reluctant to speak up and will go with the director’s choice with the utmost trust, as jobs are far and few between and they are cautious of being blacklisted. In no way am I suggesting that I will wait in my caravan “until I’m ready to work”, which James Dean allegedly did, but it’s made me think about an actors job and their relationship with the director.

How have you found the Sydney scene after living in Melbourne?
The biggest change is obviously the weather, I’ve really enjoyed not dressing like I’m going to the snowfields during winter. Also, my family are based in Sydney, so it’s been really nice being around them and my nieces and nephew.

What is your favourite line from the play?
When Peter, the director referred to in the title of the play, asks my character John “Where’s Sally?” and John responds “I locked her out on the roof”; I find this funny and endearing that John thought by locking Sally on the roof he was really “pushing the boundaries” to hopefully impress Peter.

In the play Peter wants to ‘break through barriers’ to reality, have you seen a performance that made you forget you were watching an act?
An Australian actor who continues to impress me with his performances is Ben Mendelsohn. One of his most recent films Una starring the also incredible Rooney Mara, was one that stands out in regards to profound naturalistic performances.

Sarah Greenwood and Alex Rowe can be seen in The Director by Nancy Hasty.
Dates: 25 Oct – 10 Nov, 2018
Venue: Actors Pulse Theatre