5 Questions with Claudette Clarke and Diana Popovska

Claudette Clarke

Diana Popovska: Which character do you most relate to in Metamorphoses and why?
Claudette Clarke: I am not sure which character I most relate to in Metamorphoses but I have researched Aphrodite the most because she is the main character I play and some of these qualities are parts of my personality. Aphrodite is mischievous, angry and revengeful to mortals who refuse to fall in love. Goddess of love, sex and procreation; beauty, seduction, pleasure and happiness. Antithesis curses for non-compliance of the laws of love are: Sexual repulsion; Unnatural desires (incest, bestiality, etc.); Love unreciprocated; Ugliness. Some of these curses are played out in Metamorphoses.

This is your second time working with Dino, how is it different?
I worked with Dino many years ago in his very memorable production of To Kill A Mockingbird. Almost the entire season was booked out and people still talk about the production. The plays are both “classics” and here Dino is directing a queer reading of Zimmerman’s modern adaptation of Ovid’s verse to reflect current times. I am really enjoying working with him again. I love the way he pushes boundaries. As an actor of African Caribbean decent, I immediately identified with the topic of black and white in Mockingbird whereas it was interesting for me to think in more depth about gender mixes. Although I have always readily accepted difference, this reading pushed me to think further. This production reinforces my belief that, as humans, all we ask is to be respected and loved for who we are.

What has been your favourite moment in rehearsals so far?
My favourite moment in rehearsals came when Johnny Hawkins joined the cast. He has a way of playing and having fun with the characters, exploring possibilities, which is what is required.

Why do you believe this queer reading of ‘Metamorphoses’ is particularly important for the queer community to see?
I think that it is particularly important for the queer community to see this queer reading of Metamorphoses because these poems from Ovid were probably completed around AD 8. It may be reassuring to learn that stories of broader sexual and gender identities have existed for so long.

What excites you most about the staging of this play?
A cast of 10 actors on a tiny stage the whole time promises to be all-encompassing for an intimate audience to experience. The Old Fitz Theatre is one of the most intimate creative theatre spaces in Sydney.

Diana Popovska

Claudette Clarke: What parts of your personality as a human does your parts bring out?
Diana Popovska: I feel like this production and the parts I have been cast in bring out my playfulness as a human more than anything else. It has been such a beautiful experience introducing ‘play’ into the rehearsal room from day one. This has allowed me to connect with the text, our queer reading of the text and my fellow actors in a way which has been visceral and raw. This production has also brought out my queerness and sensual energy, and highlighted how fabulous I feel as a queer woman making theatre.

How does the “queer reading” of Metamorphoses impact on your interpretation of your parts?
I think it is important to understand that these stories are universal. For me, the several characters that I play in this production all experience various human emotions such as grief, love, heartache, lust and so on… This “queer reading” if anything allows me to celebrate more than ever these characters and their experiences, as well as stand there and fight for them and their right to be represented on an Australian stage.

What made you interested to be part of this production of Metamorphoses?
I have always wanted to work with Dino Dimitriadis as a director and when I found out that he was doing Metamorphoses I wanted in because I was incredibly interested to see what he would do with a text so colossal. As a queer identifying woman, I wanted to represent my community on stage during Mardi Gras. I mostly wanted to do this production because I knew it would be a celebration of queerness, a celebration of ‘difference’ and a celebration of the unwavering and all enduring human spirit in the face of hardship.

What kind of kid were you at school?
I was a little bit of a nerd / a little bit cool. I loved playing cards at lunch time and I was even on the debating team for a while. Drama class was my favourite, but I also really enjoyed playing sport too. I feel like I was super friendly with everyone in my year, we had a pretty tight year. I was pretty confident and ‘cool’, except for when it came to telling my high school crush, Katie that I liked them. I was super bashful around her and other girls I liked, and you know what they say, “you snooze, you lose!”.

How do you envisage theatre changing since ‘same sex marriage’ became legal in Australia?
I am hoping that far more companies will open their doors to allow for queer stories to be staged. I am hoping that this will allow for more queer identifying artists and creatives to create work and to see themselves represented in others work far more rapidly. If anything, the arts in Australia have been behind ‘same sex marriage’ for a long while now, it’s actually our government that has needed to pull their finger out. But now that the horrible plebiscite is over, I hope for love and inclusiveness for all queer identifying people and their allies both on and off stage.

Claudette Clarke and Diana Popovska are appearing in Metamorphoses, by Mary Zimmerman.
Dates: 8 February – 10 March, 2018
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Doubt: A Parable (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), May 10 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Dino Dimitriades
Cast: Charmaine Bingwa, Damian de Montemas, Belinda Giblin, Matilda Ridgway
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
John Patrick Shanley’s genius masterpiece, Doubt: A Parable takes a deep and extensive look at the nature of doubt, and through it, reaches for something fundamentally real about who we are. Its greater power however, lies in its narrative. It is the literal rather than the allegorical that many will find affecting in the play, with the ongoing predicament of paedophile priests in our churches never seeming to find satisfying resolution.

Sister Aloysious possesses no concrete evidence of Father Flynn’s trespasses, but her position as school principal requires that students are protected at all cost. Operating under severely defective systems of patriarchy and the clergy, Aloysious can only do the right thing by dehumanising herself in order that she may be able to undertake necessary measures, “in the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God.”

This sensitive interpretation by director Dino Dimitriadis pulls close focus to Shanley’s words, with theatrical devices kept at an intentional quiet, so that we garner maximum impact from the extraordinary writing. Design aspects are minimal and unobtrusive, but elegantly effective.

Performed with great detail by an impassioned cast of four, we are offered a marvellous intensity of interplay between characters that could only emerge from exhaustive study and immersion into the text. Belinda Giblin is stunning as Aloysious, psychologically meticulous and emotionally complex, she gives us crystal clear insight into the personality being presented, while providing astute access to the unusual world in which she resides. A wealth of meanings are implied in Shanley’s dialogue, and Giblin makes certain that we receive them all.

Father Flynn’s uncompromising ambiguity is the show’s dramatic lynch pin, brilliantly manufactured by Damian de Montemas whose hints of malice keeps us engrossed and on edge, even if he does sound uncomfortable in his American accent. The magnetic Charmaine Bingwa leaves a strong impression in a singular pivotal scene, embodying Mrs Muller’s specificity of time and space with a remarkable authenticity of presence. Matilda Ridgway is a quirky Sister James, veering slightly too far from naturalism, but whose interpretations are unquestionably entertaining.

We watch these people participate in a religion that has overwhelmed their lives, and wonder if Catholicism takes more than it gives. We see the destruction it causes, and are suspicious of the way it claims to be of benefit to these individuals. We also see the inextricability of religion, and the difficulty of achieving emancipation from its indoctrination. As our nation continues to wage war against “radical Islam”, rapists in our Catholic and Christian churches are allowed to fester year after year. We hear about investigations and inquisitions taking place every day but they deliver little, while our children face dangers that are constant, secretive and insidious. Sister Aloysious does the best she can, but knows that it is not yet enough.


5 Questions with Charmaine Bingwa and Belinda Giblin

Charmaine Bingwa

Belinda Giblin: Who is Charmaine Bingwa?
Charmaine Bingwa: I am such an amalgam, but will try to be concise. I was born in Australia and am the youngest of the three children born to my Zimbabwean parents. I grew up in Perth and moved to Sydney on my own when I was 18. In terms of job titles, besides actor I have also turned my hand as director, producer, composer, singer, guitarist, writer, amongst other things. I’m a Scorpio, I don’t sleep very much, I prefer character over comfort, I pretty much always have a script or book in my hand, I like to lead by example, I don’t drink alcohol, I care too much, I love to sing, I value sincerity, I work stupid-hard and I am addicted to making those around me laugh.

Tell us a bit about your journey into the acting profession?
It was quite serendipitous really. I was studying music, I decided to take acting as an elective to help with public speaking. But I loved it and was almost immediately hooked. I got permission to do the acting course in addition to my music degree and here I am!

What is it that draws you to a particular role? What drew you to this particular play?
I like playing complex individuals. I believe that personality traits lie on a spectrum, where the same trait that helps someone, can also hurt or hinder them. For me, that is humanity. For me, that is where the gold lies in characterisation. For me, that is the crux of Doubt: A Parable. I love the investigative process of finding a character. I’ve always been fascinated by how things work; as a kid, I even used to pull apart computers and rebuild them just for shits and giggles.

And at risk of sounding otherworldly, I believe that roles choose me. Certain roles find me at critical junctures of my life when I need to learn or experience something on a deeper level. I also feel like roles gift me, more than I gift them. I’m fastidious in my preparation, so I come away learning so much more about history, people, moments in time, disorders, human nature, personality types or whatever it may be. For a nerd like me, that’s Christmas.

Doubt is set in the Bronx in 1964, if Mrs. Muller were to live under the Trump presidency, would she be a Republican or a Democrat? What would be her political agenda?
I think she would be a Democrat for sure. She would have loved that there had been a President Obama! All this woman wants is progress, and she is willing to put aside short-term well being in exchange for long-term advancement. For her, a Trump presidency would be a hard pill to swallow.

I think Ava DuVernay’s Academy award nominated documentary The 13th puts forward the hypothesis perfectly that the persecution of African American people just reappears in different permutations throughout history; slavery turned into convict leasing, which turned into lynchings and Jim Crow, which turned into the war on drugs and mass incarceration, which turned into police brutality and institutionalised racism. I think she would be heavily involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Actors prepare for their roles in different ways. Do you have a “process” that enables you to inhabit a role?
The preparation I do is always dictated by the role. For Mrs Muller I did extensive research as I felt in order to temper the words that come out of her mouth, the audience needs to feel her history. The answers lie in the generations that have gone before her – so backstory was key.

I just keep asking questions – what bible verses does she love, what were her formative years like, what is the one secret she is taking to the grave? I’m always fascinated by what I find. But my most important step is to throw all the technical work I’ve done away and just tell the truth, or tell their truth rather. The rest of my process is a secret!

Belinda Giblin

Charmaine Bingwa: What made you first want to get into acting?
Belinda Giblin: Both my parents and siblings were involved in the Performing Arts in one way or another so I was surrounded by a lot of singing and dancing and acting from an early age. I’ve always had an instinctive need to perform, to put on that “mask” if you like, so the acting profession was a very natural choice for me.

Mind you, I did a few things before I got there, including an Arts degree and a short stint at NIDA. They threw me out of NIDA after one year. I was described as “laconic” and it was suggested that “trial and error” may be my better training! My first job was in the TV series Matlock… in black and white!

John Patrick Shanley says Doubt is the “age-old practise of the wise”. Do you agree and how is this evident in your life?
Absolutely. When I was 16 I thought I knew everything! Nothing had been tested too much at that age. But now, in my 60’s, I am more circumspect because, of course, life keeps changing, the goal posts get moved, nothing is certain and we never stop learning and growing. Therein lies the wisdom I guess. Pretty exciting!

If you and Sister Aloysius had a dinner party and could invite 2 guests each-who would you each bring and why? And yes, they all have to get along!
Oh dear! Well…. Sister Aloysius would invite the Pope of course because she would wish to get his opinion on the “Boys’ Club hierarchy” of the Roman Catholic church and have a few words to say to him about that! And because she is an educated woman and a great lover of words she would invite that famous 19th Century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, to discuss his religious doubt-filled sonnets, particularly the one about “God’s Grandeur”. Please explain!

I would invite Germaine Greer and that fabulous camp American satirist, Randy Rainbow, to throw into the mix! Sister Aloysius would have a lot in common with Germaine Greer and Randy Rainbow would cheer Gerard up no end! The Pope would sit and smile benignly and fall asleep!

Is there a dream role you are still yet to play?
I’ve never hankered after roles that have been done before, to put my particular stamp on them. There will always be comparisons. I tend to favour something new, as long as the writing is wonderful! Oh what?….did Meryl Streep do Doubt? Why didn’t someone tell me?

We’ve seen you play so many amazingly crafted characters, but what are Belinda Giblin’s defining qualities?
Optimism; humour; resilience; curiosity; tenacity; self-determination; obsessiveness; dedication; compassion…what? Oh, I’m sorry… is that enough? OK.

Charmaine Bingwa and Belinda Giblin can be seen in Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley.
Dates: 10 May – 3 June, 2017
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: The Dapto Chaser (Apocalypse Theatre Company / Griffin Theatre Company)

apocalypseVenue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 1 – 25, 2015
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Glynn Nicholas
Cast: Danny Adcock, Noel Hodda, Jamie Oxenbould, Richard Sydenham
Image by Robert Catto

Theatre review
Stories can have universal appeal, or they can be culturally specific. The two are not mutually exclusive, but it is a tall order to expect any work of the theatre to be able to explore unusual themes and contexts at great depth, while still being able to speak to everyone. Mary Rachel Brown’s The Dapto Chaser is not a work that can enthral every kind of audience, but it certainly represents a segment of society that is rarely seen on our stages, even if their existence in real life is ubiquitous and undeniable. Four men entrenched in the world of greyhound racing, staking their lives on the ambiguous divide between skill and chance. At its core, the work is about poverty and kinship, and although it can be seen as being critical of gambling, and does portray its addictive qualities as such, great care is taken to provide a sense of accuracy to the lives it depicts. The experiences resonate with a documentary-like truth, but without a watered down presentation, the play is not palatable to all.

Human resilience and the popular notion of the Aussie battler doing it tough, are expressed thoroughly and fluently by director Glynn Nicholas, who brings to the stage a microcosm of a disadvantaged family that is rarely revealed at such powerful and intimate detail. An invisible fifth character, the dog at the symbolic centre of its entire narrative, is given presence by a hint of deftly generated magical realism, but it is the hyper realistic delivery of very domestic scenarios that impress.

Four actors, all perfectly cast, each giving spectacular performances that leave no imaginable room for improvement. Richard Sydenham is flamboyant and wild as Cess Sinclair. He plays the role big and broad, but his comedy is cunningly subtle and genuinely funny. With a less than attractive character at hand, Sydenham brings to the fore unexpected tenderness and humanity at every opportunity, and we cannot help but surrender our empathy to his marvellous work. Jimmy is the younger Sinclair, more vulnerable and much less boisterous. Played by Jamie Oxenbould, whose authenticity on every level is disarmingly incredible. Oxenbould seems to refuse any glimpse of the actor, allowing us only to see the character he embodies. The show is unquestionably heightened in its naturalism, and the actor makes good dramatic use of his lines to highlight the story’s poignancies, but his creation is entirely believable, and at many points, captivating in its emotional sensitivity.

We all know the pain that comes with blood that flows thicker than water, and most of us understand the struggles of falling short at life’s promises, but our stories are not all the same. Diversity in media and the arts is a serious concern, and we must guard against the conformism that comes from a twisted misunderstanding of democracy that is determined to produce a universal blandness. On one hand, our tall poppy mindset persists, and on the other, our middle class aspirations keep our cultural cringes in check. What is generally acceptable, becomes narrower by the minute. Small stories are necessary, because it is in the deep excavation of a singular site, that the most meaningful inspirations can surface, even if they are not immediately accessible to every Tom, Dick and Harry.


Review: Construction Of The Human Heart (Apocalypse Theatre Company)

rsz_cothh_170Venue: TAP Gallery (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 16 – May 3, 2014
Playwright: Ross Mueller
Director: Dino Dimitriadis
Actors: Cat Martin, Michael Cullen
Image by Matthew Duchesne

Theatre review
We live much of our selves through relationships. Meanings are derived through the way we interact with people who surround us. In these interactions, we create stories through creative processes that require collusion from different kinds of intimacies and relations. In Construction Of The Human Heart, life, theatre and words are at war with stories.The characters Him and Her are in the depths of tragedy, and we see their struggle to connect, to move forward, to remain stagnant, and to be.

Sheets of paper with words are everywhere on the stage. The characters attempt to create narratives with the lines they have written, but coherence is beyond reach and connection is impossible. They fail to find meaning. In their desperation, they devise a myriad scenarios, and forge divergent possibilities, but all lead to disintegration and sorrow.

Ross Mueller’s script is intriguing, seductive, and powerful. Its structure is sophisticated and intelligent, but the emotions it conveys is familiar and immediate. It pleasures the mind with challenging elements, and a whole lot of wit, but it devastates the heart with the truths and emotions it portrays.

Direction in this production is provided by Dino Dimitriadis whose excellent work establishes clarity out of abstraction, and externalises for the audience what is really a deeply introspective exploration. It is strange to term this an entertaining show, but the many gear changes it makes with emotions, keeps us thoroughly engaged and fascinated. Dimitradis’ ability in communicating the script’s many subtle nuances is impressive, but it is doubtless that the strength of his cast assists greatly with the play’s success.

Played by Cat Martin, Her is memorable for the strength she displays. Martin’s portrayal of suffering is cleverly obscured, and her creative decisions never aim for the obvious. The universality of the characters’ experience calls for a depiction of agony that is unexpected, and Martin’s use of humour and stoicism gives her work a beautiful complexity. Michael Cullen is a dynamic Him. Cullen is an energetic performer, with an inviting warmth that quickly endears him to the audience. His performance feels authentic and we cannot help but feel moved by it.

We use words to understand our selves, to connect, and to project our futures. We may also use them to re-write histories, to live in pretense and denial, and to lie. In Construction Of The Human Heart, words show us a truth that is rarely articulated; they are the mirror that reveals the way we operate in the throes of darkness.


5 Questions with Cat Martin

catherinemartinWhat is your favourite swear word?
‘Bollocks’. Also, ‘balls’! (Thanks, Alan Ayckbourn). Say them. They’re fun, if only mildly offensive… but ‘fuck’ is satisfying too, and is usually the first word to escape my mouth when the wheels fall off. I like that it’s not gender-specific.

What are you wearing?
Black singlet top, lurid pink bra, cheap skirt from Rivers that I love for its hectic floral pattern and light-weight material. No shoes, as I’m embracing the early Autumn mellowness, and I enjoy the feeling of childlike freedom. A necklace that says ‘LOVE’ (or ‘EVOL’ if I put it on the wrong way).

What is love?
Uplifting. Inspiring. Heart-breaking. Humbling. Generous. Necessary. Beautiful. In a relationship, love is a choice that you make. And keep making. If you can. It’s been interesting, and essential, to explore and compare what love means to each of us as we rehearse Construction Of The Human Heart. I predict that we are all going to need a stiff drink after a few rehearsals, as we make ourselves vulnerable and share our experiences and stories of ‘love’ with each other…

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
On The Shore Of The Wide World at the Stables (Griffin). 4.5/5 stars. Awesome script, elegant and restrained direction, and beautiful acting. Bawled through the last half hour.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Yes. That is our intention and our passion. It’s an amazing play. But the audience will decide.

Cat Martin is appearing in Construction Of The Human Heart, with Apocalypse Theatre Company.
Show dates: 16 Apr – 3 May, 2014
Show venue: TAP Gallery