Review: Moth (Millstone Productions)

Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Sep 6 – 16, 2017
Playwright: Declan Greene
Director: Rachel Chant
Cast: Jeremi Campese, Ruby O’Kelly
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Sebastian has been coughing up blood. He is being bullied at school, and we observe that at home, things are not faring much better. Computer games and a close friend Claryssa, however, keep his spirits up. Declan Greene’s two-hander Moth, features a pair of teenage outsiders trying to figure things out in a hostile environment, with little more than each other for support. The work begins with familiar scenes of schoolyard mischief, but becomes increasingly surreal, along with the escalation of Sebastian’s mental illness.

The play gives expression to dark sides of today’s youth with an impressive honesty, but leaves us to manage an understanding of how this has come to be, and how we are able to find improvements and solutions for the ones we are wholly responsible for. Greene’s sharp focus on the phenomena of youth disenfranchisement within our communities, is edgy and unquestionably disturbing, but also tremendously intriguing, and in parts very entertaining indeed. Moth‘s reluctance to explain itself makes us work harder, and hence, fall deeper into the theatrical quandary that it presents.

Director Rachel Chant does spectacularly in having us experience both the mesmeric and repulsive qualities of Claryssa and Sebastian’s story. The show is urgently energetic, and even though it struggles to retain coherence when the plot turns resolutely obtuse, our attention is always pulled back into its tumultuously evolving narrative, by Chant’s extraordinary flair for manufacturing poignancy. Remarkably well designed, the production’s visuals and sounds are a real pleasure. Todd Fuller’s animated projections and Alexander Berlage’s lights add rich and exciting dimensions to the staging, while Chrysoulla Markoulli’s music and Tom Hogan’s sound design impact upon our consciousness with circumspect precision.

Actors Jeremi Campese and Ruby O’Kelly are flawless in the piece. Campese’s potent charisma proves irresistible, and instrumental in how we regard Sebastian’s very upsetting downward spiral. He is a captivating presence, with the uncanny ability to take us through fluctuating spells of drama and comedy seamlessly, sometimes simultaneously. O’Kelly is meticulous in her exacting depiction of Claryssa, with intelligently construed gestures and utterances, offering us a beautifully nuanced study of the troubled teen. These kids worry us. We understand their dependence, and we can see in their eyes, the most accurate image of the world that we become.

5 Questions with Mathew Coslovi and Wendi Lanham

Mathew Coslovi

Wendi Lanham: What’s the last risk you took?
The last risk I took was going on a cruise to New Zealand with 6 girls.

Why did you start acting?
I got into acting because acting felt like no job that I have ever felt the same about.

What’s your favourite part of the show?
My fashion, taking off my old clothes and getting into my new, better clothes.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Has this show changed you in some way? If so how/why?
I feel like I have learnt a lot about myself and I feel like I have learnt more about life.

Wendi Lanham

Mathew Coslovi: What’s the last risk you took?
The last risk I took was to say yes to full time job, whilst acting. Juggling the two has definitely been a challenge.

If you weren’t an actor what would you be doing?
I wouldn’t feel fulfilled for one. But if I had to do something else I would be a skydiving instructor.

What makes you laugh?
Pretty much everything. I laugh a lot and my witch laugh is renowned.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I do yoga before every show. It helps me warm up and focus.

What is the best advice you have been given in regards to acting?
To always use your fellow actors, to listen to them and to react. To direct your focus away from yourself and think about what you are trying to do to the other character. To be confident, be easy to work with and to love what you do!

Mathew Coslovi and Wendi Lanham can be seen in Dignity Of Risk devised by Shopfront’s Harness Ensemble and ATYP.
Dates: 9 – 26 Aug, 2017
Venue: ATYP

Review: Dignity Of Risk (ATYP / Shopfront Arts)

Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Aug 9 – 26, 2017
Dramaturg: Jennifer Medway
Director: Natalie Rose
Cast: Mathew Coslovi, Holly Craig, Teneile English, Caspar Hardaker, Riana Shakirra Head-Toussaint, Steve Konstantopoulos, Wendi Lanham, Brianna Lowe, Sharleen Ndlovu, Jake Pafumi, Dinda Timperon
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
11 performers take to the stage, each with intimate revelations, for a discussion about the personal versus the social, from a perspective of individual lack and disadvantage. Not all of the cast is disabled, but Dignity Of Risk requires that human inadequacies are laid bare, for an examination of how each person navigates the world, with their own sets of imperfections. Through a display of weakness, it is the image of strength, previously imperceptible, that persists. The human spirit is everywhere, but it can only be brought to view by the expression of vulnerability.

The production takes a gentle tone, but it speaks with great power and a sublime beauty. The nonchalant delivery of lines, coupled with the unassailable authenticity the personalities invariably portray, initiates a slow burn that eventually, and surprisingly, overwhelms. Natalie Rose’s direction and Jennifer Medway’s dramaturgy, are consciously resistant of a sensationalist approach. They build poignancy through sensitivity and nuance, without a reliance on conventional narrative structures, and their trust in a universal benevolence pays off. A highlight is Holly Craig’s solo dance sequence, incredibly elegant and sensual, made even more moving later in the piece, when she explains the meanings that dancing holds for her, as a person with vision impairment.

In a show that talks a lot about our bodies, Margot Politis’ choreography plays a significant role, and what she does with movement, gesture and positioning, is nothing short of inspiring. Set to the wonderfully rousing electronic music of James Brown, the many non-verbal sequences of Dignity Of Risk are masterfully manufactured for our visceral response, involuntary yet hugely enjoyable. The production is visually sumptuous, with Melanie Liertz’s set and Fausto Brusamolino’s lights offering a range of ethereal dimensions that juxtapose delightfully against the very earthy, corporeal concerns of its players.

All of us have shortcomings but not everyone has the privilege of being able to hide them. For some, identity is intrinsically linked with their deficiencies, while others are allowed to be known only for their successes. No matter the faults we have, as defined by society or by the self, we all wish to be regarded with respect, and we all deserve to be seen for our capacity to contribute, as people who share in the earth. |

5 Questions with Brianna Lowe and Sharleen Ndlouv

Brianna Lowe

Sharleen Ndlouv: What’s the last risk you took?
Brianna Lowe: Going to Japan without my parents.

What’s your favourite part of the show?
Talking on stage for the first time.

What makes you laugh?
Funny movies and having fun with other people.

What’s great about rehearsing and performing at ATYP?
The great atmosphere and feeling welcome.

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose and why?
To have the ability to move things with my mind, to cause mischief and be naughty.

Sharleen Ndlouv

Brianna Lowe: What’s the last risk you took?
Sharleen Ndlouv: Abseiling down a 50m waterfall.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I have quite a few but I give myself a pep talk and a victory dance.

Who do you think should see this show?
Everyone, for all those areas in life that need a bit of audacity, bit of re-mapping and just a little fun and loosening up, for that person we all know we can be.

Favourite silly joke?
What did sushi A say to sushi B? Wasabi!

What’s it like to play yourself on stage?
The most beautiful thing I have experienced so far.

Brianna Lowe and Sharleen Ndlouv can be seen in Dignity Of Risk devised by Shopfront’s Harness Ensemble and ATYP.
Dates: 9 – 26 Aug, 2017
Venue: ATYP

Review: The Verbatim Project (Canberra Youth Theatre)

Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jul 19 – 22, 2017
Director: Katie Cawthorne
Cast: Jean Bennett, Jasper Kilby, Denise Druitt, Jack Hubner, Katie Hubner, Merilyn Jenkins, Carol Mackay, Charlotte Palmer, Sao Hom Palu, Yarno Rohling, Diana Sandeman, Kate Sherren, Elektra Spencer, Ted Stewart, David Turbayne, Quinten Van Rooy

Theatre review
The cast is comprised of ten young Canberrans, from 14 to 16 of age, and six seniors, 65 to 80 years old. The Verbatim Project is a conversation across generations, offering an opportunity to look at how we contrast, and how we are consistent, within this unusual juxtaposition of peoples.

In their show, we hear thoughts about things that matter to Australians today, political, social and personal, through a wide variety of theatrical devices that help keep things interesting. Sound and video recordings, accompany the live physicality of its performers, consciously presented in movement and installation; using a multi-faceted approach to speak, without the use of a conventional narrative.

Director Katie Cawthorne and lighting designer Brynn Somerville, have structured a show that reveals the best of its cast. It is not a professional troupe, but all their strong suits are sensitively emphasised, with no distractions permitted to shift us away from a tightly assembled production. The text can sometimes be refreshing, but is generally predictable, with nothing controversial ever finding itself in the mix. It is a middle class look at middle class Australia, polite and well-meaning, and very civilised indeed.

There is a rigidity in The Verbatim Project that prevents anything from going wrong, but because nothing is left to chance, we are rarely able to discern the genuine connections between the personalities we meet. They are all too busy following instructions to let us in, on something more impulsive or spontaneous. Behind smoke and mirrors, we never really discover if the chasm of half a century can be bridged. Age can be made irrelevant, or it can mean everything.

5 Questions with Blake Erickson and Nicholas Starte

Blake Erickson

Nicholas Starte: The process of stepping into the role of such an iconic member of Australia’s history must be confronting. Has that affected your process compared to previous characters you’ve played?
Blake Erickson: I’ve played historical figures before and I find the process easier than creating a character from scratch, to be honest. Their life history is laid out before you, first-hand accounts of who they are and how they responded to events exist so you have a kind of blueprint for a character before you even begin. That said, this isn’t a historical re-enactment. This is a dramatic story based on real events. Cook is a colossal figure in British history, but in Australia and elsewhere his legacy is often linked with the tragedy of European invasion and imperialism. Between those extremes existed a human being and that’s what I’m interested in.

Why do you think this relatively unknown part of Cook’s history is important to Australian audiences today?
Absolutely. Australia has a lot of soul searching to do, the process of reconciling our history is ongoing. Cook didn’t discover Australia, New Zealand, the islands of the South Pacific or anywhere else inhabited by people. He was the point of first contact between the British and indigenous peoples across the world. What’s significant about Between Worlds is it allows this first-contact story to be heard from the side of indigenous Hawaiians. I think it’s really important that Australians don’t think of British explorers as “us” and indigenous people as “them”. I hope this show makes Australians pause and consider the side of history they’ve perhaps automatically aligned themselves with.

As an actor, what is your favourite part of developing new works?
It’s pretty darn cool when you’re the first person to perform new material, or better yet have material written especially for you. But more than that you get to help own the production in a way that you can’t when you receive the final script and get directed and choreographed into it. It’s the difference between wearing something tailor made and buying something off the rack.

Having been involved in a number of workshops of this piece, how has it developed from your first experience, to now?
I’ve worked on the development of many, many, many new Australian musicals. This is probably my tenth workshop of a new musical, this is my third on Between Worlds alone and I knew from the very beginning that Between Worlds was special. The marriage of musical styles between European music theatre and traditional Polynesian harmonies was utterly captivating from the get-go. The show is also a study in the frailty of people, and how a relentless desire to secure a legacy can prove lethal. I’m thrilled that with each workshop it just has gone from strength to strength and I’m so excited for people to see the show. Something I do not say about every show. Ahem.

How can you relate to this portrayal of Cook?
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Pacific region. I’ve travelled through French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Fiji, Hawaii, Wallis et Futuna, and spent a bit of time in Papua New Guinea as a kid. It’s a part of the world that is extremely close to my heart. Cook loved the Pacific, he literally idolised Polynesian culture in a way no European had ever done before. He’s also a man who feels that he has unfinished business, and I think any actor if they’re honest would tell you that no matter what you may have done it’s all about what’s coming up over the horizon. I’m just fortunate that what lies ahead is this beautiful show. Now, Nic, some questions for you…

Nicholas Starte

Blake Erickson: In a workshop how much influence does a performer have over the development of a new show?
Nicholas Starte: I think, like it or not, just having a work spoken out loud by actors for the first time brings out a whole new dimension. Fortunately for us, Nick, Gareth and Jason have given us a rare opportunity; a workshop space that feels extremely safe, where ideas are encouraged. I love this way of working and I think actors can be an author’s greatest resource, because it’s a chance to hear their characters fought for individually and not just looked at as a whole.

What’s been your favourite part of the process of workshopping a new Australian work like Between Worlds?
I love discussion. And anyone who has been in one of these workshops with me will know, this is easily my favourite part of the process. Talking about themes, coming up with ideas, problem solving, it’s just the best! I just have to reign in my excitement from time to time.

What do you see as the relevance of a musical about the death of captain cook to contemporary Australian audiences?
It really comes from the fact that this is not just a story about Captain Cook, at least, not the Cook we know from primary school. This story is about cultural conflict, seeing other cultures through the gaze of our own and the need for empathy, something that, frankly, is lacking today. We may be more exposed to other cultures and ways of life than ever before, but if anything, we’ve grown more ignorant of them. This play is a chance to see both sides of the story and also hear the part of Cook’s story we never heard as kids.

Just how difficult is the Hawaiian language component of the role?
Look, I’m not gonna lie, it’s a struggle, not just because it’s a foreign language, but it’s a dialect that has very little material for reference. While the language is still alive, the way it is spoken and the way many Hawaiians speak English has become very diluted. We’ve been taking accent inspiration from Polynesian and Maori accents and used the rules of the language itself to dictate the way we speak, but mate… those single syllable diphthongs are doing my head in!

How familiar were you with the historical events that form the basis for our play?
I was in the position I think most Australian audiences will be on first seeing this show. No bloody idea mate.

Blake Erickson and Nicholas Starte are appearing in the rehearsed workshop performances of Between Worlds the musical.
Dates: 15 – 16 July, 2017
Venue: ATYP

Review: Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (ATYP)

Venue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jun 7 – 24, 2017
Playwright: Daniel Evan (after Sophocles)
Director: Fraser Corfield
Cast: Caitlin Burley, Jeremi Campese, Mia Evans Rorris, Joshua McElroy
Images by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
The story of Oedipus and his mother/wife Jocasta has remained in our consciousness over the centuries. The resonance that it provides, whether emotional, moral or simply shocking, is unquestionably deep, but in Daniel Evan’s rendition, it is the tangents departing from the classic narrative that are its real concern. In Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the familiar tale of taboo and tragedy, provides the framework for a passionate and somewhat erratic theatrical experience. Less drama, more experimentation, Evan’s elaborate embellishments reflect a barrage of contemporary ideas that give an unmistakable impression of rejuvenation, although the sense of turmoil so characteristic of Sophocles’ creation is certainly missed.

Director Fraser Corfield uses the intricacies of the text, to formulate a dynamic staging memorable for its quick and vibrant episodes, featuring a host of colourful and surprising characters. The cast of four demonstrates extraordinary focus and conviction, along with an exciting inventiveness that gives their show texture, dimension and depth. Caitlin Burley and Jeremi Campese are confident players who connect effortlessly with the audience, both actors charming and entertaining with the diverse range of personality types they put forth. Mia Evans Rorris and Joshua McElroy provide stable grounding to the production, sensitive and considered in their approach to the many roles they inhabit.

The show is remarkably well designed. The formidable set, evocative of urban dilapidation is as dazzling as it is dangerous; Melanie Liertz’s transformation of the challenging space is quite an achievement. Emma Lockhart-Wilson’s lights address the play’s unrelenting movement of time and space, with excellent certitude and power. Sound by Steve Francis and Chrysoulla Markoulli’s music, give the show a splendid sophistication and cohesion.

It is not a particularly poignant retelling of Oedipus’ life, but we certainly come away gratified by the evidence of a successful collaboration, that showcases some very significant talent.