Review: Hamlet At The Bottle-O (Blood Moon Theatre)


Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), May 15 – 26, 2018
Playwright: Pat H Wilson
Director: Adrian Barnes
Cast: Nick Mercer
Image by Marek Wojt

Theatre review
Like most of us who pursue careers in the arts, Nick is an actor who has to hold down a “real job” to pay the bills. Managing a bottle shop may not be his favourite occupation, but he does it well, in between sneaky practice sessions for imminent auditions. There are five short scenes in Pat H Wilson’s Hamlet At The Bottle-O Or The Wineshop Monologues, with Nick relaying amusing but inconsequential stories about colourful personalities and quaint occurrences at his workplace.

The one-man show features actor Nick Mercer, charismatic and highly energetic in a simple work that demands little more than an enthusiastic familiarity with the text. Mercer proves himself an engaging presence, but the material is limiting in terms of character development, and the proficiency that we encounter never progresses beyond its somewhat basic requirements. The cordial man behind the wineshop counter has a simple job ringing up your purchase, and the performer too, on this occasion, needs only be pleasant, and he passes with flying colours.

We are more than the jobs we do, but often it is how we are employed that determines our identity in the eyes of the world. People can be useful to society in a myriad ways, and it is what we contribute that allows others to form an understanding of who we are. It is however, equally important that the individual knows the self beyond the face that they present on the outside. Most know Nick as the affable bottle-o guy, but Nick knows that he is capable of very much more.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: Yours The Face (Blood Moon Theatre / LZA Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), May 1 – 12, 2018
Playwright: Fleur Kilpatrick
Director: Liz Arday
Cast: Daniela Haddad
Image by Liz Arday

Theatre review
Emmy is a female fashion model, and Peter is a male photographer. They meet on a job in London, both excited to be visiting from abroad, and both finding themselves attracted to one another. We watch nervously, waiting for disaster to strike, predicting the inevitable in this tale of power imbalance, but Fleur Kilpatrick’s Yours The Face refuses to fit into the mould. It is a relief to see Emmy resist being infantilised, that her sexuality and sense of self are presented as valid, even if the structures that she operates within are problematic.

The work challenges us to think about institutionalised sexism, whilst it presents individuals who seem blameless and who look to be acting with agency. It questions our participation in industries that thrive on inequity, making us think about the meaning of responsibility, in situations when acting in accordance with what is considered legal and permissible, are arguably ethically inadequate.

Daniela Haddad plays both roles, and proves herself sufficiently prepared, but the actor’s inexperience is evident in the demanding work. Positioned in front of a screen, with projections accompanying her entire performance, Haddad’s face is often obscured by the imagery, and we find ourselves routinely distracted by competing visual elements. Director Liz Arday’s concepts are strong, and they make for a show that is ultimately thought-provoking and rewarding, but the production is certainly demanding of its audience’s ability to concentrate.

When we are not actively taking down and taking over old systems, our involvement only serves to sustain them. There will be benefits that come with playing by the rules, but hidden costs have to be examined, and measured against what we deem to be genuinely decent. What Emmy and Peter do, are conventional and accepted, in fact they stand to become rich and famous if the stars align, but in Yours The Face, we observe that all is not well. Disease festers and exacerbates, when we choose only to pay attention to all that glitters.

www.lza-theatre.xyz | www.bloodmoontheatre.com

5 Questions with Liz Arday and Daniela Haddad

Liz Arday

Daniela Haddad: You’ve made the decision to cast a woman in this play instead of a man. Why did you make that decision?
Liz Arday: When I first read this piece I couldn’t really justify it focalised through a male lens. I know the original production utilised a male performer in the solo role, at the time the discussions around objectification of the female body were forefront, so that was an incredibly clever choice. How brilliant to place a man on stage and challenge an audience to objectify him in the same way they objectify women. But in 2018 and in the wake of “Me Too” and “Time’s Up”, reclamation and amplification of the female voice in the discussion around consent is paramount. Young women have begun to reclaim their bodies through platforms like YouTube and Instagram and in doing so have rejected the mainstream media’s damaging narratives, but we still have a way to go in having our voices heard… and believed. Our production therefore is about challenging an audience to believe our voice, our story, over that of a man’s. Which is why I felt it was important to cast a women in the solo role.

How has working with only women in the rehearsal room impacted the creative process for you?
This is wonderfully not the first time I’ve run a female only room. When I directed A Woman Alone in London last year I also closed the room for most of the process allowing only female creatives in. It creates a very safe space that allows for more honest and in-depth discussions around female sexuality, identity and the sharing of personal experience which culminates in a more truthful, brave and defiantly feminist performance. I think it’s a powerful process tactic and has proven to be both super successful and liberating for all involved.

There’s been a wave of female monologues on Sydney stages this year, including A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing at KXT and Lethal Indifference at STC. What do you think the appeal is?
I think “Me Too” has empowered female makers to stand up and tell their stories, and has also given audiences permission to engage with them. I think a female monologue piece is the pinnacle of that empowerment as it demands a raw, honest and virtuoso performance from it’s solo actor, and denies a masculine voice in the space (unless embodied through a female form). It’s the ultimate finger to the theatre establishment and traditions on which our industry is built.

What skills can you take from this project to apply to your Sandra Bates assistant directorship at the Ensemble?
One of the shows I’m working on is Unqualified, which is a female comedy written by and starring Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore. It’s Tina Fey level hilarious, and is a brilliant example of a work that scene after scene passes the Blechdel test. I think knowing the value of cultivating a safe feminist space in the rehearsal room and encouraging open discussion will serve well. Also it’s a play that travels to many different spaces and places without elaborate sets to frame it, much like our piece, so I’ll be ready to tackle those challenges!

Why do you think people should come to see this show?
Because it’s absolutely stunning piece of award winning Australian writing by one of our greatest assets, Fleur Kilpatrick. Because it’s articulating the seismic cultural shifts that are happening internationally and here at home. Because you’ll be supporting a team of talented and passionate independent theatre makers getting work up without co-production or funding support. Because it’ll be powerful punch of theatre we promise won’t disappoint!

Daniela Haddad

Liz Arday: What was it about the play that made you want to audition?
Daniela Hadda: The script and these characters drew me in and I was attracted to the idea of how models are inherently actors themselves. I was interested to see how this would play out on the theatre stage. Models also contribute hugely to the definition of ‘beauty’ given their influence in the digital sphere. So, this was a really important opportunity to explore the meaning of beauty for myself on a more personal level. The added challenge of a double role excited me as an actor, because of the opportunities it gave me to stretch my skills to the limit.

Throughout the piece you are often playing two characters (Emmy the model and Peter the photographer) who are often on stage together at the same time. What challenges have you come up against in creating these moments and how have you gone about overcoming them?
I had to find ways to create two distinct characters in voice, movement, body language – two very different people with two very different energies who are conveying a different story through their perspectives. From the beginning, I eased into Peter’s character quite nicely. There was a high level of comfort there with his overall energy, grounded nature and of course being Australian. Emmy, I found to be a bigger challenge as she’s an American model and certainly more reserved and calculated compared to the transparent Peter. She is living this idea of what she’s supposed to be according to the modelling industry. This concept paired with her intricate layers of life experience makes for an interesting story but also for the huge challenge on my end to tell this story in all its truth. There are no costumes changes to indicate the shifts between Emmy and Peter. Although there are different accents involved, the physicality speaks volumes in this piece. However the impact of that is only felt when the transitions are swift and seamless. At times, that really can be tiresome to critique, but the pay off of refined theatre is well worth working towards. Plus, the added fun of having that creative freedom to explore within the space and all of that wonderfully paired with the projections Liz has been working on. A grand gesture of art installation and theatre.

As part of our research we’ve been watching some pretty interesting YouTube videos on how to be an alpha male. Can you share any hot tips?
It’s just hilarious that there are entire YouTube channels dedicated to ‘how to be an alpha male’! They were helpful in giving me some physicality choices to experiment with for Peter. Three of my favourites are: 1) Stand straight. The best way to check your alpha posture is to stand against a wall, heels, calves, bum and shoulders should all touch. Step away from the wall but keep those points projected. 2) Use physical reinforcements, touch the person you’re speaking with at the high points of conversation. 3) Smirk, don’t smile.

Emmy is written as a model, but we’ve been re-framing her a bit as an influencer. How would you describe the difference between the two?
The concept of beauty is becoming increasingly blurred. In the 90’s for example a fashion model was typically someone exceedingly tall with a unique look, usually including sharp cheekbones, paired with a memorable walk or iconic pose or gaze. Nowadays, that particular mould of a fashion model is in decline due to the rising prominence of digital influencers. A digital beauty influencer being someone who produces online content that strays from the traditional ideas of fashion and aims to create something more accessible to their mass following. Today beauty is more than just physicality. It’s definitely got a personality edge to it.

In five words how would you describe this production?
Confronting, honest, hilarious, insightful, relevant.

Liz Arday and Daniela Haddad are presenting Yours The Face, by Fleur Kilpatrick.
Dates: 1 – 12 May, 2018
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: Sex & Death (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Apr 10 – 28, 2018

Something In The Basement
Playwright: Don Nigro
Director: Garreth Cruickshank
Cast: David Luke, Annette van Roden

It’s Time
Playwright: Garreth Cruickshank
Director: Garreth Cruickshank
Cast: Russell Cronin, Jack Douglas, Kitty Hopwood, Annette van Roden

Theatre review
Two short plays, both concerned with marriage, form a double bill entitled Sex & Death. The first, Something In The Basement by Don Nigro is ostensibly about the mystery of sex, and the second, It’s Time by Garreth Cruickshank, deals with family violence. They both point to some fundamental ideas about the traditional unity of two persons, perhaps questioning the validity of that ancient institution for our current times.

Something In The Basement is a comedic exploration of sex, using the basement of a couple’s home as allegory, for the strange workings of compatibility and the libido. Humour is obscure for the piece, and its performers never quite manage to make it a sufficiently funny show. The meanings, as represented by their relationship with each other and with their house, too are rarely satisfactorily conveyed, left abstract with scant resonance. The production’s naturalistic approach seems an inappropriate choice, exposing only the mundanity of married life, and little else besides.

It’s Time dwells on the harrowing experiences of a housewife from the 1950s, who receives regular beatings from her husband. We meet her later in life, but it is her recollections of her darkest days that she wishes to share. Mrs O’Brien tells all, as flashbacks are introduced, with regrettable inelegance as actors walk in and out of view for sequences that last mere seconds. Annette van Roden plays the role with great sensitivity and maturity, exhibiting exceptional strength as a woman put through the wringer, and who emerges victorious. We wish to see how she escapes abuse and grows stronger in the aftermath, but the play ends abruptly, allowing only her suffering to define this version of Mrs O’Brien.

The people in Sex & Death fail at marriage, but we see them work hard at salvaging things to fulfil their commitments. Marriage is full of promise. We are told that it is essential to a good life, although arguments are never more than tenuous. Tethering the self to another, through measures religious and legal, is a bizarre habit that continues to prove hard to break. We aim to understand ourselves through science, logic and facts, but it often appears that irrationality plays the biggest part in being human. There is no rhyme or reason for so much of what we do, and hence we are prone to repeat our foibles time and again. Marriage will never live up to the grandness of its pitch, but we will nonetheless keep buying in. It is romance, idealism and delusion, but we are only human.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: One Way Mirror (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Mar 14 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Cast: Matthew Abotomey, Alison Benstead, Angus Evans, Sylvia Keays, Sonya Kerr, Mark Langham, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Ash Sakha, Sheree Zellner

Theatre review
In the living of each day, humans use their mental and physical capacities for an endless variety of reasons, but whether conscious or unconscious, it is always a pursuit that involves us engaging with something quite mysterious. Nobody can know for certain, the purpose of being here, but we all participate in the project of figuring it out, whether we like it or not.

Paul Gilchrist’s One Way Mirror, involves a group of American actors in the 1960’s, hired to work with scientists conducting experiments to determine the nature of human conformity. Within this conflated microcosm of art and science, we observe all the individuals in a process of uncovering truths, whatever a truth might be.

It is a philosophical work, vast in its scope and therefore challenging for those who need a greater sense of certainty to hang on to. Gilchrist’s point of course, is that none of this can be certain, and to fabricate a narrative that is convenient and secure, would contradict its central interest, which is to arrive at some sort of knowledge about this thing we vaguely understand to be, and that we name, the truth.

The show features an intentionally fractured plot structure, with scenes differing in ideas and styles, some more appealing than others. Actor Matthew Abotomey is an intriguing presence in early sections, playing various subjects under institutionalised interrogation, intense and compelling with what he brings to the stage. Alison Benstead and Ash Sakha play young lovers, demonstrating good chemistry but also impressive with their diligence and focus as individuals.

Various storylines weave through the plot of One Way Mirror, but they come and go quickly, as though to evade our grasp. We wish to know these personalities better, because it feels natural to want to get to the bottom of things. Our curiosity is instead, turned outside in. One Way Mirror makes it vital that we examine for ourselves, that concept of truth, whether it be a matter of instinctual resonance, or rational meaningfulness, or enduring legacy, or whatever else one might find fulfilling. The conclusion is inexhaustible, and the journey inevitable.

www.subtlenuance.com | www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: Debris (Blood Moon Theatre / LZA Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 10, 2018
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Liz Arday
Cast: Aslam Abdus-samad, Lana Kershaw
Image by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
It was only several weeks ago, at the very beginning of 2018, that we first heard about the shocking case of the Turpin family in California, where 13 children were discovered to have been held captive and tortured by their own parents. In Dennis Kelly’s 2003 play Debris, we meet Michelle and Michael, teenage siblings neglected, abused and exposed to horrific conditions at home. Under the care of adults who are perhaps insane, or simply evil, the atrocities that we witness are the stuff of nightmares.

The play is intense and confrontational, possibly exploitative in its relentless depictions of trauma. Director Liz Arday establishes an enticing style and mood for her production, informed by cabaret traditions, complete with microphone stands and tinsel curtains, but there is a repetitious quality to the way its scenes are carried out that can wear thin. Nonetheless, Debris is memorable for excellent design work, with Arday’s own sensitive work on sound and Liam O’Keefe’s adventurous lights, both in collusion to manufacture a sense of electrifying theatricality and macabre decadence.

Two powerful actors bring the characters to life, on a stage that they imbue with frenzied savagery. Aslam Abdus-samad is a captivating presence, delivering spectacle after spectacle, with his penchant for the extravagant. Also very glamorous is Lana Kershaw, who proves herself the consummate storyteller, able to convey depths of meaning and emotion, in addition to her splendid recital of Kelly’s ostentatious words.

Art allows us to delve into the good and bad of humanity, but some behaviour it seems, will forever be beyond comprehension. The best that Debris can do, is to convince us of the depravity that we are capable of, and even though we hunger for an understanding of the origins of these extremities, we should probably be grateful that such abomination exists outside of our personal consciousness. The fact remains that we are capable of terrible things, and societies need to prevent them from occurring, whether or not we know how they come to be. The protection of children, especially, requires no justification. We only need to be aware of the dangers they are susceptible to, and look after them with unflagging vigilance.

www.lza-theatre.xyz | www.bloodmoontheatre.com

Review: I Walk In Your Words (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Dec 7 – 9, 2017
Director: Kristine Landon-Smith
Cast: Lily Black, Yerin Ha, Nicholas Hasemann, Elliot Mitchell, Mark Paguio, Jens Radda, Laila Rind, Nikita Waldron

Theatre review
The performers have headphones on, listening to the very recordings that they present to us. These are interviews with Australians from all walks of life, about culture, identity and belonging. Many of the stories are about the migrant experience, but Indigenous voices bring the show to an end with exceptional poignancy. I Walk In Your Words centres the discussion around those who matter equally, but who are systematically erased, in favour of the dominant colonialist ideology that white Australia tenaciously imposes.

The technique seems an inelegant proposition, but from the very instance the show begins, it becomes clear that the visually awkward headphones serve a unique and quite marvellous purpose, of unparalleled accuracy in the representation of real lives that rarely attract attention. It is not just the words that are spoken, but also the spaces surrounding those sentences, in breaths, chuckles and silence. Actors are prevented from interpretations that would change these personalities to fit standardised narratives. The headphones make it a requisite that we hear the tone, and sense the energy and aura, of the people being featured.

The interviews are compiled deliberately, to provide a picture of Australia’s minorities that is respectful and harmonious. The verbatim format proclaims objectivity, but the politics of I Walk In Your Words are unabashedly subjective. The moment we notice that only the admirable sides of these people are revealed, is when the show becomes less persuasive; the discord between its hyper naturalism and the overblown virtuousness that it poses, turns us sceptical.

The production is however, thoroughly engaging. The cast is uniformly impassioned and well-rehearsed; with every actor coming across convincing and endearing. Kristine Landon-Smith’s precise and minimal direction keeps focus appropriately on the all-important results of the interview process, although a more creative approach to lights and sound could bring valuable enhancement to the experience.

Our community is an unimaginably large one, but we all exist in little enclaves, forgetting or perhaps refusing to acknowledge, the many who are different. We may not see a pressing need to intermingle, but injustice clearly exists in the discrepancies between communities, and silence is misconstrued as consensus. The simple truth is that we cannot allow portions of Australia to suffer while others are prospering. The selfish denial of another person’s well-being, is simply oppression. To witness suffering and then choose to do nothing, is the lowest of sins.

www.bloodmoontheatre.com