Review: In Waiting (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Oct 11 – 19, 2017
Playwright: Liviu Monsted
Director: Liviu Monsted
Cast: Courtney Adams, Alison Benstead, Alana Birtles, Roslyn Hicks, Nathaniel Hole, Dale Wesely Johnson Green, Steve Maresca, Dean Nash, Katie Regan

Theatre review
In a purgatorial room, the dead wait for their turn to meet Ignus, a psychoanalyst in the esoteric dimension, who provides assistance to move these wandering spirits on to their eternity. It is an appealing allegory that we find in Liviu Monsted’s In Waiting, using the device of psychotherapy to illustrate the need for a certain enlightenment, intellectual and emotional , before life can take on a meaningful course. Monsted sets up an intriguing context, with charming interaction between his ghosts, but substantial portions of the 150-minute production involve two-hander sessions in Ignus’ consultation office, during which the writing often becomes convoluted and self-indulgent.

The work is certainly contemplative, but its dialogue frequently lapses into a dense and obtuse language, that is probably more suited to the form of a short novel than it does the stage. Acting style is uniformly animated, and although rarely authentic, the performers demonstrate a generosity in their prioritising of the text, which helps us decipher the proceedings. Actor Alison Benstead cuts a striking figure as the mysterious Ignus, impressive with the quantity of words she commits so effortlessly to memory. Also showing good commitment is Katie Regan as Estelle, the young woman who has to confront hard memories before she can be released from a state of stagnation.

The waiting room is a necessary space, but some of us can stay too long, in a condition of regret and fear. The future is always in conversation with the past. It might be useful to think that we can close the door on anterior events, but there is nothing we do today, that is not a result of experiences from all the yesterdays. To forget, is only to have it relegated to the subconscious. The characters who do well in In Waiting, are those able to find something that looks like acceptance. Time may not be linear, but no matter how we conceive of its passage, torment is not being able to move with it. |

5 Questions with Alison Benstead and Katie Regan

Alison Benstead

Katie Regan: How did you find rehearsing by yourself for so long?
Alison Benstead: It was definitely challenging, as Ignus’ purpose in the play is to help others. I was quite literally ‘waiting’ to meet everyone, so in that way, I think I was absolutely feeling the way Ignus would have.

What do you think Ignus did when she was living?
I have a theory. When I took on the character, there wasn’t a great deal of backstory that had already been decided, except that she died in the 1950s of some kind of internal haemorrhaging. I have been playing with the idea that she was a housewife, perhaps in a somewhat controlling marriage, and didn’t have a great deal of control over what her purpose was. I believe that she was a loving wife and wanted more than anything to be a mother, and that the haemorrhaging was caused by a miscarriage. There’s a lot of empathy and compassion in her, and I really get to play with the notion that she swings between being motherly towards the others, and seeing them all as a puzzle to solve.

How has your interpretation of the character changed over time?
It has changed a lot. I think I began rehearsals seeing her as this really magical archetype, and as we’ve developed her through rehearsal, I see far more human qualities. No character in this play is perfect; they’re all flawed in their own ways and that really is a gift for an actor to be able to explore.

All the characters experience time in the waiting room. How long do you think you would wait there until you searched for answers?
Not very long. I’m not a very patient person at the best of times, and my imagination would run wild with ideas and theories. The answers wouldn’t be as fun in the end.

Regret is heavily featured in the play. If Ignus had her time over again, how do you think she would have lived?
If she had her time over again, I think she would have lived a more empowered life. I see her being an Erin Brockovich kind of figure: fighting for what she believes in, and doing it with a big heart and a lot of grace.

Katie Regan

Alison Benstead: After reading the text, what was your first impression of Estelle, and what challenges did you anticipate when taking on this role?
Katie Regan: I found Estelle to be incredibly close to some of the people in my life. I think lots of people know an Estelle – she’s your friend, neighbour, co-worker. Outwardly she is relatively put together and follows the vein of most 20-somethings looking for fulfilment but, on the inside, she is entirely a drift with little to no real connection to the ‘real’ world. I knew it would be challenging to portray a character with very real and defined depression whilst also straddling the fine line of optimism she hides away inside herself.

How do you think you would personally react, waking up in the waiting room as Estelle did?
If I were to wake up in the waiting room like Estelle, I would immediately start looking for answers or an exit. I think my fight or flight would kick in very soon and, the first door I saw, I’d look for someone to talk to.

If Estelle had have carried on living, how do you think she would have lived her life?
I like to think that she became a visual artist or musician, channelling her experiences into something tangibly good for the world.

Why is this story important and relevant for audiences today, and what do you want your audiences to take away from this play?
I believe that this story is about the importance of choices: people can choose to be good or bad or apathetic but in actuality it’s the people we meet who change us. Because of the people Estelle meets in the waiting room, she is given another choice/chance at life. I want audiences to take away a sense of hope for the future and the choices that shape us.

In Waiting heavily features two strong female characters. Explain how their relationship and bond is instrumental to the story, and what they represent for each other.
Estelle and Ignus’ relationship represents the story coming full-circle, but it also shows the closing of a large chapter in both of their lives, or afterlives as it were. They are quite similar in that they both search for answers and are forces to be reckoned with. In terms of what they represent to each other, I think that they are both the final solution to each of their dilemmas. Nothing can move forward until they do together.

Alison Benstead and Katie Regan can be seen in In Waiting by Liviu Monsted.
Dates: 11 – 19 Oct, 2018
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: Scarecrow (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Sep 25 – 29, 2018
Playwright: Don Nigro
Directors: Deborah Jones, Naomi Livingstone
Cast: Gemma Scoble, Romney Stanton, Blake Wells
Image by Lauren Orrell

Theatre review
Cally and her mother Rose, live an isolated life in the cornfields, somewhere in North America. Having turned 18, Cally is experiencing a libidinal push that is making her wander from the house, into the nefarious grasp of a mysterious stranger. A scarecrow stands on the farmland, protecting its harvest and the two lonely women. In Don Nigro’s play Scarecrow, we are unsure if its mystical powers are doing good or harm, as we watch the women’s miserable lives unfold. Semblances of a family curse in the story give it a surprising complexity, as we observe the cyclical effects of trauma overwhelm the household’s two generations.

Romney Stanton is spectacular in the role of the deranged and very dramatic matriarch, using the character’s obsessive vigilance to deliver some deliciously operatic moments, full of flamboyant intensity. Stanton is mesmerising, wonderfully convincing as the mad rambling Rose. The vivacious young Cally is played by Gemma Scoble, whose portrayal of naive rebellion is memorably passionate, especially effective when called upon to demonstrate the unimaginable anguish of a teenager having to tolerate an invisible existence. Blake Wells is suitably seductive as the testosteroned stranger who instigates discord between the women, subtle but solid in his support of the leading ladies.

Directed by Deborah Jones and Naomi Livingstone, the production is elegantly assembled, for a no frills staging of a fascinating play. As we watch the women disintegrate, we question their circumstances and their capacity for agency within those circumstances. In Nigro’s narrative, fearful women channel their strength into cruelty. A cautionary tale perhaps, reminding us of the contradictory truth, that our strength, far from causing harm to other women, actually keeps us from self-destruction. Strong women know to lift each other up, because we know the forces determined to keep us down, are perennial, pervasive and persistent.

Review: Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Sep 4 – 8, 2018
Playwright: M. Saint Clair
Director: Liz Arday
Cast: Alana Birtles, Mirian Capper, Eleni Cassimatis, Oliver Harris, Melissa Hume, Ian Runekcles
Images by Liz Arday

Theatre review
When a relationship ends, it is only natural that one should take stock of past loves. It is unclear how many characters are being discussed in M. Saint Clair’s Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both, but all the emotions it explores, are honest and real. It features young people, for whom romantic love is mysterious and irresistible, almost necessary in their emergence into adulthood. The writing is poetic, sometimes transcendental, sometimes silly, but always beautifully rhythmic, and a pleasure to devour.

Stories of love and lust are presented by six spirited actors, in combinations that defy conventions of society and of the theatre. Roles are taken on by different performers, who swap their parts throughout the production, resisting our desire to lock people into types and categories, intentionally elusive to achieve a broader sense of universality in how it addresses the audience. Heteronormativity too is dismantled, not only in terms of the gay-straight binary, but also in its challenge of monogamy’s dominion, by allowing the ensemble to interact in combinations that exceed the ordinary romantic pair. Director Liz Arday demonstrates intellectual verve, whilst keeping us sensorily engaged with her fast, inventive show. The cast is excellent in collaborative scenes, delightful with their execution of some very fascinating choreography.

There are times in life, when lovers are our everything, and we cannot imagine existence without all the intense passion, and drama, that they bring. There is always much to enjoy of such relationships, but as the years pass, it is likely that these partners will gradually slip down one’s hierarchy of needs. Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both resonates with a kind of innocence, a sweet wistfulness of when other people were able to fill the void. How one emerges from that misconception, is never a simple process, and unsurprising if it turns out to be a lifelong endeavour.

5 Questions with Alana Birtles and Eleni Cassimatis

Alana Birtles

Eleni Cassimatis: What compelled you to audition for Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both?
Alana Birtles: I decided to apply to audition for Everyone because I thought the title was very intriguing. I also liked the idea of investigating relationships and how people ‘mark’ or ‘stain’ us. Those particular words stood out to me.I also think the Sydney Fringe is a great festival and I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it.

The process has been quite unusual, as we’ve been devising all while using a script. Can you explain what the process has been like for you?
It’s been a really interesting process devising and collaborating on this script. I’ve never worked in this way professionally before. I feel like it gives you a lot more room to play and discover, and I feel like it brought us closer as an ensemble. As each interpretation of this work will be unique, this will be the only time this version will be performed which is also a really cool thought.

Can you explain to everyone what “cup casting” is, and why we’ve been doing it?
Cup casting is this magical process by which we put ‘character names’ into a cup (a very particular cup mind you) and we each pull one out to see who we will be playing. It’s actually worked out amazingly as we all got characters/scenes that we had originally said resonated with us.

Have any moments or scenes from the play resonated strongly with you?
Yes there’s one scene in particular that I felt strongly about. Without giving anything away I’ll say that the scene is a complex one in its emotional variations but also the concept behind it. This is an instance where the magic cup casting worked because I actually ended up being allocated that scene. Otherwise, I believe the play presents a multi-faceted view of relationships that is relatable to everyone. Dissecting the play, the entire ensemble has related to particular experiences in the play or known someone that has had a similar experience.

We’ve been having a weekly guac comp during the rehearsal period… got any hot tips for a killer guac?
Ah the guac comp; one of the highlights of my Saturday’s. I am an avid avocado fan and pride myself in my guac-making abilities. I believe lots of flavour and freshness is key. I like to add a bit of raw garlic and Spanish onion, but I think you shouldn’t be afraid to utilise a decent amount of lemon, salt and pepper. I’m not usually a fan of coriander but I’ve been converted when used in guac. Coriander with a bit of tomato adds freshness.

Eleni Cassimatis

Alana Birtles: How are you enjoying working as part of a democratic ensemble?
Eleni Cassimatis: The collaborative nature of our democratic ensemble has been a lot of fun. As we are devising our way through a new text, it has meant we can basically pave our own way through it. Our cast and creative team are made up of a wonderful group of artists who all have a brilliantly diverse range of experience in various acting/theatre-making forms, meaning what each person brings to the table is a different wealth of knowledge, and therefore the experience of each scene or ‘vignette’ in the play has been injected with a variety of storytelling forms. On top of this, our cup casting has meant some scenes have been cast completely out of control, and then we’ve had the fun job of making it make sense!

What’s been the most challenging part of the process for you so far?
The most challenging part of the process for me was probably in the initial phases of staging the play – making myself succumb to the fact that we were going to have no idea what exactly the play was, or how exactly we were telling this story, and allowing myself to just play and create with no clear ending. St Clair’s text has been left so open for us, which at first seemed daunting, but gave us an abundant amount of delicious possibilities.

St Clair’s rejected a masculine story arch in her writing. How have you found working on a play that’s structure is more cyclical than linear?
The play’s structure, being more cyclical than linear, means that there isn’t a defined start point and end point to the story, and that where the play begins and where it ends could actually be anywhere in this order of experiences. In rejecting the traditional masculine story arch, Saint Clair has created an experience for the audience that gets ‘left hanging’ and doesn’t have a clear resolution, but what could instead be a new beginning. I’ve found working on this structure to be full of discoveries, because each time we would work out what one scene could be, we would find that it would open up hundreds more possibilities for what the preceding and subsequent scenes could be. I think it let us be more ok with pieces not directly connecting to each other, because they were still part of the inherent circling motion of the entire play, and thanks to the brilliant writing we were able to step back and trust that all the pieces connected and linked to form their own version of the traditional storyline.

Everyone explores intimacy and human connection in abstract fragments, which isn’t unfamiliar content in the theatre. How does this production present this universal experience in a different light?
I think the best way to talk to this is that in Everyone, we get to see little slices of life, which are short (or sometimes longer) glimpses into the relationship between couples or groups of people. These transactions explore many different assets of human connection and intimacy, are transient, and over the course of the play will hopefully resonate with and reflect experiences that everyone can relate to! The play breaks these concepts open and addresses them as the characters live out their experiences in front of the audience, and by allowing the characters to passionately try to work things out & make sense of things for themselves, pulling the audience in and along with them on the way.

There are 400 shows playing as part of the Sydney Fringe. Why should people come see Everyone?
Firstly – the title. Come on guys, how can you not be wanting to know more? Second – what a crew and cast I get to work with – working with Liz has been incredible, the guys at Revolving Days are amazing, and the 5 other actors I have got to spend this last six weeks with have been an absolute blast. I am so proud of the work we’ve created, I love the idea that no other version of this play will ever be the same, and love that I got to play part in putting St Clair’s work on it’s feet in the public for the first time.

Alana Birtles and Eleni Cassimatis can be seen in Everyone I’ve Ever Loved Or Slept With Or Both by M Saint Clair.
Dates: 4 – 8 Sep, 2018
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: Me And My Mother, Singing (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Aug 22 – 30, 2018
Creator and Performer: Oleg Pupovac
Image by Roman Wolczak

Theatre review
In Oleg Pupovac’s one man show Me And My Mother, Singing, we are invited into a dreamlike consciousness, a waking meditation perhaps, about the creator’s Yugoslavian and Serbian roots. Stories of his past feature heavily, in this work about identity, demonstrating the inextricable relationship between our memories and daily existence. A new dawn always arrives, but we move into each day with personal histories that can be contained but is rarely erased.

Pupovac seeks refuge in art, reaching for his father in paintings of snow, and his mother in folk songs. Trauma is addressed indirectly, for a healing process that can never be hurried, and love is rekindled, if only in the realm of the soul, for a solace that is necessary but that can never completely assuage the experience of loss and longing. It is a satisfying presentation, with multimedia elements offering insight into the most intimate recesses of Pupovac’s mind, and the performer’s own warm charm facilitating an empathy in the audience, even when scenarios turn obscure.

In the creation of his own art, Pupovac manifests a closeness with loved ones, that in turn inspires an appreciation for the complex ways, in which each of us thinks of family and roots. People can seem so different from one another, but underneath the surface are inevitable points of connection that can only endorse our kinship. We like to think ourselves special, and even though individual trajectories are always unique, the infinity of our sameness can never be denied, including, sadly, our age-old propensity to divide.

Review: Estelle Astaire’s Woes & Wares (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Jun 13 – 16, 2018
Playwright: Bianca Seminara
Director: Bianca Seminara
Cast: Bianca Seminara

Theatre review
It is a Tupperware party, and our host is doing her best to keep us entertained. Estelle Astaire’s Woes & Wares is a one-woman show, in which a recent immigrant from New York relays the journey that had got her here. The challenges of a child living with a difficult mother, and failed love affairs of an ingenue, form an amusing biography of someone trying to come into her own. Estelle is great company, and her mother is a splendidly colourful creature, both witty and spirited, in this uncomplicated but cleverly written play, by Bianca Seminara.

For the production, Seminara serves also as actor and director, for which her abilities are evidently less accomplished. There is a charm and attractive quirkiness to the presence she brings on stage, but the lack of dynamism and drama in the performance, makes for a monotonous experience, albeit a tenaciously endearing one. Nevertheless, the hour-long show is fairly rewarding, made memorably novel by the circulation of a large number of fascinating plastic containers among the audience.

Estelle has a horrible husband, whom she tolerates in a way similar to how she had dealt with her mother. The big difference of course, is that Estelle is no longer a child, and can leave her appalling circumstances at will. Independence is essential, but to acquire the skills that will help one attain it, is always a tricky ordeal. When mothers are unable to fulfil their duty as role models, daughters often have to learn things the hard way. Estelle has yet to find her path, but we are glad to see that she is on the right track.