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. |

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. |

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.

5 Questions with Zoe Jensen and Emma O’Sullivan

Zoe Jensen

Emma O’Sullivan: What do you find the most challenging about performing?
Zoe Jensen: The thing I find the most challenging is pretty basic: it’s the absolute fear that I will second-guess myself in the moment and drop a line, or forget some blocking, or (worst thing ever) lose my shit and start laughing and not be able to pull it back! Thank goodness though most of these things aren’t issue if you practise often enough!

What’s your secret for getting into character?
Everyone’s got their own way of doing it. What I find works for me is to spend at least half an hour before the show going over the big moments in the play for my character. Clarifying this to myself. I find that once I’ve found those 2 or 3 moments, I can drop into it a lot easier. Also just being in the space, walking around and warming up, going over lines or speeches, even just listening to some music – these are all extremely helpful tools.

What’s your dream role?
My dream role would be to play a super bad-ass cold-hearted private detective, and solve some really messed up crimes. (This is what I would love to do in real life but I don’t have the patience to go to uni and do some science thing for years and years, so playing a character who does this would be the BEST THING EVER!) One day…

Tell us about your show Orange Is The New Crack?
Our show is a silly silly silly little show, that will make you laugh A LOT and forget about everything outside of the theatre 😊 There’s no big morals, or messages or anything like that. It’s just myself, Jane and Michael reverting back to childhood and playing a funny make-believe game. I assure you it’s very entertaining!

Why should people go and see Hijacked Rabbit?
Four new pieces of Australian Work?!?! That’s incredible! And they are all under an hour, and have really talented actors, writers and directors behind them, and you can have a drink and a HUGE laugh. It’s such a fun, chilled, entertaining night 😊

Emma O’Sullivan

Zoe Jensen: What do you find the most challenging about performing?
Emma O’Sullivan: There’s a tonne of great challenges for me when performing. One big challenge is making sure I leave whatever day I’ve had at the door. Some days a billion different things happen before I’ve even headed in to the theatre, I try my best to make sure they don’t bleed into the story I’m about to tell onstage.

The second big challenge for me is if I’ve got the luxury of doing heaps of runs of a show then finding that sweet spot between all my preparation and keeping it fresh as a new pair of sneakers every night, you know? You don’t want to go nuts and do stuff like throwing a chair across the room mid scene to keep it fresh – I just want it to be nice and aired out for each audience. Trusting the work I’ve done and then going out there and performing it like; I haven’t done it for the last 2 months, and I didn’t trip over and rip my pants in act one the night before and just go for it. Each show may be the last one I ever get to do so I try to just go for a ride.

What’s your secret for getting into character?
I just try to get the hell out of my own way. Before each show I warm up like there’s no tomorrow, then just sit somewhere for 5 minutes. I just close my eyes, breathe and try to tune out any noise from the day – and any thoughts that are useless for the task I’ve got ahead of me. I started doing that a few years ago and it really seems to help me.

Now, tell us a about Hijacked Rabbit and how you’re involved?
Hijacked Rabbit is this rad season that Jackrabbit Theatre have put together. They’ve selected four one-act, really punchy and tasty pieces of theatre to show at Blood Moon Theatre in Kings Cross from October 31st- November 11th. It’s such a fantastic opportunity to get some theatre onstage that ranges from balls-to-the-wall comedy through to some seriously heartfelt moments.

I’ll be performing in Hit which is written and directed by Lincoln Vickery. The cast also includes heaps of serious talent including Adam Sollis, Seamus Quinn and Elle Harris. It’s such a treat getting to see them all work. The show is honestly like nothing you could ever imagine and is such a blast to perform in. And on every other night I’ll be performing in a one-woman show I’ve written called It’s Mars Time, directed by Charlotte Devenport. I literally cannot wait to do it!

Oh, and then of course there’s your show Orange Is The New Crack written by James Sweeny and Gate 64, written and performed by Jane Watt.

And your one woman show, It’s Mars Time, where does the inspiration come from for your character of Judy?
It comes from loads of different points of interest for me. One of them is the fact that some people (including myself) are just not natural born leaders. I honestly find it hilarious having to really figure out any sort of leadership position I’m in as I go along. Sometimes doing it right and sometimes getting it so so wrong. But what I’m really interested in is watching someone deal with that in a super heightened situation such as; being in a leader in a WWIII bunker, and being severely under-experienced for the job. There’s a comical amount of people in leadership positions in the world who – like Judy – are not natural born leaders and have to just deal with it. It can be hilarious to watch but the results can also be a real tragedy.

I’m also really intrigued by people who have extremely heightened survival instincts. And I love that they’ll prepare for a war no matter the circumstances, they’re survivors and just do what they need to do. I’m fascinated by their natural instincts to get organised, and get prepared for a tragedy at any given moment. You name it – they’ve got a plan for it.

And which show is better do you think, Orange Is The New Crack or It’s Mars Time?
(Laughs) Both of the shows are brill! But lucky for everyone they’re on the same night as a double bill, so the they/I don’t have to choose 😉

Zoe Jensen and Emma O’Sullivan are appearing in Hijacked Rabbit, an anthology of 4 comedies.
Dates: 31 October – 11 November, 2017
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: Hijacked Rabbit (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 11, 2017
Playwrights: Emma O’Sullivan, James Sweeny, Lincoln Vickery, Jane Watt
Directors: Michael Abercromby, Charlotte Devenport, Lincoln Vickery
Cast: Michael Abercromby, Elle Harris, Zoe Jensen, Emma O’Sullivan, Adam Sollis, Seamus Quinn, Jane Watt
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Hijacked Rabbit features 4 separate hour-long comedies, each with its own style and characteristics. The plays are individually surprising, although some are funnier than others, and not all are equally meaningful. A matter of personal taste would determine how an audience member responds to the varying comedic approaches, but this is an amusing collection of ideas, presented with infectious enthusiasm.

The one-woman piece Gate 64, written and performed by Jane Watt, sees Winnie, who resides at an airport, talking to her captive crowd, comprised of passengers awaiting a delayed flight. Exploring delusions and memories, fantasies and hopes, Watt demonstrates impressive talent in both artistic capacities. As playwright, she is witty and gently profound, and as actor, she is simultaneously sensitive and daring, tremendously likeable as a result of the extraordinary vulnerability she brings to the role.

Watt again appears in Orange Is The New Crack by James Sweeny, accompanied by equally funny players Michael Abercromby and Zoe Jensen, for some excellent scenes of hilarious tomfoolery. It is this accomplished trio that takes us through the delightfully messy story from ancient times, of sugar-peddling women, their junkies and other dependants.

Although not always executed with finesse, the plays prove themselves to be fantastically imagined. Hit by Lincoln Vickery is a dynamic, fast-paced story about hit men and gay love. It’s Mars Time by Emma O’Sullivan is inspired by the troubles of our times, and the desire to flee this anguished existence.

Each segment of Hijacked Rabbit offers moments of brilliance, and we are enchanted whenever a glimmer of genius is revealed, within these rambunctious, jaunty proceedings. It is the raw talent on show that has us excited, and on this occasion, proves itself to be more than satisfactory.

Review: The Gloveman (Blood Moon Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Oct 4 – 14, 2017
Playwright: C.J. Naylor
Director: Michael Block
Cast: Chris Argirousis, Brinley Meyer, Chris Miller, Matt Blake, Janine Penfold, Ben Dewstow
Image by Hayden Brotchie

Theatre review
Edith has an unfulfilling life, working in a small town pub in Leeds, England. Restricted by a minor disability, she had all but resigned herself to a life of discontentment, until a pivotal encounter with Hugh, a shady figure in the local football circuit. C.J. Naylor’s story involves corruption and ambition, but for all its enthusiasm, The Gloveman serves up little drama. The stakes never seem to feel high enough, and the various divergent narratives contributed by each of its characters, add up to a plot that is consequently haphazard. Naylor’s approach to dialogue however, is often delightful, with colourful and lively exchanges that some will find amusing.

It is an energetic show, featuring an exaggerated tone to acting styles that can be charming at times, and comical at others. The decision to use Australian accents instead of a very specific Northern England one is understandable, but the effect is disorienting. The role of Edith is played by Brinley Meyer, whose warm and confident presence keeps us endeared. Personalities in The Gloveman are portrayed with little complexity, but director Michael Block provides a sense of familiarity akin to everyday television presentations that helps us relate. Supporting actor Janine Penfold is particularly memorable, for her interpretation of journalist Gabe as a woman of substance and grit.

When Edith goes missing, presumed abducted by baddies, the menfolk she takes care of at home, preoccupy themselves with arguments about who amongst them is the best goalkeeper in town. It is not uncommon that the woman imagines herself indispensable, persisting with her servitude convinced that the greater good justifies her personal suffering. Meanwhile, all the glory and dirty money that circulates within her community, bypasses Edith, as her elbow grease continues to be called upon to support their sporting economy.

Review: Member (Fairly Lucid Productions)

fairlylucidVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Feb 21 – Mar 4, 2017
Playwright: Ben Noble
Director: Casey Gould
Cast: Ben Noble
Image by Deryk McAlpin

Theatre review
Corey is a man whose homophobia is bigger than the love for his own son. Ben Noble’s Member is an investigation into how young men learn to hate, and more specifically, how a culture of gay bashing and gay murders, is fostered in places like Sydney. Corey grew up in the Northern Beaches, a regular white boy with no cares in the world, wanting for nothing except for the acceptance of his peers. We see him fall in with a gang of young men who hunt down gay individuals in isolated areas, and witness how he is pressured into his first killing.

The writing is powerful, dark and urgent. Although conceived as a monologue, it comprises voices of the many personalities in Corey’s world, that reflect the social construct of his very being. It helps us understand how violence is bred, not so that we forgive perpetrators, but to find a way to dismantle the process by which our innocent children are groomed into hateful forces of evil. The play marvellously exposes us to the depths of Corey’s vicious immorality, while insisting on his unassailable humanity, in order that we may recognise the reality of his wrongdoing and not have it glossed over as some kind of psychopathic exception. As a community, we are made to see in Member, where our complicity lies in the formation of behaviour and belief systems of people like Corey. We may not be responsible for these murderers, but we have to discover a change that will ensure that this continuing misanthropy is eradicated.

It is a finely calibrated show by director Casey Gould, impressively dynamic and wildly captivating with its expansive landscape of sentimentality. Very effective design work (sound by Coleman Grehan and lights by Lisa Mibus) relies on a high-polish precision that helps facilitate our every emotional response, and the delicate transitions between. Gould’s very complicated structure of speedy character transformations is a remarkably tall order, and although Ben Noble’s execution as actor is not completely flawless, he is often astonishing on stage. Noble’s extraordinary concentration and impeccable ability to thoroughly communicate meanings and emotions, elevates this simplest of theatrical forms, the one man show, to an art that is hard to beat for its empathetic impact.

There remain parts of the world where LGBT people are marginalised, and killed, as a matter of course. We may not feel the need to concern ourselves with those lives, but we must acknowledge that that same psychology and sociology of hatred exists right here, and when left unchecked, can manifest just as brutally. The flavour of the month in our violent West, may no longer be the lonely gay man who seeks solace in dangerous beats, but that attitude of senseless persecution of minorities is a thriving part of our lives, and must never be left disregarded.