Review: Morgan Stern (Company Of Rogues)

companyofroguesVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Nov 23 – Dec 3, 2016
Playwright: Gina Schien
Director: Goldele Rayment
Cast: Graeme Rhodes
Image by Chrissie Ianssen

Theatre review
The Gent awakes in 1972 after a deep slumber. The Edwardian era is now long gone, but there is unfinished business still to be taken care of. He returns to this mortal coil, to find resolution, as a ghost and as guardian angel to a certain Morgan Stern, who faces a set of problems not unlike the ones our Gent had had to deal with, when taking care of his own daughter, back in those less than halcyon days. It was early 19th Century when he last found himself in these challenging circumstances, and it appears very little has changed after two hundred years.

Complex and incredibly rich, Gina Schien’s imaginative writing offers extraordinary insight into the human condition and the glitches in our lives that so often surprise and derail. The language is beautiful, with sensitive attention paid to rhythms and imagery that makes the play an involving one. Dramatic tension can sometimes be lost in its poetic approach, but director Goldele Rayment’s manipulations of atmosphere and spacial configurations are cleverly calibrated, with only one actor and one swivel chair sustaining our concentration. Tegan Nicholls’ work on sound and Roderick van Gelder’s lights are both noteworthy in their efforts to transform and transport our consciousness through the production’s mystical qualities.

Graeme Rhodes delivers an astonishing performance for the one man show, completely captivating with a presence full of conviction and a mental focus impressive with its precision. His voice and physicality are both commanding, both exactingly channelled in each of the play’s sequences, to impart meaning and enthralment. We are amazed by the way his memory is able to contain so much text, seemingly effortlessly, but more importantly, his airtight authority over the material’s depths and expanses, and his ability to exercise inventiveness along with elucidating the writing’s trickier ideas, have us flummoxed, in awe.

When art talks about reality, it does so differently from science. Morgan Stern is about contradictory realities, and how it is necessary for us to be able to encompass things that are not subjectively logical into existence. The world is infinite, in scale and in possibilities, and much as we think that the stuff we know is all there is, art will tell us that the opposite is true. The stuff we know, and the stuff that is knowable, will always and forever be infinitesimal, and every life must count, however inconvenient the other may be.

Review: Orpheus (Lies, Lies And Propaganda / Suspicious Woman Productions)

liesliesVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Aug 18 – 27, 2016
Director: Michael Dean
Dramaturg: Jasper Garner Gore
Cast: Dymphna Carew, Curly Fernandez, Victoria Greiner, Lana Kershaw, Daniel Monks, Bodelle de Ronde, Michael Yore
Image by Sasha Cohen

Theatre review
Orpheus’ story is often told with emphasis on a husband’s drudgery in trying to rescue his wife from the mouths of danger, but in Michael Dean’s revision, we explore the possibility of Eurydice being a more provocative character, whose own desires are more complicated and less convenient for her husband’s legend. Hell is an Australian outback hick town, from which Eurydice finds herself unable to leave, but Orpheus is determined to bring her back to their life in the city, where a previously shared reality seems to be fading with the passage of time.

Similarities with David Lynch’s surrealism where “this whole world is wild at heart and weird on top” can be observed in Dean’s portrayal of an ugly yet seductive foreboding, set within a seedy bar where the drawing of raffle tickets is “the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” Michael Yore’s music and Liam O’Keefe’s lights provide splendid transportative atmospherics for an operatic expression of an ancient mystery suited to contemporary times, and Rachel Weiner’s illuminative choreography, although excessively demanding at certain points, demonstrates a healthy instinct for space as a fundamental device of communication.

With little in terms of dialogue that could be employed, the depiction of characters relies heavily on movement and presence, which the cast accomplishes with dexterity, but there is a gentleness to the overall approach that contradicts some of the darker elements in the piece. A greater sense of gravity and perhaps bigger personalities would generate a more sinister edge to fortify its enigmatic tone. Daniel Monks leaves a strong impression in the title role, authentic and captivating with his ability to meaningfully embody Orpheus’ sentimental qualities. The actor’s unequivocal focus and connection with all who are on and off stage, is the basis on which the production addresses its emotional dimensions.

Michael Dean’s vision of theatre as a dynamic and unpredictable art form is marvellously realised in Orpheus. Adventurous, playful and iconoclastic, Dean’s presentation is a surprising and delightful show that challenges not only notions of storytelling, but also conventions of our cultural endeavours. It is a virtuous exercise, made even more wonderful by sheer, undeniable talent and exquisite taste. There is exceptional work to be found here, the kind that makes us want more of the same from every stage, but it is the utter unorthodoxy and subversive nature of its appeal that provides its avant-garde lustre. |

5 Questions with Bodelle de Ronde and Curly Fernandez

Bodelle de Ronde

Bodelle de Ronde

Curly Fernandez: With your artistic practice are there any art movements through time you feel an affinity with or get strong inspiration from?
Bodelle de Ronde: There are certain artists who have inspired me with their images when I’ve been creating a character. For me it’s portraits that come alive and I get a strong feeling of who that person is, or landscapes/scenes that conjure up an atmosphere I can use in my work and captures my imagination. Artists like John Singer Sargent, Edvard Munch, John William Waterhouse, Marc Chagall, Sir John Everett Millais, Frida Kahlo.

What is your most exciting cultural heritage memory when you were growing up?
Realising I came from a large family of such a different culture from the one I grew up in. Whenever we had get-togethers in Bangkok I’d be surrounded by aunties and cousins all speaking in a language I learnt to pick up but didn’t quite understand but it didn’t matter because we still had so much fun together. I gained a strong sense of belonging, family and identity spending school holidays in Thailand.

Do you have any obsessive compulsive tendencies?
I’ll check the oven’s off before I go to sleep but because I live in a shared house that hasn’t been such a silly thing to do.

Five items you would take to a deserted island?
Photos. Music. A spear for catching fish (aka Cast Away!). A collection of Haruki Murakami. Pen and paper.

How does the Orpheus myth translate to modern audiences?
Hopefully a bond of love is something that audiences will always relate to. As well as his sense of displacement being in the underworld, surrounded by people whose actions seem familiar and yet ajar with normality. The struggle to fight for what you believe in and the question of how far you are willing to go for that cause is also very topical.

Curly Fernandez

Curly Fernandez

Bodelle de Ronde: What’s your most memorable moment on stage?
Curly Fernandez: I performed a one man show at La Mama many years ago. It was called The Delusionist. Famous speeches from history retold. My wife directed it, my newborn daughter crawled around the space whilst we rehearsed and teched. My sound designer was my babysitter and my SM was our best friend. It was a real family project. My mother in law came one night and led a standing ovation. It wasn’t so much for my performance but for our family. She was very proud of what Lauren and myself had done, made a life in art with our family.

What’s your biggest turn on?
Great physiques. Great coffee. Great underwear. Yes in that order.

What’s the biggest challenge for you when devising theatre?
For me personally it’s feeling ok with suggesting ideas or things that pop into your imagination that have no logical base and then seeing them fail and not being ashamed of it but honouring the idea or vision, as sometimes something exquisite arises from it.

What drew you to this project?
Michael Dean had seen me over summer and was keen to work with me, and had spoke with a friend of mine. Everyone talked highly of his devised work. Importantly in the audition it was that himself and myself were able to talk quite freely and honestly.That was the key. We also share similar heritage.

Your character, based on Persephone, is an outsider. How do you relate to this?
I’m black.

Bodelle de Ronde and Curly Fernandez are appearing in Orpheus.
Dates: 18 – 27 August, 2016
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: Forbidden (Blood Moon Theatre)

bloodmoonVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Jul 6 – 23, 2016
Playwright: Visakesa Chandrasekaram
Director: Neil Khare
Cast: Dimitri Armatas, Neil Khare, Belinda Maree

Theatre review
Terrorism ranks atop our most pressing issues of the day, and we argue endlessly to find explanations and remedies for the actions of enemies that we seem never to be able to find an understanding of. Visakesa Chandrasekaram’s Forbidden is the story of one Sri Lankan woman’s personal struggle as we find her on a journey towards oblivion with a militant Tamil separatist organisation.

Chandrasekaram’s script is romantic, colourful and emotional, offering unique insight into a mystifying world. It does not make excuses for the abomination that takes place, but seeks to expand our understanding of a hidden microcosm. Where things are forbidden, there are secrets. The play may not be biographical or even factual, but it inspires a wider conception of an otherness, dissolving a threatening enigma to reach an understanding of what is always and essentially a shared humanity.

The production is a simple one, and too basic in approach for a highly imaginative text that features a non-chronological timeline and supernatural influences. Acting style tends to be overly dramatic for the very intimate space, but strong commitment by the cast helps us find meaning in the story. Each actor is clearly invested in their respective roles, but chemistry is lacking, which can make relationships confusing and events incoherent. The show needs more time to mature, in order that greater depth can be discovered in all areas and for its message to sing with better clarity.

Urmila’s reasons for adopting drastic measures are as personal as they are political. We forget the individual experiences of soldiers from all sides, choosing to conflate every disaster of war into the purely ideological. In Forbidden, the suicide bomber is given a name and her identity is exempt from simplification. To know even one sacrificed life is a powerful antithesis to the faceless apathy that we have come to accept as daily normalcy. No single work of art will solve the problems of the world, but an opportunity to broaden minds exists in every creation, and every bit of wisdom gained is an existence grown stronger.

Review: The Viagra Monologues (Off The Avenue Productions)

offtheavenueVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Jun 16 – Jul 2, 2016
Playwright: Geraldine Brophy
Director: Samuel Allen
Cast: Tom Matthews, John Molyneux, Meynard Penalosa

Theatre review
Three male actors present a series of small episodes offering perspectives on life and humanity, through experiences of male sexuality. Like its very famous feminine predecessor, characters in The Viagra Monologues centre their stories on their genitalia. The pharmaceutical referenced in the title does not make frequent appearances, but its presence is a conspicuous metaphor figuring alongside ideas of masculinity and emasculation, which form the play’s main focus. An erect penis alone does not maketh the man, and we explore what it is that today’s man needs in order to find strength and spirit for his existence. Geraldine Brophy’s script is appropriately diverse in scope, with an admirable objective of portraying vulnerability within its very wide range of personality types. Virtually everything we see in the theatrical landscape involves men, but it is not a regular occurrence to see them only at their most vulnerable, stripped of every macho pretence.

Director Samuel Allen does well to create on the stage, distinct scenes and people who appeal in differing ways. The use of space has a tendency to be too basic and repetitive (and lighting design leaves much to be desired), but Allen’s attention to detail in performances provides an effective realism to all the stories we hear. It is an accomplished cast, balanced and cohesive in their efforts but each with their own idiosyncrasies. Tom Matthews entertains with a flamboyant edge to each of his depictions, John Molyneux is charismatic especially when playing young children, and Meynard Penalosa is captivating in his portrayals of emotional intensity. There are inconsistencies in their ability to delve into the fragility of each sequence, but when successful, the monologues take on a powerful poignancy that speaks deeply about the way we are, and how we treat each other.

These are stories about men, but written by a woman. The best of feminism benefits all, and it is the acknowledgement of the destructive qualities of manhood in these stories that make them meaningful. We observe a series of male characters in varying stages of intimate vulnerability, each exposing themselves in a way that real life (outside of the theatre) disallows. The men are beautiful when they bare all under this spotlight, but these are moments of imagination that, although truthful, are rarely encountered face to face, even with the ones we love. We make our men resilient, powerful and hard, as a matter of course, without stopping to think about the sacrifices involved. They soldier on, with all their softer sides buried and suppressed, but dark monsters manifest when we fail to take care.

Review: Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead (Furies Theatre)

furiesVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), May 10 – 21, 2016
Playwright: Tom Stoppard
Director: Chris McKay
Cast: Amy Victoria Books, Emily Burke, Lauren Crew, Krystiann Dingas, Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou, Leofric Kingsford-Smith, Amanda Maple-Brown, Logan McArthur, David McLaughlin, Sarah Plummer
Image by Stephen Godfrey

Theatre review
There is a lot of truth in what Tom Stoppard has to say in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. His existential angst may not be shared by all, but his ruminations about the nature of life are as real as they are fascinating. Through a long narrative in which nothing much happens, ideas about time, memory and volition are explored at great depth, not necessarily to provide enlightenment, but for the sheer pleasure of intensive introspection. The genius of Stoppard’s writing is in the very words collated to express abstractions that exist in our minds, making matter out of ephemeral concepts by having dialogue occupy the space of theatre.

Direction by Chris McKay brings to the stage an articulate and thoughtful representation of the text’s meanings. Relying on little more than his actors’ bodies and voices (design is kept minimal, although costumes by Zjarie Paige-Butterworth are very accomplished), the poetic and philosophical qualities of the play are given resonance from beginning to end, reflecting a thorough appreciation of the material by its very able cast. Krystiann Dingas and Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, both passionate and expressive, help us distil one of the densest theatrical masterpieces, to achieve a level of immersion and comprehension that is admittedly rare in iterations of Stoppard’s work. Both actors are confident, dynamic and very likeable, which is a relief considering the two-and-a-half hour duration. Also remarkable is Amanda Maple-Brown as the Player. Flamboyant and exuberant, yet astutely nuanced, her work is resolutely entertaining, with a delightful and exhilarating presence that leaves a strong impression.

Every significant male character is performed by a female actor in this rendition of Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. How that decision affects our spectatorship is entirely subjective, but it does bring to focus the quality of parts and opportunities available to women in theatre. Plays have certainly emerged from feminist ideologies, but none have attained the reverence that titles such as this inspire in all our Western societies. To combat the persistence of the theatrical canon and the misogyny therein, gender reversal is a subversive device that serves a purpose greater than experimentation. Finding a way to exorcise patriarchy from all the old and usual suspects that refuse to go away is critical to the development of art in every civilisation. We may not be able to remove masculinity from Michelangelo’s Creation Of Adam, but we can disrupt the hegemony imposed upon us on every screen and stage.

5 Questions with Krystiann Dingas and Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou

Krystiann Dingas

Krystiann Dingas

Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou: What are the best and what are the most difficult aspects of Ros and Guil?
Krystiann Dingas: The best aspect has been challenging myself and reaching a point in the process that I never thought I’d reach. I’ve also loved delving into this play and discovering just how much is there – being immersed in it has made me truly appreciate the ingenuity of Stoppard’s work.

The most difficult aspect has been remembering all my lines. There have been so many times I’ve turned up to a rehearsal thinking I’ve got everything down and then soon realise that I have a bit to go before I’m off book.

What do you love about Ros?
His ambition to make something happen; he spends much of the play refusing to give up on the desire to make progress. His attempts may falter or bring him back to his starting point, but he tries, and that counts. I also find those little moments when Ros tries to make Guil happy very endearing. He considers his friend’s feelings and tries to cheer him up within circumstances that make it far too easy to remain fixated on his own thoughts and emotions.

What animal would you be and why?
I would be a fox so that I can roam the lands looking fabulous – they’re such majestic creatures.

If you could put anything on stage what would it be?
A H.P Lovecraft classic – he’s a master of horror and I’d love to bring one of his great works to life.

Why theatre?
Akin to Ros and Guil, I found myself caught-up in all the action and have had no impetus to leave. Oh, and I love performing to live audiences.

Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou

Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou

Krystiann Dingas: Why Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead?
Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou: It’s actually my favourite play and I was always devasted that I could never play Ros or Guil. When our director and good friend Chris McKay came to us with the idea we couldn’t say no. The gender reversal of this play is a very interesting way to talk about the marginalisation of females/female roles in plays.

What have you loved about the process?
Working with an amazing cast and crew to create a very tricky world. I have also really loved making discoveries in the play. Reading and saying something a million times and then it finally hits you in the face. It’s quite satisfying.

If you could meet Tom Stoppard what would you say to him?
Is this a test?

What’s the most challenging aspect of running a theatre company?
Keeping many things in your mind at once, maintaining order and creating on a non existent budget..these are also the best parts in a way.

If you could spend the day with one character from literature, who would it be and why?
Oh I can’t lie, it would be Harry Potter. I want to go to Hogwarts. There I said it!

Krystiann Dingas and Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou can be seen in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard.
Dates: 10 – 21 May, 2016
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: A Man Walks Into A Bar (Off The Avenue Productions)

offtheavenueVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Apr 21 – May 7, 2016
Playwright: David Geary
Director: Andrew Beban
Cast: Nina Marsh, Sam Newton, Chris Yaacoubian
Image by Angie Carmen Photography

Theatre review
Much can happen in the space of an hour, and when two people are telling quick quips about the time a man walked into a bar, 60 minutes can be filled with more than a few anecdotes. David Geary’s play is interested in people who go to bars, and the things that can happen in them. We observe life from one of its more mundane locations, trying to catch a reflection of what we look like in our day to day existences. Not every morsel is comedic, but they are all thoughtful fragments that we can relate to.

Nina Marsh and Chris Yaacoubian are individually strong performers who find good chemistry in a show to be remembered for its effervescence. Both have an enthusiastic approach to their material, keen to share jokes with an audience that they keep engrossed. Marsh impresses with a powerful singing voice that she features in several musical numbers, accompanied by Sam Newton whose guitar underscores beautifully the entire production. Yaacoubian is a solid and charming presence that gives the production a delightful sense of confidence. The show requires greater nuance, and more defined character variations in order that poignancy may be achieved, but it is a good effort that expresses interesting ideas.

A lot of what theatre wishes to do, is to find an understanding of the human condition, and to communicate at a level of universality. Art does not have to cater to the masses, but it should attempt to connect. The greatest component of live performance is its captive audience. It presents an opportunity to share experiences, which implies a requirement to first locate what it is that we hold in common. We many not all enjoy alcohol, and we may not all frequent watering holes, but it is human to crave the companionship offered by social spaces. When a stage is involved, we let the players take control, and they take on the responsibilities of friendship, if only for a short time. A Man Walks Into A Bar is effective when it strikes up intimate conversations that feel as though we are looking into someone’s soul, but less delightful when it trails off, getting caught up in its own moments of drunken stupor.

Review: The Naked Truth (Act IV Theatre)

activVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Apr 6 – 16, 2016
Playwright: Dave Simpson
Director: Ruth Fingret
Cast: Melanie Araya, Kaitlin de Lacy, Hayley Flowers, Jeannie Gee, Melinda Ryan, Wendy Winkler

Theatre review
A small group of women in Northern England sign up for a pole dancing class. They learn little about the art form, but end up with deep knowledge about themselves. Dave Simpson’s The Naked Truth is a classic British comedy, featuring colourful people, naughty jokes, ordinary adversities and a very feel good ending. The play is predictable in many ways, but its formula is tried and tested, and we cannot help but get drawn into its sentimentalities, and become emotionally invested into its various narratives of human drama. The bawdy jokes give an occasional edge that helps prevent it from becoming too sappy, with its humour cleverly positioned within the plot to create enjoyable mood fluctuations.

The cast of six is clearly dedicated and invigorated, but they struggle to find a naturalistic tone that the writing requires. Although the production is awkwardly stagy, admirable effort is put into its comedy. Kaitlin de Lacy and Melinda Ryan especially, hit many of their punchlines effectively, delivering big laughs and delighting us with their enthusiastic portrayals of larger than life women. Jeannie Gee as Sarah gives the show a sense of authenticity, with sensitive moments that are truly touching, and Melania Araya’s gravity-defying skills on the pole are simply staggering.

The women in The Naked Truth hold each other up, in spite of all their differences. They each make their individual life choices, and have encountered dissimilar obstacles, but with the strength of their sisterhood, are able to find ways to provide support for one another. It is a poignant story about how people can live in love and harmony, without having to conform and assimilate. It encourages each person to embrace their own uniqueness, and shows us how to appreciate others for their idiosyncrasies; a lesson which is probably the most important thing to learn in these days of fracture and pervasive segregation.

Review: Bully Boy (Blood Moon Theatre)

nightofplayVenue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Mar 10 – 26, 2016
Playwright: Sandi Toksvig
Director: Deborah Mulhall
Cast: Patrick Cullen, Jaymie Knight

Theatre review
Plays about the consequences of war appear frequently, because their message never seems to speak loudly enough to overwhelm what governments are able to have us believe. On any given day, it only takes a two-minute news report on any broadcast media to convince us of sending troops to fight in places we know virtually nothing about, for reasons that are contentious at best. Rich or poor, East or West, cultures everywhere engage in warfare as though a completely natural part of human nature. We send young people away, understanding the risks but convinced that the honour of the exercise makes it all worthwhile.

Sandi Toksvig’s Bully Boy reveals the damage inflicted on our soldiers, as well as the camaraderie built under circumstances of trauma and suffering. Its context might not be original, but this is a piece of writing that provides access to a deeper psychological understanding of the destruction being continuously dispensed. Toksvig’s characters are British, but they represent the humanity of military personnel everywhere, beyond exteriors of stoic infallibility.

Barely an adult, Private Eddie Clark is already surrounded by death. Played by Patrick Cullen, the character is authentic, complex and moving. Cullen’s powerful performance provides heart and soul to a production that relies on little more than its two actors to tell its story. Jaymie Knight looks to be half the age of his role, and takes time to make Major Oscar Hadley a convincing presence. The actor is stronger in scenes of intense emotion, but the challenge of truthfully depicting someone under decades of anguish is evident. Nevertheless, the couple is energetic and compelling, with director Deborah Mulhall keeping things lively and pacey. Mulhall’s clever use of space liberates the simple two-hander format, but emotions can be portrayed with greater specificity, and scene transitions could be managed with better flair for stronger plot and narrative effectiveness.

It is hard to imagine a world where we no longer deliver our young to the battlefield. Horrors are a fact of life, and we learn to co-exist, but one of the things that art can do, is to wake the sleeping dogs. Art prevents us from indulging in delusions and convenient misbeliefs, while others lay victimised by our ignorance. Bully Boy and other tales of tragedy may not be able to bring us world peace, but they are sometimes the only thing we can count on to remind us of truths that many want to keep buried. |