Review: Håmlet – A New Australian Play (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 24 – 25, 2018
Playwright: Antoinette Barboutis
Director: Victor Kalka
Cast: Antoinette Barboutis, Matt Castley, Philip D’Ambrosio, Amanda Maple-Brown, Linda Nicholls-Gidley, Gemma Scoble, Alexandra Stamell, Alana Stewart

Theatre review
Shakespeare can be considered the foundation of how we do theatre in the West, and is hence the master we study and seek to emulate. He, of course, is not the only male of our species who has shaped and dominated an art form, that had for many centuries disallowed participation by women. Even today, there remains only one female working as Artistic Director at a Sydney main stage theatre company.

Antoinette Barboutis’ Håmlet – A New Australian Play is a radical exercise of deconstruction, of Shakespeare and therefore of the very notion of how we do theatre, under deeply entrenched patriarchal structures. In tandem are personal expressions about the aftermath of sexual assaults. Ophelia is killed off by Shakespeare, but Barboutis endeavours to work her way out of the wilderness. Both projects, to dismantle theatre and to recover from rape, are fraught and highly complicated, resulting in a show that feels unequivocally avant garde.

The play is concerned with identifying and rejecting existing mechanisms, in hope of locating something progressive. The artist succeeds gloriously in tearing apart what might be considered “the establishment”, but it is uncertain what is installed in its place. It is likely that the newness of what is achieved, escapes labelling, but it is undeniable, that what we find accompanying the strangeness of the experience, is an alarming quotient of pain and sorrow.

It is a work of comedy, extremely caustic in tone, and subversive to the core. Director Victor Kalka brings to fruition Barboutis’ ideas, whilst crucially retaining a pervasive rawness that beautifully represents the spirit of Håmlet. The show is at its best when it is at its least polished; unnerving and confusing, it disturbs us in the moment, and leaves us frazzled after, quite possibly in a masochistically satisfying way. Not all will be able to piece together every bizarre fragment, but its control over our visceral responses is clearly very powerful.

Barboutis is a formidable presence, edgy, with a quiet aggression that translates irresistibly on stage. Her wanton disregard of the fourth wall requires that her audience is self-aware, and therefore reflective, of how we are implicated in its ideas. She is determined to not let any of us sit back and get away with creating distance between her world and ours. Linda Nicholls-Gidley and Amanda Maple-Brown are more conventional in performance style, both delivering memorable scenes in their embrace of a wild vision. Four other players, all in black and interjecting at opportune occasions, function as a modern chorus of sorts, bringing energy to the stage when the air of depression becomes unbearable.

Håmlet – A New Australian Play is extraordinary, in what it wants to say, and how it wants to say it. Its artistic integrity is unparalleled, and the way it sticks to its guns, moves us in ways that are unpredictable, and confounding. Some are likely to find it a difficult work to enjoy, or chastise it for being insufficiently entertaining, but the uniqueness of its approach, and the staunchness of its convictions, feel singularly rare and profoundly valuable. We need to react against a way of life that seems determined to keep us parochial, narrow-minded and fearful. Art of this calibre is the inspiration that can help set us free.

www.bondifeast.com.au

Review: Away (Bondi Pavilion Theatre)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Jul 4 – 7, 2018
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Nicholas Christo
Cast: Beth Daly, Meg Clarke, Norah George, Veronica Lang, Berynn Schwerdt, David Simes, Will Usic, Elliott Weston, James Wright
Images by Lynn Quiroz

Theatre review
Tom and his family are new immigrants to 1960’s Australia. Unlike many of their aspirational neighbours, they are content with a new residence offering a sense of freedom and egalitarianism, after having worked hard to escape the stifling mores of England. Michael Gow’s Away may not be set in 1788, but it is in some ways a story about white settlement, as we watch three white families trying to make sense of their place on this strange colonised land. They never feel completely at home, and the play urges that we attempt to find ways to explain their unrelenting anxieties and throbbing disquiet.

It is a kind of rootless existence that we witness in Away, about those who have only short histories as inhabitants of this young nation. The play opens and closes with quotations from the works of Shakespeare, as though inspiration can only be derived from old Europe; that inability and aversion to connecting with the authentic here and now, is more than a little revealing. The production however, uses A Midsummer Night’s Dream well, with the presence of Puck and other fairies underscoring much of the action, in costumes by Emma Clark that are very delightful indeed.

Director Nicholas Christo does well to introduce a dimension of ethereality whenever possible, for a magical quality that brings additional drama to the production. Not all actors are obviously suited to their roles, but it is an adequate cast that presents the show, with David Simes proving to be most endearing as both Tom and Puck. The performer is sprightly, with a charming earnestness that accompanies an admirable level of dedication he displays for the stage.

Not every work of art can stand the test of time, but there is no stopping us from new interpretations when we find them starting to wither. There is little joy in reading the same texts, in the same way, year in year out. With every revisit, tiny shifts in our culture allow us to see old things in new light. That which had been written might be characterised by a certain immovability, but the eyes that read them, can never defy the ravages of time.

http://www.waverley.nsw.gov.au/recreation/places_of_interest/bondi_pavilion

5 Questions with Antoinette Barboutis and Philip D’Ambrosio

Antoinette Barboutis

Philip D’Ambrosio: Why does this show matter in the current theatrical landscape in Sydney?
Antoinette Barboutis: There’s a paradox at play. It has very little relevance because of its context in the Sydney theatre scene. It’s either totally relevant, or complete trash. We are destabilising literary text and moving towards performance text- even a nexus of the performative and the narrative. I don’t want to fall under the pseudo avant-garde of post dramatic theatre. So, I’ve coined a new theatrical term “post ironic”.

It matters and it doesn’t matter on a personal level. I’ve seen productions this year that have given me cause to question the status quo- eg. scenographic replicas of Ivo Van Hove’s The Damned, glass-ceilings designed by men in Top Girls. Sadly, that leaves little room for mainstage reinvigorations. In saying that, we’ve used the worst-cliché Trojan Horses- Hamlet.

Does ‘New Australian Work’ get enough backing from the industry?
I don’t know Phil, I can’t answer this one. I’m new to this. I think there’s a lot of funding in it. ATYP, STC, PWA all seem to support new writing? I enjoy “Rough Drafts” a lot. But when the result in the Helpmann nominations (prophetic, I know) is “Hamlet”, albeit operatic, as Best New Australian Work- who knows?

With the use of drama school students in this production, who are so young in their development, were you worried their work wouldn’t stand up to the standard of theatre in Sydney?
Absolutely not! I believe so much more in the individual, than I do the actor. Textually, there’s a hierarchical structural at play, and completely contradicting this is the non-hierarchical structure used as a methodology in the acting. I’ve used the Brechtian technique of exploiting humanism, this anthropocentric approach is really to my taste! I’ve taken a lot of it trust in the process from watching hours of Tim Heidecker/Super Deluxe/Brown Cardigan. People as they are, are great.

How do you think audiences receive this production?
I aim to leave an audience free to produce their own interpretation. The audience should be able to question the material and I really encourage them to think their own solution. That’s the exchange I crave as an emerging auteur. In an early public reading, it polarised the audience- I see that as a sign of success. They will also have to think to determine the irruptions of truth vs fiction.

What is coming up next for Antoinette Barboutis?
I have nothing. I applied for a Greek tragedy, with a White-Anglo-Celtic director who called for “diverse” actors. I applied with noting I held an Athens residency card and a Greek passport. I did not receive a response. I didn’t get cast amongst all the other millennial 2017 Sydney Theatre Award nominated alumni for The Wolves– I didn’t even get an audition. It’s more telling of me, a Holocene I wasn’t maybe meant for- I want to be an actor.

Philip D’ambrosio

Antoinette Barboutis: Is it exploitative to expose the individual on stage?
Philip D’ambrosio: Ironically, you might be taking advantage of my status as an acting student here (even by asking me this very question) and using it as a device in the production to speak to the discourse you establish. I am the scapegoat of the production. But with permission and consent, the very essence of being on stage is to uncover what makes us humans, how we see the world and to be a vessel for storytelling. I have very little stage experience and I am so thrilled to engage with anti-didactic work at this level, that I can only bring myself- no ego. Would you say it is the acting students that become the anchor to moral reason and ethics? I sure as hell want to work in this industry but at what cost… we need to maintain our self-respect and give consent and know that we can set boundaries ourselves and not be governed by hierarchy.

Has this text given you strength to challenge the vicious cycles of abuse that occur in theatre?
The script is irreverent, unapologetic and completely bizarre – very much like me! I feel a strong connection with this style of post-dramatic theatre. I think that you have used this text to rupture the discourse surrounding abuse in this industry, mental health and female oppression. Cheers to that! I hope that it comes across as fearless and brave, as all theatre should be. We all need to find strength somehow. As a young gay male in this landscape, mental health is important so I want to back work like this. We all are struggling with our mental health, or self-worth. I am constantly plagued with doubt and to have someone to look up to when I was younger would have been nice. The industry is a difficult arena to navigate through and it needs to become softer and gentle so that artists can thrive and not self-combust. I think that the text has given me the power to remember, as fresh and naive as I might be, that I have a voice and I can be heard. With more in your face work like this, young emerging artists like us can help pave a new way so people of all walks of life can tell their stories and feel safe to do so.

When Hamlet drops his “dirty” stockings and exposes his genitals to Ophelia while she is domestically sewing, is this the timeless Shakespeare the theatre world embraces?
The world needs Shakespeare! We can’t ban it. (YES WE CAN) By using a Hamlet, you are in fact reinforcing its permanence and highlighting the power of the language to transcend time and place. Isn’t the the very reason you are using it in your play? It’s ironic. I get it. I think the work of Shakespeare allows us to see ourselves reflected and shaped through such great writing! It is clear that the resonance and beauty of his language gives us a poetic landscape to explore who we can be as humans. The scene in question, it can be see from different perspectives. All art is subjective, isn’t it? Well, let’s embrace the debate, let’s give our audience something to decide for themselves.

Is this show actually a comedy?
It’s pretty bloody funny from where I am sitting. I think it’s laced with all forms of irony and sarcasm. Do we need to label it? It’s post-dramatic theatre. The opening monologue will surely be a wtf moment. We will have to let the crowd let us know what it is by the end of it, because I’m just as confused as you are at this point. But isn’t that the point Antoinette? I’m a bit of a production myself, so if I trip on stage – it wasn’t on purpose.

Am I (Antoinette) actually a good actor?
I think that the level of professionalism we show each other in the rehearsal room makes a good actor for the most part; the openness and willingness to play, to be malleable and aware is key. Well, that’s what I’m learning at the Institution. You throw yourself completely into the work, which is to be admired. Your personality is unique and engaging, an important quality to have on stage, which a lot of trained actors can’t seem to bring to the table at times. However, I think the value we place on ‘good’ acting nowadays seems to take the focus away from storytelling. At the end of the day, we are a blank canvas and should aim to serve the story. If that is done successfully and audience is changed, we have done our job.

Antoinette Barboutis and Philip D’Ambrosio are in håmlet, part of Bondi Feast 2018.
Dates: 24 – 25 July, 2018
Venue: Bondi Pavilion

Review: Business Unfinished (Bondi Feast)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 27 – 29, 2017
Creator: Tom Christophersen
Director: James Dalton
Cast: Tom Christophersen, Tim Kemp
Image by Philip Erbacher

Theatre review
Tom Christophersen has a fascination for the paranormal, and in Business Unfinished, we gather around him as though around a campfire, listening to ghost stories that he has amassed. A collector of metaphysical tales, the idiosyncratic obsession that Christophersen presents, is something we relate to, for what he does in the show, is to question a reality of which everyone is implicated.

Believable or not, depending on each of our own constitutions, episodes in Business Unfinished are an inviting exploration into the nature of time and space, as well as an examination of the human tendency to create relationships with the supernatural, religious or otherwise. It then extends into the idea of sanity, and that sense of coherence necessary for the world to exist as an understandable, rational whole. An acceptance of incoherence would suggest that phenomena is beyond all human control, and therefore devastating.

Christophersen’s work on soundtrack is outstanding; blending firsthand accounts with an imaginative selection of music and a broad assortment of effects and clips, what we hear is deeply evocative, and a thorough expression of the creator’s unbridled fascination for the subject. Sound design however, is underwhelming, with two basic speakers behind the stage unable to manufacture appropriate sensations that would trigger our more visceral responses. Christophersen performs a substantial portion of the show as a lip-sync act, mouthing to recordings of various personalities, with astonishing accuracy. Stage manager Patrick Howard’s precision in dispensing cues is noteworthy in this regard.

Lighting design by Alexander Berlage is charming and playful, offering a good level of visual excitement to the piece. The space is problematic, being right next door to a rowdy watering hole, and the production insufficiently compensates for noise, leaving atmosphere severely compromised, in a work that is all about things creepy and ominous. Nonetheless, it is unequivocal that what its innovative director James Dalton delivers, is a rich and artful theatre, one that is as interested in its subject matter as it is in the characteristics of theatre itself.

Live performances comprise both the concrete and the esoteric. We go to them in search of magic, trusting that although the flesh and matter we encounter are essentially ordinary, something beyond the mundane will be experienced. If ghosts can be created on stage, we can make them appear in other places, voluntarily or involuntarily. As with gods, we can only prove their non-existence, but their presence is resolutely persistent, and ultimately ineludible.

www.bondifeast.com.au

Review: Bluebeard (Lies, Lies And Propaganda)

Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 25 – 29, 2017
Original concept: Curly Fernandez
Director: Michael Dean
Cast: Curly Fernandez, Melissa Hume, Gideon Payten-Griffiths

Theatre review
In this version of an old folktale, Bluebeard is a 42 year-old man who goes prowling in clubs, on nights known to be popular with students. They story begins for us, when he meets a 19 year-old girl. They drink and flirt, and everything seems quite normal, until she decides to go home with Bluebeard. Things begin to turn strange, with the man becoming increasingly menacing, and us wondering how much terror the girl is bound to undergo.

The story is unequivocally dark, but the show is whimsical, relentlessly quirky with all of its modes of expression. Situated in a beachside changing room, the staging space is unnerving, with its refusal of letting us hold on to our usual expectations of theatre. We should always think that “anything can happen” with art, but conventions are hard to defy. Bluebeard removes us from the security of a darkened auditorium, and successfully changes how we relate to the nature of live performance.

Having freed itself from the ordinary, the production is able to expose its audience to a truly creative and experimental exploration of the art form. Engulfed by the sound of rumbling pipes and the chill of concrete walls, our senses are more alive, and we want to read meaning into everything, because it all seems to embody significance.

Director Michael Dean embraces the exotic, making magic out of the impossible, to create an environment that allows us to share in his wonderful vision of a scary encounter. The absence of lighting design is restrictive in terms of the provision of atmospheric shifts for this grotesque piece, but the close proximity of performers ensures that we are kept engaged. All three are fascinating creatures. Curly Fernandez, Melissa Hume and Gideon Payten-Griffiths are completely vulnerable, unprotected from our unforgiving scrutiny at close range, under the cruel glare of fluorescent tubes. In a play where words are only a small element, their every move speaks volumes and the text we are presented is unexpectedly rich.

The girl is caught in a waking nightmare, but Bluebeard does not ask us for an emotional response. Our sympathy is not required. We absorb and analyse, finding an understanding of that which unfolds, and then relating that present event to the real world outside. Women are often disempowered, that is true, but how we navigate being in that position, is where things get interesting.

www.liesliesandpropaganda.com

5 Questions with Kerith Manderson-Galvin and Tobias Manderson-Galvin

Kerith Manderson-Galvin

Tobias Manderson-Galvin: Kerith Manderson-Galvin, if that is your real name and by all accounts it is (and if anyone would know it’d be me because I’ve known you my whole life). Isn’t it true that you often impersonate yourself or me or Hollywood actor Jeff Goldblum when you give interviews?
Kerith Manderson-Galvin: Tobi, Tobi do you remember you got invited to read at some playwright’s event and you were overseas and you didn’t tell them you were overseas I don’t think and so I went and read as you. And then someone who I won’t name because maybe people won’t know the person but then that person always said I was a good actor. Which was so nice of them. Also I once performed in your place for another thing too.

That’s interesting that you bring up Jeff Goldblum because David Cronenberg once said to me, “No Kerith,” because I was and am an adept mimic, he said to me, “no Kerith, you’re doing it again.” And I said, “That’s right, do it the Kerith way, not the Jeff way.” And that’s just some of the fun we had.

Are you guys brothers?
We used to love that movie didn’t we but I think now I would hate it or be upset by it so I feel like it’s best we never watch it again.

Have you already lived this life and can you tell all of your fans an amusing story because if there’s one thing you’ve taught me it’s that people don’t really want to hear answer to a question?
I can’t think of anything amusing because you have put me under a lot of pressure Tobi, now I feel like it has to be the best and I can’t think of anything and can’t we do something else instead I really don’t want this to be the question and no I don’t need a glass of water. I’m just tired.

How old is the world and how much older will it be?
Age: 4.543 billion years
Mass: 5.972 × 10^24 kg
Distance from Sun: 149.6 million km
Population: 7.347 billion (2015) World Bank
Life expectancy: 71.46 years (2014) World Bank
Life Achievements: Best dancer on the Senior Single’s Cruise, 4 published Autobiographies, Runner on Law and Order Season 61, Episode 3.

So you have a show coming up is that right *slightly disaffected*?
I heard the exact same thing about you.

Tobias Manderson-Galvin

Kerith Manderson-Galvin: Yes Hello Tobi. Isn’t it true that you and I are twins, and that we are mirror twins, which is a superior form of twin?
Tobias Manderson-Galvin: This is a boldfaced lie, or misinformation, as I am two years your senior and in no way your twin.

Wait, I don’t understand. What do you mean we’re not twins? I’ve never heard any stories about you before I was born.
Yes there was the story of my first words: when I had seen some birds, then saw either more birds or the original birds for a second time and rightly or wrongly described them as “more birdy.” Also you’re conspicuously absent from the story of my first birthday (Hawaii), first steps (same day as birthday, in Hawaii), and the time that ASIO robbed our family home to steal photos of me (I was two weeks old, and you not born).

Did you ever wish that you had been an only child this is a very sad question I feel sick.
I have entertained the thought ‘what would it be like’, in the same way that I have wondered ‘what if I was dead’, or ‘imagine if we hadn’t done the one million things we’ve done that stop us from being presidents of Australia’ but have never wished it.

Tell me, how did the world begin?
That’s a secret I will only reveal in our show The Eternity Of The World (Parts Missing).

Thank you. Tell me, how did the world end?
Without incident or demonstration of any kind. Having refused the intervention of a priest, a last post to facebook, or even a final signing of an online petition, and having declared you had no revelations, or selfies to make – at first pale and trembling – you soon demonstrated an affected cynicism and exasperation, and in what can only be described as ‘a voice’ sang a few really Five Star Must See Highly Revoltingly obscene lyrics – an ironically failing to pronounce the word anarchy – then as all was put in place you gave out a last cry of “Long Live the Re…”.
Whether the cry was supposed to be Long Live the Republic or Long Live the Revolution we will never – ok it was Revolution. Complete calm reigned.

Kerith Manderson-Galvin and Tobias Manderson-Galvin are performing in The Eternity Of The World (Parts Missing), part of Bondi Feast 2017.
Dates: 21 – 22 July, 2017
Venue: Bondi Pavilion

5 Questions with Tom Christophersen and James Dalton

Tom Christophersen

James Dalton: What are the three most common mistakes people make when their house is haunted?
Tom Christophersen: I’m really glad you asked this. This is important stuff. When people encounter paranormal activity they usually do one of the following three, very dumb, things…

1) Deny everything, or worse, blame the strange chewing noises in the attic on the family cat. It’s never the cat. If paranormal reality television is anything to go by, ignoring creepy stuff is just going to bring about your quick and violent demise as the spirits/demons/energy in your house raise the stakes in order to prove its presence to you.

2) Burn the ouija board. Never burn the effin’ ouija board. It’s a portal. Spirits cannot return to the dimension they have been summoned from if you trash the portal. Think demonic ‘Sliders’. Put the board somewhere safe and priest-up. Get the heck blessed out of it and then have it removed and stored far, far away from your mortal soul.

3) Refuse to move. If your walls are bleeding ectoplasm, your children are possessed and your family pets are under spiritual attack, it’s probably best to leave. Immediately. Don’t even pack. Moving house can be financially demanding – but your life is more important than your credit history.

I’m about to die, how can I become a ghost?
Make sure you are really, really sad. Or better yet, furious as hell. It seems that people who die experiencing an extreme negative emotion are more like to imprint their energy onto a place/building/object. Similarly, murder victims often appear as ghosts, echoing clues or messages about their demise to the living. If you have unfinished business on earth, you’re likely to stick around.

You say your dad encountered spirits when you were a child. What lasting effect has this had on you?
At the time I thought it was completely normal. My parents divorced when I was about ten. I have distinct memories of Dad coming over to rental properties we (my mum, my sister and I) were thinking of putting in offers for to ‘check them out’ for ‘anything suss’ – ghosts. It was only when I was a teenager that I started to ask more questions about my dad’s experiences. For the record my father is the very picture of Agnostic-straight-white-Australian-masculinity which added to the mystery of these stories and encounters which became almost unspoken family lore as I grew up in Adelaide. It set up an idea in my head that the fantastic and the domestic could cohabit the same place.

What is queer about ghosts?
The American-based ‘Spiritual Science Research Foundation’ claims that 85% of gay men are possessed by female spirits (reverse that for lesbians). I’m not too sure that math checks out for me personally but it’s a pretty insane answer, right? Honestly though, I think there are ideas of otherness and outsiders that can be related to thinking around queer culture and ghosts. Both these things have been relegated to exist in the specific peripheries in our culture and so hold a certain taboo power. I guess both have the ability to scare people. They are both explainable but not with the scientific tools available to us at the present time. They both make complete sense in my mind.

Who would be a GILF?
So I’m going to assume that they are going to appear in their prime, right? If yes, then James Dean (total queen), River Phoenix… and Elvis because god dammit those eyes.

James Dalton

Tom Christophersen: Why is telling ghost stories in the theatre important?
James Dalton: Theatre is a ghost story. Our stages are haunted and we all huddle together in the dark like toffs at a Victorian séance, waiting to clap the dead away for the night.

Your work is often surreal. Why is surrealism important to you and how does Business Unfinished carry this notion of the fantastic?
Naturalism and realism say “this is how the world ought to be”, but surrealism croaks “this is how the world is”. Talk to children, talk to people up late and anxious, talk to someone in shock, talk to someone manic with joy: they all do, feel and see things that are bent from the norm. It’s unhealthy and worse to hide and deny such things, only telling people how there is a limited way we ought to be.

Business Unfinished is surreal in that you have brought these powerful images from the fringes of your waking life, introduced them to experiences from the fringes of other people’s lives, and share them in a mode that is both endearing and horrifying.

What five items would you insist be included in your personal ghost busting kit?
Audio recorder. Night-vision camera. My great-grandmother’s rosaries. Salt. Thriller on cassette.

What is your favourite scene from a foreign horror film and why?
The final video footage sequence at the end of J-horror classic Noroi: The Curse. It features people standing still in a way that feels wrong, and this is by far the most terrifying thing anyone can ever see.

Where do we go after we die?
We become the song that everyone remembers us dancing to.

James Dalton directs Business Unfinished, written and performed by Tom Christophersen. The show is a part of Bondi Feast 2017.
Dates: 27 – 29 July, 2017
Venue: Bondi Pavilion