Review: A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing (Brevity Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 6 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Eimear McBride (adapted for the stage by Annie Ryan)
Director: Erin Taylor
Cast: Ella Prince
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Our destinies are written long before our flesh is are conceived. The unnamed girl in the story was born into an underprivileged Irish family, of a conservative Catholic town where ancient rules are upheld without question or suspicion. Women are allocated their place, but men occupy everything, including the female body. In Eimear McBride’s novel A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing, violations take the form of rape, physical but also mental, emotional and spiritual. The entirety of the girl’s adolescence is characterised by the abusive imposition of all surrounding characters, determined to prevent any sense of individual agency from developing. She is deemed an object, an empty vessel with which society can do whatever it wishes.

It is a problematic adaptation by Annie Ryan who retains the “stream of consciousness” form of McBride’s book. One actor is designated to play not only the girl, but also every significant personality of her microcosm. Conversations are brief and unanticipated, often leaving us confused about the identities of people being portrayed, although we might as well think of them all as one uniform perpetrator, considering the analogous way in which our protagonist is being defiled. Actor Ella Prince is unable to provide clarity in terms of detail from the difficult text, but her capacity for authenticity and focus are certainly impressive. It is an extremely powerful presence that she brings to the show, and the gravity of the play’s concerns are never compromised under Prince’s depictions. The traverse stage proves challenging, requiring half of the show to be performed with her back to the audience, which proves unsatisfactory for a production that relies so heavily on its star’s facial expressions.

There is however, very fine design work being accomplished here. Isabel Hudson’s sophisticated set makes for a morbid but dramatic evocation of ideas around burial and death. Lights by Veronique Bennett are surprisingly dynamic, whilst administering a relentless austerity that is crucial to the play’s very specific tone. Chilling sounds created by Clemmie Williams ensure that we never deviate from the mournful devastation being analysed.

The girl is defiant, aggressively so, but she holds no power. We watch as she is put through a progression of torment, wondering if a person like this could ever grow into something whole. In places where freedom exists, we can imagine individuals flourishing, beyond the bounds of inevitable social restrictions. We want to believe that each human bears potential that is unique and good, and opportunities are available where against all odds, people can create the best out of their embryonic selves. This may or may not be true, but where there is no freedom, the only certainty is the unremitted spawning of deformed lives.

www.brevitytheatre.com.au

Review: Crocodile Tears (Brevity Theatre)

brevityVenue: Tatler Sydney (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 21 & 28, 2016
Playwright: Olivia O’Flynn
Director: Alexander Butt
Cast: Olivia O’Flynn

Theatre review
Tilly Devine was a legendary personality of the Sydney underworld. Violent and ruthless, the Darlinghurst madam is brought back to life in Olivia O’Flynn’s short play Crocodile Tears, which cashes in on the glamorous mystique of clandestine criminality. It is an archetypal bad girl story that appeals to our curiosity and thirst for sordid details on things we never dare experience first-hand. Although severely condensed, the play is a powerful representation of Devine’s heyday that offers glimpses into her notorious exploits, and the impulses behind them. For a monologue, O’Flynn makes the right decision to keep the work brief, but its drama prompts many questions that leave us wanting more.

O’Flynn’s own vibrant interpretation of the role builds a strong and satisfying narrative, but there is a significant distance between the actor’s youthful qualities and Devine’s much darker, seedy existence that never really gets breached. We hear amazing tales that inspire wild imaginary visions, but the activity we actually see on stage is subdued by comparison. Nevertheless, the production is an entertaining one that delivers energy and amusement in abundance.

Only a narrow scope of historical figures is ever remembered. Myths are perpetuated to serve dominant ideologies, and subversive types are conveniently forgotten. Modern Australia is built, uniquely, on the backs of many indecorous women and men, and much as we try to wipe away our ignoble past, its presence can never be denied. Tilly Devine may have left us a long time ago, and the memory of her legacy continues to fade away, but human nature will continue its replication of experience, warts and all, generation after generation.

www.brevitytheatre.com.au

Review: Space Cats (Brevity Theatre)

Venue: The Old 505 Theatre (Newtown NSW), Mar 1 – 12, 2016
Playwright: Samantha Young
Composer & Musical Director: Matthew Predny
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Jonny Hawkins, Graeme McRae, Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, Eliza Reilly, Samantha Young
Images by Andre Vasquez

Theatre review

It takes a considerable amount of egomania for people to reach the highest positions of government, and in Space Cats, the same is true for alien cats in outer space. Queen Cat is a fascist leader with enormous arrogance, and the ignorance to match, on a rampage to destroy all that she deems to be inferior or objectionable. Her planet is now close to complete eradication, and we wonder if her thirst for annihilation will ever find satiety. This is of course, not at all a serious musical, even if the felines do pontificate on immigration, homelessness and sexual discrimination. In fact, the show does its best to create a ridiculous havoc for an audience that it wishes to amuse in the most outrageous ways possible. The darkness at its heart only makes the experience edgier, and is the element that remains after waves of manic laughter have subsided.

Samantha Young does not play the Queen, but is the indisputable triple-threat boss of the production, responsible not only for its writing and direction, but also for playing the key role of Bin Cat. Young’s script is wildly imaginative and relentlessly humorous, and while it may lack complexity, Space Cats contains sufficient poignancy to prevent its persistent hilarity from becoming banal. Direction of the work will be remembered for its incredible exuberant spirit, with Young’s boundless sense of playfulness littered through every moment. The degree at which her show is determined to entertain is almost merciless. Young also happens to be the strongest singer in the production, and along with Eliza Reilly, the funniest performers in the cast. Reilly plays the aforementioned Queen Cat with splendid flair and a fierce wit, leaving an excellent impression with her enthusiasm for extremely bawdy comedy.

Equally accomplished is Matthew Predny’s work as composer and musical director, simultaneously mocking and embracing the Broadway musical genre for a refreshingly joyful take on something that is often too conceited and cheesy. Set and lighting designer Benjamin Brockman transports us to a parallel universe where every molecule of air seems to be impregnated with glitter, and an involuntary shimmer emanates from each object and being. The team appears to be in competition for turning up the camp, and there is no clear winner with every aspect of production pushing at the limits of all things gay, gaudy and gasp-inducing. Pearls are certainly recommended for spontaneous clutching at Space Cats, no matter what gender, creed or species.

www.brevitytheatre.com.au

Review: Tender Napalm (Brevity Theatre)

brevityVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 19 – 30, 2016
Playwright: Phillip Ridley
Director: Alexander Butt
Cast: Jordan Cowan, Tim Franklin
Image by Andre Vasquez

Theatre review
People who work in theatre know how to tell stories. Whether simple truths or tall tales, their creativity determines how a narrative takes shape. In Phillip Ridley’s Tender Napalm, a pair of lovers recite passages of extravagant fantasy, making sense of their relationship by constructing worlds far from reality, but ones that reveal the struggles they experience. Ridley provides his characters with outlandish words, but little happens in terms of plot. We catch meaningful glimpses of the relationship’s tensions, and fleeting poignancies that allow us to make sense, but the writing is fanciful and deliberately embellished, feeling as though it is more suited for the page than it does on the stage.

The work is demanding of its audience’s imagination. Both actors are presented in the plainest way possible, on a bare stage with ample room to conjure up the wild scenarios of the text. Katelyn Shaw’s sound design and Ben Brockman’s lights help significantly in manipulating ambience and energy, but the effectiveness of the show relies squarely on performances by the young duo of Jordan Cowan and Tim Franklin, both of whom tackle the script with gusto and impressive determination. Cowan has a vibrant theatricality that holds our attention effortlessly, with an endearing warmth in the personalities she inhabits. Equally charming but with a more laid-back approach is Franklin, whose natural sense of humour is omnipresent and delightful.

The performers give their all for a dynamic and engaging performance, but there is a surprising and strange emptiness to be discovered after the curtain call. No matter how accomplished, any hit show will have its detractors, and no matter how obtuse, a presentation can still find an appreciative audience. What makes a theatrical piece connect with its audience can be analysed and deconstructed into a multitude of things, but there is nothing that can guarantee all to be satisfied. It is not the responsibility of artists to please everyone, in fact it is harmful to conceive of one’s career thus. There are many other greater values that can guide one’s art, and as long as those are vested and present, the creation is valid.

www.oldfitztheatre.com | www.brevitytheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Jordan Cowan and Tim Franklin

Jordan Cowan

Jordan Cowan

Tim Franklin: What about Tender Napalm drew you in?
Jordan Cowan:The way in which Phillip uses language is so powerful and beautiful. There is something about the way he uses heightened language in such a domestic way that took me by surprise. It’s really fucking honest and intimate and doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff and I really dig that.

How do you find the Sydney theatre scene compared to your home town Radelaide?
I love the Sydney theatre scene, it is a lot more diverse and there seems to be a lot more companies just doing what they do best and finding an audience for that. I love Adelaide don’t get me wrong but there simply isn’t as many people so it’s hard for indie companies to get off the ground.

How are you feeling about performing in such an intimate space like the Old Fitz?
I love the Fitz, there is something so magical about the space it is simple and honest and won’t hold anything but the truth and I love that. It’s the perfect space for the show and I’m excited to just be able to talk to people and tell this beautiful story. That’s what theatre is all about right?

What is your favourite line in the play?
Ahhh there are so many but I think, “My cry of grief was so loud it created a black hole in the universe” is pretty beautiful.

What was it like working with the amazing Tim Franklin?
I would like to say how much of a loser he is BUT he is one of the most generous actors I have ever worked with and I couldn’t imagine doing the show with anyone else. He is as honest as they get. Oh, and a total goob.

Tim Franklin

Tim Franklin

Jordan Cowan: What do you love most about Tender Napalm?
Tim Franklin: At the moment I’m having a serious love affair with the poetic nature of Phillip Ridley’s writing. The play has such a dark subtext but the chinks of light that break through are blindingly beautiful.

What has been the most challenging part of the rehearsal process?
I hate to say it but it’s the answer to the age old, “how did you learn all those lines?” I usually say something like “its how you do anything, you do it again and again until you get it” but fuck me there are a lot of lines! My brain is leaking.

What do you think the audiences will love about the show?
I think the audiences will love the fantastical imaginary world that we will create in this extremely intimate space. Hopefully they will like the way we say the words and how our face moves too.

What is your favourite line in the play?
That’s a hostile question. I can’t choose, I wont choose, I refuse to choose. So I’m going to pick three.

“Oh her eyes! Its like gazing into a universe, I see stars and dinosaurs and whales and skeletons and spaceships.” Yummy

“I remember… at one point, as we were struggling with him on the bed, dad’s eyes sort of locked with mine and it was like… like gazing into a million years of stuff.” Ahhhh that one makes my heart hurt.

And last but not least

“your cunt…. Its such a precocious thing”

….yep

Three words that best describe the show?
Fantastical. Poetic. Tragic.

Jordan Cowan and Tim Franklin can be seen in Tender Napalm by Phillip Ridley.
Dates: 19 – 30 January, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

5 Questions with Gabrielle Scawthorn and Aaron Glenane

Gabrielle Scawthorn

Gabrielle Scawthorn

Aaron Glenane: In Fourplay, Tom describes Alice as strong, driven, unpretentious and classic. What are 5 qualities that sum you up?
Gabrielle Scawthorn: It is hard to strike an appropriate balance of confidence and self deprecation when answering this. You inevitably sound like a Debbie Downer or a Bell End so I turned to my nearest and dearest and asked for one each from them. They say the following;
Hugo (partner): Vivacious
Rob (brother): Assertive
Stephen (Papa): Determined
Teghan (best friend): Filthy
Qiao (my local dumpling supplier): Loyal

Alice is most excited to tell Tom about a breakthrough she has at work. What is the most exciting news you’ve ever told someone?
When I was 17, mid completing my year 12 exams, I got selected for a TV show on Channel V. The camera crews came to my house to break the news of my acceptance, the same night I wasn’t allowed to go to a school dance because I had to cram for a history exam the following Monday. After I got the news I ceased all study and went to the school dance to inform my history teacher I would not be doing the exam on Monday because I was moving to Sydney the next day to party and interview rockstars. She took it very well but asked me to stop drinking at school dances.

You’re very proud of your amazing red hair. Who is your most inspirational red head?
William Wallace.

You’ve mentioned having a few A-list encounters. What is your favourite “star struck” story?
Thank you for this leading question Aaron. (I think Aaron has heard this story roughly 4.5 times). There’s no easy way to say this. I straddled Dame Helen Mirren. I was seeing a show on Broadway and on the way to my seat I was straddling everyone so they didn’t have to get up and mid straddle on one particular lap I looked up and Helen Mirren was between my legs! My seat was right next to hers! I brokered a conversation by saying “I’m so sorry to bother you but seeing as I have already straddled you”, the dame was on game and replied, “Yes, we’re already friends aren’t we?”. Then we watched the show together in perfect harmony.

Alice is on a search for true love and connection. What is your definition of love?
Love is when you meet someone that you can take off all the shit we have to wear publicly to get through a day, all the bravado, all the expectation of what we’re “meant to be” and instead you just be and really get to know someone and once disclosing your true self that other person accepts and reciprocates your offering of absolute authenticity and looks forward to waking up to you. That to me is love… and payment upfront.

Aaron Glenane

Aaron Glenane

In Fourplay, Alice says, that you can tell a lot about a person from where they live. Aaron list three things that are currently in your living space that sum you up.
The plant on my bedside table because I need a bit of nature nearby. There’s a poster of James Dean on my wall saying “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.” The photo frame of my family back home in Victoria.

List three things that are currently in your living space that sum you up perfectly but you wouldn’t necessarily want people to know about.
I have a pair of Where’s Wally underwear. In my DVD collection I own The Notebook…which I bought! I have a “groin guard” which I use at Krav Maga training. But, to the untrained eye it could be misconstrued as something else entirely.

You have often put yourself in a similar acting calibre as Daniel Day Lewis, when off of the screen he is a shoe cobbler. What obscure profession could you see yourself in?
Hahaha I wouldn’t dare say I was in the same league! I’d lose my mind if I was in the same film as him. He’s a master. My first job was being the waterboy for the local basketball team in Ballarat. Maybe the Cleveland Cavs have a vacant position alongside Matthew Dellavedova.

You question Alice’s smoking. What’s your worst habit/vice?
My worst habit is “wishful thinking with the ticket inspectors” and “wishful thinking with how much petrol I’ve got left in the tank.” They kind of speak for themselves don’t they.

Alice asks if you have ever cracked a joke? Aaron what’s your best joke?
An actress, a costumer and a stage manager found an old bottle in a pile of junk backstage. The actress rubbed it against her sleeve, and poof! A genie appeared.
“You got me fair and square,” the genie said. “So you each get one wish.”
“I want a world tour in a starring role,” the actress declared.
“Granted,” said the genie, and poof! The actress was off on her tour.
“I want a yacht and unlimited funds to cruise the exotic ports of the world,” wished the costumer.
“Granted,” said the genie, and poof! The costumer was off on his cruise.
The stage manager rubbed his chin, thought for a minute and said, “I want them back after lunch.”

Gabrielle Scawthorn and Aaron Glenane are the stars of Ride & Fourplay by Jane Bodie.
Dates: 4 September – 4 October, 2015
Venue: Eternity Playhouse

Review: Space Cats (Brevity Theatre)

brevityVenue: Bondi Pavilion (Bondi NSW), Feb 25 – Mar 7, 2015
Book: Samantha Young
Lyrics: Samantha Young
Music: Matthew Predny, Emele Ugavule
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Olivia Charalambous, Skyler Ellis​, Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, Aaron Tsindos, Samantha Young

Theatre review
Laika the dog, left Russia in a spacecraft and finds himself on a planet where the Queen Cat reigns supreme. She is on a mission to rid her world of everything undesirable, and has slaughtered everyone, except for her minions, Bruno and Mars, and one final offender, Bin Cat, who sits in prison waiting to be executed. Clearly the Queen has no tolerance for any sort of behaviour that may contradict her own, and it is the themes of compassion and understanding that provide this mini-musical its impetus, along with temperate but well-meaning ideas about governance and social diversity.

Samantha Young’s work as writer and director is subversive, but her tone is relentlessly light and joyous. The show is a euphoric application of the musical genre, using its shallow and frivolous propensities to excellent comic effect. Original songs with lyrics by Young and music by Matthew Predny and Emele Ugavule are inventive, always with a cheeky attitude, but they are not uniformly strong. It is understood that this one night presentation is a preview of sorts, with a more refined “end product” to eventuate in the near future. There certainly is a great deal of potential and promise in this outrageously quirky germination of a production that seems to have many effective elements in place, awaiting further development and polish.

The cast of five is a compelling ensemble, with excellent chemistry and a cohesive humour that projects a confidence generously outweighing the prematurity of their material. Aaron Tsindos’s camp sensibility is a highlight at many points, delivering waves of laughter with a Kenneth “Carry On” Williams style of flamboyance in his role of Bruno. Playing Laika is Skyler Ellis who tunes his portrayal of earnestness from sincere to corny with intuitive accuracy, and whose singing voice impresses quite effortlessly. All performances are delightful, with a clever blend of energy and irony for a tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes raunchy, approach that many would find irresistibly amusing. Space Cats is about love, with passion emanating from every one of its facets, and although the production is missing finesse at many points on this particular occasion, we leave the auditorium convinced that love can actually conquer all.

www.brevitytheatre.com.au