Review: Fuente Ovejuna (Flight Path Theatre)

Venue: Flight Path Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Mar 25 – Apr 11, 2021
Playwright: Lope de Vega (adaptation by Angus Evans)
Director: Angus Evans
Cast: James Bean, Tristan Black, Julia Christensen, Steve Corner, Shayne de Groot, Dominique de Marco, Lucinda Howes, Suzann James, Martin Quinn, Davey Seagle, Idam Sondhi, Madeleine Withington
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Originally published early seventeenth century, Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna is based upon the true story of a bloody revolt that took place in 1476 Castile. After sustained mistreatment by authorities, residents of the town Fuente Obejuna banded together and decapitated their commander in a coup. When investigators took to torturing individuals, each victim would refuse to divulge information, and in solidarity answered only that “Fuenteovejuna did it.”

Adapted and directed by Angus Evans, this new version of Fuente Ovejuna takes the opportunity to express the discontentment of contemporary Australians with our own leaders. Evans’ approach demonstrates that themes of the play could easily be applied to any period of recent political memory, but of particular salience is the Prime Minister’s current inability to manage the upheaval brought upon by revelations of sexual assaults, committed by members of his own government. Their sustained and wilful insolence certainly does inspire fantasies of mutiny and murder.

Evans’ ideas are put forward passionately, if not always sufficiently coherent. It is a galvanised team under his guidance, with all aspects of the production demonstrating admirable levels of commitment and energy. Actor Steve Corner leaves a particularly strong impression in a variety of roles. A powerful and compelling presence, he introduces a delicious, and necessary, sense of heightened drama, especially when occupying centre stage. Lucinda Howes as Laurencia, fires up our emotions in a crucial scene that sees her stoke the flames of rebellion. The authenticity that Howes musters for that moment, is sheer theatrical joy. Tristan Black is charming and very funny as Mengo, and as puppeteer for the King. The performer’s comic timing is perfect, and a real highlight of the show.

Live music is provided by Edward Hampton and Liam Peat, both musicians attentive and inordinately sensitive, adding tremendously to our enjoyment of the staging. Lights by Jas Borsovsky are suitably ambitious, and clever in their seemingly intuitive manipulations of our emotional responses. Victor Kalka’s set and Lucy Ferris’ costumes evoke a time past, whilst maintaining relevance to the present, so that we understand the foreign places to be no different from here, and the historical personalities to be the same as us.

It is gruesome but undeniably joyful to witness the execution of a heinous autocrat. The truth however, is that our systems of power, can withstand the toppling of any one figure, no matter how eminent. We may feel empowered when daydreaming about Prime Ministers, movie moguls and press barons being cancelled or removed at will, but these positions undoubtedly will be swiftly replaced, by more of the same.

Fuente Ovejuna is a story about solidarity, and the power of the people. In places like Australia, the establishment only exists, because we the people, allow it to. The reason we authorise its powers, is that we believe them to be beneficial to our existence, but it seems that what we believe, is almost entirely controlled by those powers that be, in an ominous cycle of causality.

It is easy to acknowledge that parts of our minds can fathom a way of life devoid of corruption, that in our imagination, an idealistic utopia always seems just a hair’s breadth away. We want to think that as a united people, we can make decisions that are right, that those determined to be rapacious and unjust can be vanquished. In reality however, our way of life has long been predicated on inequity and greed. If our fundamental values require that there be losers as well as winners, then surely true unity will forever elude us. We may experience flashes of reckoning, in fact these moments of cultural awakening seem to occur increasingly frequently, but there is little proof that knowing what is right, is ever going to lead us to actually doing better.

www.flightpaththeatre.org

Review: Ditch (Dream Plane Productions)

Venue: Limelight on Oxford (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 3 – 13, 2019
Playwright: Beth Steel
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Laurence Coy, Angus Evans, Giles Gartrell-Mills, Fiona Press, Martin Quinn, Jasmin Simmons
Images by Becky Matthews

Theatre review
Beth Steel wrote about a very near future in her 2010 play Ditch, describing a nightmare scenario that seems to prophesy the currently ongoing Brexit ordeal, eventuating at the very worst possible place. We find ourselves in the middle of World War III, but this time, Great Britain is fighting as a fascist state, whilst its land is fast becoming submerged by rising sea levels. Steel’s work offers an alarming look at the world we are turning into. It shows us the horrors we are travelling towards, without dwelling on how we are getting ourselves there, leaving the audience to figure out the root of these problems, and making us go through a process of soul-searching, for an agonising reflective examination of the people that we are.

The play is heavy, but never alienating. A very strong cast turns what should be inconceivable, into an immediate and pressing tale full of frightening resonance. Fiona Press is a persuasive Mrs Peel, of an older generation (which makes her our contemporary) and has a lot to answer for. She keeps calm and carries on, trying to forge ahead as though blameless, or maybe more accurately, suppressing the guilty conscience that must plague her. The other elder of the group, Burns is played by a very nuanced Laurence Coy, able to distinctly represent both fragility and brutishness of the banal male archetype. Young Megan’s powerful presence is embodied by Jasmin Simmons, who impresses with her remarkably textured approach.

As the appropriately domineering and repulsive alpha soldier Turner, Giles Gartrel-Mills adds a subtle dimension of deception to the role, further enhancing the drama that he brings. Angus Evans is wonderfully authentic with the conviction, and precision, so discernible in his depiction of the traumatised Bug. New recruit James is effortlessly innocent, as performed by the incredibly earnest Martin Quinn.

Director Kim Hardwick’s insistence on her actors delivering accuracy and dynamism, proves to be very rewarding. The show’s crescendo grabs hold of us slowly and incrementally, as it builds to an explosive, and very satisfying, conclusion. The production is well designed on all fronts. Set and costumes by Victor Kalka, lights by Martin Kinnane, and sound by Stephanie Kelly, are all cleverly rendered for our easy suspension of disbelief, and for maximum tension. Ditch will not let us off the hook, in its tragedy about all our sins.

Completed pre-Brexit, about a post-Brexit world, Steel knew about the darkness that we were heading for, not because of some supernatural precognitive perception ability, but because our self-destruction is always written on the wall. Much as our catastrophes are unimaginable in scale, they were always foreseeable. Ditch does not wish expressly to be pessimistic, but the truth that it presents, would be challenging even for the most ardent of optimists. At this juncture of our evolution, or some might say devolution, the question seems to be moving away from “how do we survive this?” to something much more like “do we deserve to survive this?”

www.facebook.com/dreamplaneproductions

5 Questions with Fiona Press and Jasmin Simmons

Fiona Press

Jasmin Simmons: You recently appeared in a production of 1984, do you see any similarities between our world in Ditch and in Orwell’s?
Fiona Press: Yes! So many! Right down to tinned rations and Victory Gin – except in the Ditch world, we drink copious quantities of government-supplied whisky. And there’s no chocolate. Both worlds are governed by a fascistic totalitarian regime that controls the population by pitting the ’Security’ against ‘Civilian’ and turning both against the ‘Illegals’. The threat of amorphous foreign enemies rotates on a monthly basis (think Trump and North Korea) and there’s a touch of Margaret Atwood as well; women are controlled by having their reproductive rights totally denied.

Your character is somewhat of a mentor to mine, are there any women in our industry that have particularly inspired you?
Absolutely. First and most influential was the late Doreen Warburton, co-founder of the Q Theatre, which was my theatrical cradle. Doreen had been mentored by the legendary Joan Littlewood, and brought those same socialist and creative principles to bear in Penrith, which – at the time – had little cultural life. I spent three years attached to the Q, as a student, ASM, ran the box office, understudy (to Judy Davis, another enduring influence) – kind of an unofficial apprenticeship. Doreen was from Lancashire and was larger than life “with the bosom of a goddess and the carriage of an eagle” – PERFECT casting for Mrs Peel!

Do you share Mrs Peel’s green thumb?
Who doing indie theatre has time to garden?! I have a large messy block that’s basically a lizard and funnel web habitat at the moment. However, treat me nice and I might bake us a cake for tech week … my floury thumb is better than my green one.

My character, Megan, is just becoming politically aware, were you a politically aware teenager? Did you march and protest like Mrs Peel did when she was younger?
Oooh yeah – child of the 70s, me. That era defined my political convictions forever. With the Vietnam War on the news as we ate dinner every night, I can remember insisting to my primary school teacher that the topic of our first classroom debate should be ‘that conscription be abolished’. I was convinced my younger brothers would grow up to be drafted and die. I was ten. Then, as a twelve year old, I was the sole ‘It’s Time’ badge wearer at my ‘school for gels’ in 1972 when Gough swept to power and upon the Dismissal in 1975, swapped it for ‘Shame Fraser Shame’. My first overseas trip was in 1978 to the People’s Republic of China.

If you were transported to the world of Ditch in 2050, what are 3 things you would bring with you from 2019?
The small etymological dictionary that my grandfather gave me when I was eight. It still soothes me to open its yellow pages and skim the beauty of words and their origins, their connectedness. A folding hand fan to keep me from going spare in the humidity. And a crystal whisky glass – because if I’m going to drown in my sorrows while living in a ditch, I’m going to do it in style.

Jasmin Simmons

Fiona Press: So, Ditch was written by a young English woman ten years ago. What drew you, as a young Australian woman to this play right now?
Jasmin Simmons: First of all, the play is exceedingly relevant and remarkably fresh. Secondly, I was drawn to the team of inventive and assured women that I am fortunate enough to be working with.

How do the female characters deal within the hefty masculine world of Ditch?
Ditch is set in a post feminist world – the men of the play seem to be the most dominant. The women, however, are the great observers – and there is great power in that.

What’s the most useful skill you have brought to this production?
Multitasking!

‘Post apocalyptic, climate change, fascist dystopia’ sounds a tad depressing. Where’s the hope?
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the hope lies within the devastation – similar to a bushfire – destruction provokes regrowth, new life.

And are there laughs?
Believe it or not, yes! As well as much breakfast making, animal skinning and whisky drinking.

Fiona Press and Jasmin Simmons can be seen in Ditch by Beth Steel.
Dates: 3 – 13 Apr, 2019
Venue: Limelight On Oxford