Review: Talking To Terrorists (Emu Productions)

Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 23 – Jun 3, 2017
Playwright: Robin Soans
Director: Markus Weber
Cast: Mathew Costin, David D’Silva, Kira Fort, Zuzi Fort, Tiffany Joy, Alyson Standen, Kyle Stewart, Joseph JU Taylor, Markus Weber
Image by John Keenan

Theatre review
Robin Soans’ Talking To Terrorists premiered in England just 3 months before the London bombings of 2005. Disasters seemed to strike like never before, and we tried desperately to understand the rapidly changing world, post-9/11. The play investigates the psyche of those touched by horrific events, from perpetrators, to hostages and politicians. Composed largely of interviews with people who had experienced those states of trauma, this work of verbatim theatre opens up discussion about the most pertinent of subjects today. We examine the motivating factors behind these unimaginable atrocities, and in the process of seeing extremists as people, we gain knowledge that had been previously hidden. Humanising evil allows us to gain insight into what was once beyond comprehension.

A wide range of personalities take to the stage, but the production does not always make clear, the identities of all its characters. The confusion that arises does not help the show’s cause. The actors offer glimpses of poignancy, but can be impeded by their emphasis on creating cosmetic impressions, rather than always finding resonance through the very meanings of what they say. Actor Alyson Standen is the most consistent of the group, demonstrating conviction in all of her four roles, and through her enactment of emotional accuracy, we are able to access the truths in what her scenes attempt to communicate. There is no lack of passion in the cast, but their approach requires more detail, and greater nuance, so that we obtain something richer, a result that feels less surface.

As long as we regard terrorists as animals and monsters, we will never be able to convince them of our perspectives. If we can only think of them as absolute enemies, we will never be able to convert them to our way of life. When people are shut out, excluded and ostracised from our existence, then our security means nothing to them. Terrorists will continue to cause us harm, if they know nothing of us. In humanising the foe, we can both begin to see ourselves in the other, and so it is only in the talking that we can hope for a change.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Mathew Costin and Joseph JU Taylor

Mathew Costin

Joseph JU Taylor: How does knowing that these characters are real people and that their own words form the dialogue change how you approach the characters?
Mathew Costin: It has meant that you really have to find ways to make the overall story work through a much more limited range of behaviours – to find a balance between communicating the message of the play and living truthfully in their shoes

What has been the biggest challenge in rehearsal?
Making the characters dynamic and compelling.

Has the process of developing Talking To Terrorists changed your perception of what terrorism is?
Yes, in that no matter where these ‘terrorists’ come from, we could swap them around, change only the names of places and people – and the stories would still be believable.

Were you surprised at all by any sense of recognising aspects of yourself in characters that have a violent history?
The answer to this question is more about recognising that our ‘passive’ actions as a member of a society that supports unjust treatment of powerless people – makes us all terrorists. They don’t all have a gun or a bomb in their hand. Sadly, as Australian’s, we share a violent history already, even in this generation.

What do you hope an audience will come away from after watching this play?
I hope the audience has a desire to experiment in really engaging with the people they used to fear, judge or dismiss.

Joseph JU Taylor

Mathew Costin: How does knowing that these stories are real people and that their own words form the dialogue change how you approach the characters?
Joseph JU Taylor: You always try and find some personal truth in the lines of dialogue of any script but knowing that the characters in Talking To Terrorists are real people and that the playwright has constructed the story using the words of these people gives an additional layer of responsibility. It’s an enormous honour to be given the opportunity to breath life into the words of this play – it’s also a great challenge!

You’re playing five different roles, is there a specific character you are most drawn too?
That questions a little like asking a parent to choose their favourite child! No, it’s impossible to pick a favourite, I am just so pleased to give voice and body to them.

Has the process of developing Talking To Terrorists changed your perception of what terrorism is?
It certainly has. It is so easy to see things in black and white, especially against the onslaught of the 24 hour news cycle. We are given a very specific narrative for world events and one that still paints the sides as largely “good” versus “bad”. This play gives voice to those that have been led into the world of terrorism as well as those that are the victims. It also highlights the political nature of information manipulation. Talking To Terrorists was written over ten years ago but the stories resonate strongly in 2017.

Were you surprised at all by any sense of recognising aspects of yourself in characters that have a violent history?
Yes, and that is very much the point. There is a line in the play that encapsulates how much circumstance drives action: “The difference between a terrorist and the rest of us really isn’t that great”. Anyone has the potential to do terrible acts and it is a great folly to assume immunity to fault.

What do you hope an audience will come away from after watching this play?
I hope it will stimulate discussion, that the play will help people humanise all of those that are caught up in the impact of terror. The vast majority of people on any side of the arguments are victims. The biggest threats to cohesive existence is the refusal to discuss and listen. We need to talk to terrorists.

Mathew Costin and Joseph JU Taylor can be seen in Talking To Terrorists by Robin Soans.
Dates: 23 May – 3 June, 2017
Venue: King Street Theatre

Review: Is It Time (King Street Theatre)

emuprodVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 25 – Jun 5, 2016
Playwright: Martin Ashley Jones
Director: Barry Walsh
Cast: Lauren J. Jones, Denise Kitching, David Luke, Sarah Plummer, Ross Scott, Sylvia White
Image by Thomas Adams

Theatre review
Discussions about end-of-life decisions are invariably dynamic. Each of us has a stake in the topic, and our points of view tend to be fiercely adversarial, even though the matter is contentious precisely for its manifold ambiguities. Martin Ashley Jones’ Is It Time makes a courageous proposition about the way we should be allowed to be in control of our own deaths. It makes a pro-euthanasia argument, but avoids cliché with some of its more radical ideas that are rarely presented in public discourse. Jones’ story is confronting and controversial, with well-crafted characters and vibrant dialogue that will facilitate healthy debate on the subject. The script can be further finessed, especially in passages where diatribes become too obvious, but it is a passionate work that will encourage thoughtful and spirited interaction in its audience.

Direction by Barry Walsh brings excellent lucidity, in emotional and logical terms, to the play’s ideas. There is little doubt as to what Is It Time wishes to say, but the show can often lack nuance in its representations. The issue is a complex one, but we jump to its conclusions almost too easily. Walsh’s pace is admittedly enjoyable, but it also feels rushed at points, and important details become lost in the process. Performances are characterised by clarity and enthusiasm, and even though a greater sense of moral struggle would add drama to the piece, the production succeeds in engaging us by asking important, burning questions. Sylvia White and Ross Scott lead the cast with heartbreaking honesty and beautiful chemistry. Their control over poignant sections of the play is considerably stronger than in moments of comedy, and we do take time to warm up to their personalities, but they get us to an ending that is ultimately very satisfying.

Fighting over the right for a dignified death is problematic for many reasons, including the fact that many who argue against euthanasia have not encountered terminal illness at close proximity. For those who only see death as a distant and abstract concept, taking away a suffering individual’s final cardinal choice is a not a difficult task. Is It Time demonstrates that art has the unique capacity to provide space for the issue to be explored, in a way that is humane and sentimental, but simultaneously objective and pragmatic. There are few opportunities for us to come face to face with our mortality, but at the theatre, where it is secure and sacred, we can interrogate the inevitability to reach a deeper understanding of that sunset we will all see one fateful day.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Lauren J. Jones and Martin Ashley Jones

Lauren J. Jones

Lauren J. Jones

Martin Ashley Jones: What are the best and worst aspects of playing Rosie?
Lauren J. Jones: Rosie is quite confident and sassy at times and she also has a lot of love to give. I love the dynamic of her character. However, I’m finding that the greatest challenge is getting back into the mindset of a 19 year old who, whilst being quite mature is still young.

What do you love about Rosie?
I love that at 19 years of age Rosie handles such an intense, sad and conflicting emotional experience with such grace and maturity. She is a fun loving girl who really does want the best for the people she loves.

What have you loved about this process?
I’ve loved working with older actors and dealing with a subject matter that is not something I have ever had to really think about with before. It’s been eye opening and thought provoking to say the least. The cast and our director Barry Walsh have all been such a joy to work with too!

What have you been doing previous to this?
From 2009-2013 I lived in London where I went to drama school and worked as an actress. Since then I have continued acting but am also currently in my final year of a BA in TV and Film Production at JMC Academy. Whilst continuing acting I am beginning to branch out into directing and writing, mainly for film which has been fun!

What do you prefer, acting or directing?
I love them both… equally I think! In regards to acting I love being able to explore a character, really working out their characteristics and mannerisms etc. As a director though I love being able to look at all of the characters and the world as a whole and really being able to have my own interpretation on a whole script as opposed to just one character.

Martin Ashley Jones

Martin Ashley Jones

Lauren J. Jones: What’s been your favourite role and why?
Martin Ashley Jones: I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and rewards that I have experienced in all of the roles I have been privileged to be able to play but Macbeth was a sensational role and I think that the time of my life in which it came along was very special in so many ways. I’d love the opportunity to play him again at some stage.

Have you always written?
Pretty much yes. I have always been doodling and scribbling away at something. Just finishing Is It Time has been a real accomplishment for me as I’ve got quite a few unfinished projects floating around so I am stoked for the play to get from my head to the page, to the stage!

Where do you see yourself in the future within the arts?
I’ll continue to perform and write. I’d like to direct some more and I’m not sure whether it’s my age or my frustration with the abandonment of the arts by the government but who knows, I may even get a bit political!

Why did you choose not to direct or act in Is It Time?
At various stages I was always going to do one or the other or maybe even both but because of the scheduling and another personal commitment that arose I was unable to do either. I’m very excited though to now watch the play not having anything to do with the production. I feel it’s in safe hands and I now get to see totally from the perspective of the audience.

There are some very challenging themes in the play how do you think the audience will react to these?
I haven’t concentrated on how the audience will react to any aspect or theme within the play. I have written a story about family, friends and some of the complexities and challenges that we all face in one way or another throughout our lives. I realise that there is subject matter that may polarize people but then so do stories in the news everyday.

Lauren J. Jones can be seen in

Review: The Killing Of Sister George (G.bod Theatre)

gbodtheatreVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Feb 24 – Mar 4, 2016
Playwright: Frank Marcus
Director: Peter Mountford
Cast: Deborah Jones, Sarah Jane Kelly, Natasha McNamara, Helen Stuart
Image by Richard Hedger

Theatre review
Sister George is a real piece of work. A radio star adored by many who know only her fictitious persona, George is insufferable for those who have to be in her actual presence. Fame gets to people’s heads, and our protagonist is a self-obsessed monster who uses and abuses all in sight, especially her doll-like lover Childie, a feeble woman struggling to discern love from exploitation in their codependency in 1964 London.

Under Peter Mountford’s direction, the sexual nature of that relationship is emphasised. Homosexuality is not swept under the carpet, and we are confronted by the overt BDSM quality of George and Childie’s union with its depiction of consensual and subversive eroticism. Although fascinating, there are issues with plot consistency as a result, and the production is a couple more days from being well-rehearsed. The show does however, pick up pace gradually for an experience memorable for its thorough unconventionality.

In taking on the responsibility of playing George, Deborah Jones is required to portray villainy in a way that is both repulsive and compelling. Jones does not quite reach that level of starry charisma demanded of her role, but it is a believable performance which brings up the right issues of contention and asks appropriate questions regarding power imbalances in same-sex relationships. Natasha McNamara’s work as Childie is authentic and complex, with a conflicting duality that provokes us into considering the meaning of love, and the many scandalous forms of its manifestations.

The women in The Killing Of Sister George explain the way they treat themselves and each other, but they do not explain their lesbianism. Peter Mountford has ingeniously reached back 52 years to find a text that allows an expression of gayness that is above the need for justification, and beyond our tired boundaries of sexual differences. This is no “tragiporn” that feels emburdened by its mere existence to make itself accountable to some vague authority of social expectation, but gives voice to real personalities who rarely find their way into our run-of-the-mill narratives. It is a juicy story about love, sex, power and fame, except believe it or not, there are no men in it.

www.gbodtheatre.com

Review: Beyond The Neck (Emu Productions / Epicentre Theatre Company)

kstVenue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), May 28 – Jun 13, 2015
Playwright: Tom Holloway
Director: Markus Weber
Cast: Dana Brierley, Jessica Hobden, David Ritchie, Brayden Sim
Image by Thomas Adams

Theatre review
Not a day goes by that we do not hear about terrorism. The fear of being attacked by enemies is reinforced by our government and media fervidly, but the truth of our experience shows that it is not external forces that have caused us greatest harm, but those within that we consider to be neighbours. The “Martin Place Siege” of just half a year ago shocked the entire nation, and brought back memories of the horrific “Port Arthur Massacre” of 1996, where 35 people were killed and 23 wounded. Tom Holloway’s Beyond The Neck is an expression of a deep grief that is inflicted upon a community after a catastrophe of that magnitude. The play’s intent is to heal, and to explore the nature of emotional and psychological trauma.

The four-actor cast performs most of the piece in individual monologues, with several moments of very brief interaction. Not all are well prepared, in fact some appear to be quite unready for the production, but Dana Brierley and Jessica Hobden work well to portray their characters with a degree of passion and accuracy. There is a misplaced flavour of melodrama to their intensity, but they help to bring variance to the energy on stage.

Music is played fairly loudly in the background for most of the duration, and is almost always a distraction. The mood it creates is often contrary to what the actors try to achieve, and the audience is prevented from connecting meaningfully with the stories being told. Set design seems unnecessarily busy and visually confusing, with levels and colours that do not contribute to the poignancy of the play.

The production is a timely one, considering our interest in the subject matter. Many of us have strong feelings about events of mass terror, and an opportunity for catharsis is undoubtedly welcome, but on this occasion there is insufficient clarity in the execution of its purpose. The issues we face are complex and a lot more is required for those things to begin to make sense.

www.kingstreettheatre.com.au | www.epicentretheatre.org.au/

5 Questions with David Ritchie

davidritchieWhat is your favourite swear word?
“Abbot”.

What are you wearing?
Sweater and jeans.

What is love?
‘Tis not hereafter, present mirth hath present laughter…

What was the last show you saw, and how many stars do you give it?
Orphans at the Old Fitz, 3.5 stars.

Is your new show going to be any good?
Fascinating. Brilliant script and direction; deeply engaging and unpredicatable.

 

 

David Ritchie is appearing in Beyond The Neck, by Tom Holloway.
Show dates: 28 May – 13 June, 2015
Show venue: King Street Theatre