Review: This Modern Coil (Upper Crass Theatre Company)

moderncoilVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 9 – 10, 2016
Playwright: James Hartley
Director: James Hartley
Cast: Atlas Adams, Tom Green

Theatre review
Two soldiers are trapped on a minefield, forced to confront death and each other’s beliefs about death. Intelligent, humorous and charming, James Hartley’s This Modern Coil explores our relationship with mortality, through a process that is inevitably philosophical, for an existentialist work that is simultaneously universal and challenging.

The writing operates at several levels of intellect, with some moments proving to be more accessible than others, but even at its most demanding, performers Atlas Adams and Tom Green are able to provide a sense of authenticity that keeps us engaged in their cerebral drama. Both men are gregarious and charismatic, effortlessly funny in a show that is almost always entertaining. Their impressive chemistry secures not only our attention, but also our empathy. They are very likeable characters that never fail to let us see ourselves reflected in all their anxieties and fantasies.

Hartley’s own direction of the work is accomplished, with effective manufacturing of tension through much of the piece, although the show is quite clearly more gripping in its first half. Set and costume design by Ara Steel is creatively and proficiently rendered, but the dim lighting does take away from some of the actors’ more subtle efforts.

There is a depth to This Modern Coil that is very admirably courageous, and balanced with a confident sense of comedy and storytelling, we are lured into a meaningful exchange about the biggest and hardest questions of life, only without the usual feelings of intimidation and alienation. No two people are the same but it is the certainty of death that reveals our individual, fervent pursuits of disparity to be futile. We may wish to be special, but at the humble juncture before turning to dust, there is no denying the simple essence of humanity that binds us all.

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5 Questions with Lulu Howes and Caitlin West

Lulu Howes

Lulu Howes

Caitlin West: So you’re condensing 15 books and 250 stories down to a single show. Is there a theme or set of themes that have guided and tied together your telling of these stories?
Lulu Howes: I’d say our approach to adapting such a large body of work was inspired by the vastness of Ovid’s original text. Metamorphoses is such a sprawling book, it picks up threads of myths and then drops them, tells half stories, revisits characters sporadically. Ovid really seems to pick and choose what he’s interested in, then loosely ties everything up in the theme of ‘metamorphoses’. So the myths we’ve chosen to work with and the way we’ve decided to adapt them is pretty eclectic. We were all drawn to different stories for different reasons, and I think this boundlessness is what binds them together, embracing that vastness rather than running away from it. That being said, there are definitely some themes that have continued to crop up. If I had to pick, the big three would probably be gender, politics and power.

How closely has the language of the original text shaped your telling of these stories?
I’m not even sure how many translations of Metamorphoses we now have between us – probably too many. Trying to find the right mode of expression to represent a myth has been half the battle of adaptation, so language has definitely played a massive part. Sometimes we’ll quote directly from a translation, or use the Elizabethan adaptation, or delve into how Ovid has presented a particular idea. More than anything else I think the comedy of the original text has worked its way into a lot of the play. There’s a lot of satire and a lot of silliness.

Saro has directed you in a few shows in the past. How have you found working with him as an actor?
The same but different. It’s been a very collaborative process – everyone’s open to each other’s ideas and feedback so in that regard it feels very familiar. Having done shows together in the past we went into Metamorphoses with a great friendship to work off and a good idea of what it might be like devising together. I think it’s been a really natural transition, especially with Imogen stepping into a more directorial role and just generally being amazing. Saro’s got great comic timing and likes improvisation more than I do, which is good because it keeps me on my toes and terrible because I can’t always keep a straight face.

Can you tell me a bit about how you’re approaching the task of characterisation in a show that presumably is dealing with multiple character voices?
There’s such a huge array of characters in the show, there hasn’t been a set approach. As almost none of the characters reappear in more than one scene, it’s been about establishing really strong voices or images in a short amount of time. Different methods have worked for different scenes, whether we’re improvising and working off each other in the room, or painstakingly going through the script to create these really defined voices for a two-minute scene. We’ve both been able to pick and choose who might play which character, with no expectation that if the character is a man it should be played by Saro or vice versa. In general there’s been a lot of freedom with how we tackle these characters, and way, way too many costume changes.

Seriously, will there be Kanye West references?
There are already too many, we need to be stopped.

Caitlin West

Caitlin West

Lulu Howes: Tammy & Kite is delving into the world of children and the things they ‘do or don’t see.’ What first drew you to this idea?
When Hannah and I first came together to make this show, we both knew that we wanted to talk about children, siblings and the imagination. As someone with a much younger sister, and with a personal interest in child play therapy, I was keen to look at how children process and express difficult emotions. This was complemented by Hannah, who came at this as an artist, and as someone with an incredible visual imagination. She had a million ideas for how we could translate those concepts into something really beautiful and tangible. So I guess it was kind of a crossover of our own personal interests and skills, and a shared desire to try to communicate and think about the way a child sees the world.

I am so excited to see you and Hannah (Cox) onstage together; you’re both such energetic, engaging performers. What does the inside of your rehearsal room look like at the moment?
Well, at the moment, I’m sitting here writing this, while Hannah plays a pretty intense game of handball with herself against the wall. There’s a pile of discarded toys and books on the floor, a half-finished Lego spaceship on the bed, and Phillip the duck is sitting next to me. We’ve just finished rehearsing a scene where Kite saves Tammy from a monster armed only with a light sabre, so we’re taking a break before we move on to some of the more tightly choreographed puppet scenes.

A ten year old wants to come see Tammy & Kite. How do you describe the play to them?
In this show we’re trying to use a language that will be accessible to both young people and adults (although perhaps for different reasons and in different ways) so to be honest, I think I’d tell them the same thing I’d tell an adult. In a nutshell in Tammy & Kite we’re taking the best and the worst parts about being a kid, and trying to translate them into something that grown-ups can understand.

What’s the scariest/hardest/most challenging part of devising your own show?
I think the scariest thing, when creating a show from scratch with another person, is knowing how to trust that person enough to fail. When you’re rehearsing a show with a bunch of other actors, or with a pre-written script, or with a director who’s always in the room with you, it can be easier in a sense to hide behind those things or to use them to fall back on when you get it wrong. Hannah and I were already great friends before we started working on this show, which was a big help, but over the rehearsal process I think we’ve both gotten a lot better at trying out new things, and not being afraid to do that. I think once you let go of the fear of trying something that might not work, that’s when you end up finding the seeds of the best stuff.

If you could go back in time and give kid Caitlin one piece of advice, what would it be?
When the ice cream truck plays “Greensleeves” that does not mean it has run out of ice cream and don’t let anyone tell you that it does.

Lulu Howes and Caitlin West can both be seen in Sydney Fringe Festival shows by Montague Basement.

Tammy & Kite
Dates: 13 – 17 September, 2016 at 8pm
Venue: Erskineville Town Hall

Metamorphoses
Dates: 13 – 17 September, 2016 at 10pm
Venue: Erskineville Town Hall

Review: Where’s My Money? (Seeker Productions)

seekerVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 23 – 27, 2015
Playwright: John Patrick Shanley
Director: Laura Pike
Cast: Amelia Beau Kaldor, Eli King, Chris Miller, Jacki Mison, Monica Sayers

Theatre review
Marriage is one of the most traditional customs of any civilisation, and its long established relationship with money and property distribution remains a crucial part of social systems today. In cultures like ours, love and romance are usually the driving force of unions, but the actual and pragmatic experience remains intrinsically tied with financial matters. John Patrick Shanley’s Where’s My Money? is a boisterous comedy about female-male relationships, and the problematic intertwining of love, sex and money. The characters in the play engage in complex and passionate diatribes, always in the mode of a fight, whether or not they are dealing with their partners. They also have to contend with ghosts that make regular appearances to disrupt their attempts at logic, reminding us all of the constant presence of less tangible things like guilt, regret and love.

This production, directed by Laura Pike, is energetic and funny, with charming performances that deliver consistent laughs. A less naturalistic approach could give the text’s ideas greater elucidation, but the pace of Pike’s show is enjoyably brisk. Even though costumes leave a lot to be desired, character types and relationships are clearly defined with interesting dynamics always at play. The cast of five shows excellent conviction, and an enthusiasm for comedy that guarantees a satisfied audience. There is a subversive spirit in Shanley’s writing that encourages a more adventurous, or less straightforward style of presentation. The show is a well-rehearsed one, but greater nuance could be introduced for a more philosophical rendering of the text.

Making relationships work, can be a lot like making art work. We try to identify all its components and then apply our best efforts to ensure that an ideal result eventuates. There are less administrable forces at play that need attention, but flair and other ephemerals require a sophistication that comes from time and sensitivity. Where’s My Money? is appropriately loud and humorous, and like other people’s marriages, it offers up a pleasing veneer, but we wonder what lies beneath the cheerful surface.

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Review: 6 Degrees Of Ned Kelly (Melita Rowston’s Shit Tourism)

melitarowstonVenue: Erskineville Town Hall (Erskineville NSW), Sep 2 – 6, 2015
Playwright: Melita Rowston
Director: Melita Rowston
Cast: Melita Rowston

Theatre review
The persistence of Ned Kelly’s legend in the consciousness of many Australians is symptomatic of the anti-authoritarian culture that we have inherited, since the dawn of European settlement. We are highly suspicious of governments and law enforcers, so it follows that myths about outlaws bear an eternal appeal. Melita Rowston’s 6 Degrees Of Ned Kelly is an exploration of her ties to that distinguished history, and an exercise in defining and aligning herself with an underdog characterised by his famed qualities of integrity and struggle. Rowston’s presentation takes the form of a relatively straightforward talk, with the support of a very well assembled slideshow. Her research is incredibly extensive, and the tales that she spins are surprising and fascinating, with fresh approaches to the Ned Kelly mystique that reveal how he remains relevant today.

Rowston’s presence is often tentative and nervous, but she relies on a warm enthusiasm to attain a comfortable connection with her audience, and the environment she creates is unquestionably inviting and accessible. We are not required to be aficionados, or indeed fans, of the Kelly gang, for we can all relate to the stories about family, and to that intuitive longing for a meaningful affiliation with the land on which we reside. Modernity has a propensity to keep people apart, and Rowston’s preoccupation with finding personal links that converge at a point of unity, is an admirable one. Fashion comes and goes, but the stuff that inspires us to be true and good, will resist annihilation.

www.melitarowston.com