5 Questions with Jessica Bellamy and Kirsty Marillier

Jessica Bellamy

Kirsty Marillier: How does it feel to be staging Shabbat Dinner for the third time?
Jessica Bellamy: It feels very strange to be staging Shabbat Dinner for the third time. It felt strange staging it the other two times, too, though. I’m still getting my head around the idea of autobiographical theatre and the fact that anyone wants to take a night off their Bachelor viewing schedule to see my family story. But then I try to channel the confidence of a universally reviled politician deciding to make a tilt at national leadership. I ask myself: “why not me?” I would like to continually build my professional confidence so it’s akin to that of a mediocre white guy.

To offer a more serious answer to this question, it is quite rare for an Australian playwright to get multiple productions of their play in a five year period. I’m glad this work resonates with people, and I’m also really lucky it was championed and incubated by the much-missed Tamarama Rock Surfers, who supported me becoming a playwright by giving me the opportunity to make shows.

If you could be one character from Broad City for the day, who would you be and why?
Ilana! Everyone wants to be Ilana, right? I’ve actually written an article for Feminartsy journal explaining why I love her so much. I love the way she traverses her city like it was meant for her. Her effervescence, her passion, and her incredible fashion sense. The way she is styled reminds me that it’s OK to have big, frizzy hair, to wear whatever you want, to feel safe (or that you deserve to feel safe) walking the streets of your city at night.

What is your favourite dish to eat at Shabbat?
Bloody borscht, mate! It’s heaven! Anyone with a womb should eat beetroot at least once a month. A traditional Shabbat dinner would involve chicken soup, and when I can be bothered I might whip up a vegan version using vegie stock and alphabet noodles. My own strange version of the real deal.

What advice would you give teenage Jessinka?
Don’t worry so much. No one cares as much as you think they do. There’s no certain thing you have to achieve by a certain time. Say what you think, get angry, demand your rights, and take up space.

What does your family think about the play?
My family have been very generous about this work, especially considering the fact that it is so personal. They have also supported me in my personal growth over its three seasons. I’ve learnt a lot about my own value system through making this show, and I’m making decisions now, in my thirties, that I wouldn’t have had the emotional intelligence to make any earlier. This involves weighing up a cost-benefit analysis of anything autobiographical I write. Asking myself: who benefits from this, and who is challenged, in a way they haven’t asked to be, by me deciding to write something? When a story belongs to more people than just me, these things need to be negotiated and carefully considered.

I will paraphrase another Russian writer, Maria Tumarkin, whose memoir workshop I went to a few years ago. She said that if her work is going to hurt people, she won’t do it. Caring for people is more important to her than whatever art might come out of being provocative.

Ultimately, I value my relationships over anything I’ll make in my career. And I know that I’m a strong enough writer to make excellent work that also prioritises care in every element of its creation. In my first few years of practice, I didn’t really understand the fact that art – this great amorphous thing – could be chopped and changed to abide to your moral code. I used to think the art was the art, and I had to get out of its way. I’m getting better at thinking a little wider now.

Kirsty Marillier

Jessica Bellamy: Did little Kirsty know she wanted to be an actor?
Kirsty Marillier: Yeah she did. It all started from around age 9. In year 3, I was cast in a tiny role as the indigo fairy. During the performance I fell over on stage in front of the entire school and I reckon I made a pact with myself that it would be the last time I would EVER let people laugh at me on stage unless I had told them to. I auditioned for the lead the next year and got it! I also had a wonderful performing arts program at Leeming Senior High School and some really inspired teachers. I think I owe a lot of my drive and confidence to them.

What’s a family recipe as significant to you as some of the food we serve in Shabbat Dinner?
My GiGi’s Magwinyas. Magwinyas are deep fried savoury doughnuts that you break apart and shove curry inside. They are not for the faint hearted; oily as and have zero nutritional value but are insanely good and give you that combined sweet/savoury dopamine hit. Yum. They are really hard get to right because you need to make sure you knead them with “gentle hands”. So they have enough air. It’s an art form and my Gig is going to give me lessons on them next time I’m in Perth.

How do you get those curls so stunning, girl?
Girl, it’s called Shea Moisture and Priceline have 20% off as we speak. I also started making my own aloe vera gel. You need fresh aloe vera and an entire Sunday to do it but it’s worth it. I also sleep with my hair in a pineapple and wrap it in a silk scarf, it’s a process.

What are the ways you connect to a play about Jewish ritual and Torah stories?
This play centres around tradition, women and food. How we inherit tradition from those who came before us, and the intergenerational effects of migration. I’m a coloured South African woman. I moved to Australia at age 10, have religious parents and 7 South African aunties scattered around Australia. It would be pretty hard for me not to connect with this play.

I said to someone a few of weeks ago that this show (in 2015) was my first encounter with intersectional feminism. It was the first time I’d said that out loud, but it’s totally true! I’ve learnt a lot about my own culture and feminist practice doing this show. How one can re-appropriate culturally specific beauty regimes to suit their own life, how perspective and clarity on your gender and identity can be found by unpacking your past, and how the women in our lives have influenced us more than we know. They hold power in their rituals and it’s something to celebrate! (I feel like I’ve gone on a tangent but I thought it would be an interesting thing to add.)

I connect with this show by thinking about the women in my life, past and present. How much they have made me who I am and how I carry their stories with me.

What do you want to be doing artistically in 5 years’ time?
I want to be writing. I’d love to have a play or two under my belt. I also want to more involved in the telling of culturally diverse stories. I want to see more people of colour on stages; I’d like to help push that process along in any way possible.

Jessica Bellamy and Kristy Marillier are appearing in Shabbat Dinner, by Jessica Bellamy.
Dates: 10 – 15 September, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: The Misanthrope (Bell Shakespeare / Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: Sydney Opera House (Sydney NSW), Aug 28 – Sep 28, 2018
Playwright: Molière (a new version by Justin Fleming)
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Simon Burke, Danielle Cormack, Catherine Davies, Ben Gerrard, Rebecca Massey, Hamish Michael, Anthony Taufa
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Alceste believes that the only truths are the ones in her own head, refusing to accept any behaviour she perceives to be contrary, and charges them all with hypocrisy. As fate would have it, her lover Cymbeline is no believer in fidelity, and when Alceste has to confront Cymbeline’s covert flirtations with several others, matters of the head and heart come to agonising conflict, in this tale about how we value our principles. Justin Fleming’s new adaptation of Molière’s The Misanthrope brings the play into our contemporary times, by immersing it deep into our obsession with popular culture, and even more significantly, by altering the genders of its key roles.

Alceste is now a woman, played by Danielle Cormack, a powerful and captivating presence, appropriately representing the influential position of our lead character, although a persistently sombre approach to the central role, does significantly diminish the humour of the piece. Cymbeline, previously Célimène, is now a male pop star, convincingly portrayed by Ben Gerrard who luxuriates in the part’s farcical narcissism. Sexuality is turned entirely fluid in this rendition of The Misanthrope, with every personality capable of gay and straight love, and orientation is no longer a concern.

The production looks vivid, absolutely glitzy at times, with Dan Potra’s very flashy costumes leaving a particularly strong impression, but the show is often underwhelming, unable to excite with its comedy or philosophies. Director Lee Lewis succeeds at making things modern and coherent, but an air of banality does, unfortunately, pervade.

Passion for one’s beliefs, is often the propulsion that moves us to greater planes, but it is perhaps more exigent than ever, that we should learn as societies, to accommodate the opinions of others at these very fractious times. Unable to reconcile her disdain for all that is dishonest and insincere, Alceste is increasingly isolated, ultimately left only with a doctrine that has achieved nothing. It is a huge challenge, to hold on to what is right, yet able to negotiate all the contrarians that inevitably surround. To find the answer to our peace is difficult, but imperative.

www.bellshakespeare.com.au | www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: The Almighty Sometimes (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 27 – Sep 8, 2018
Playwright: Kendall Feaver
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Penny Cook, Brenna Harding, Shiv Palekar, Hannah Waterman
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Anna started medication for mental illness at the age of 8. Ten years later, and no longer a child, she decides, on her own accord, to suddenly discontinue the drugs. The repercussions are dire, of course, and as she unravels, her relationships convulse and deteriorate, revealing the social value of those pharmaceuticals. In Kendall Feaver’s The Almighty Sometimes, we see sickness from the perspective of the one personally afflicted, as well as the wider reverberations of what is usually considered an isolated condition. Much of what the play conveys is not new information, but its characters are extraordinarily conceived, each one authentic and rich in their depiction, with very persuasive scenes of conflict that provide The Almighty Sometimes its excellent sense of drama.

It is a fiery piece of theatre, featuring high stakes and big emotions, that director Lee Lewis integrates powerfully for a tense, affecting experience. The play features a lot of fighting, but it is really the intense love underscoring the strife and angst, that we connect with. Actor Brenna Harding is marvellous as Anna, complex but precise in her interpretation of a difficult personality, allowing us to comprehensively understand and empathise with her plight. Whether delicate or savage, Harding is full of enthralment, and we luxuriate in the diligence she brings to the stage.

Similarly captivating is Hannah Waterman, who plays Renee the long-suffering mother, with an impressive nuance, delivering a realistic and moving portrait of a woman at wits end, but who remains determined to do her best. The resilient spirit being presented is embodied, very convincingly, by Waterman’s compelling presence. Penny Cook and Shiv Palekar offer excellent support, both creating intriguing roles that give the issues at hand, unexpected dimensions, for a show memorable for its intricacy. Also noteworthy is work on music and sound by Russell Goldsmith, who keeps us on tenterhooks, with subtle and steady manipulations to atmosphere that prove to be immensely potent.

We look to medical professionals to fix us, often forgetting that there is no one ideal for how we should live. When discussing mental health, our subjective opinions have to find ways that can accommodate both the patient’s well-being and its impact on the wider community. If what is best for society is incongruous, with what individual sufferers consider to be best for themselves, that negotiation will turn persistently fraught. Anna’s sickness consumes herself, along with all who come in close contact. The Almighty Sometimes demonstrates unambiguously that mental health is a social issue, and if we are unable, as a nation, to focus on both cure and prevention, it will be a failure to truly be ashamed of.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Shiv Palekar and Hannah Waterman

Shiv Palekar

Hannah Waterman: What made you want to become an actor?
Shiv Palekar: I was a pretty silly child, I was naughty, I’d always play the fool and get in trouble lots. I think I recognised it for the first time when my cousins would ask me to pretend to be Mr. Bean, because I realised that doing something performative or out of the ordinary could make people happy or have some kind of effect on them. So I think I always was performative in some kind of way, I wanted to be a musician throughout high school until I got cast in a school play when I was in year 10. My mum forced me to go in and audition for it and I was hesitant and almost didn’t show up, but during rehearsals for that show I realised that I loved playing slightly outside of reality and I could get paid to essentially keep being a naughty boy.

What drew you to this play?
I hadn’t worked all year, and I really wanted a job. I was sick of being a waiter and so that’s what initially drew me to it. I served Lee Lewis a few times at the cafe I worked at and so maybe that’s why I was asked to audition. That’s the honest first part of my answer. But of course I read the play and fell in love with it and what it says and all the rest of the things that an actor would usually say. But for real, Kendall has written an incredibly beautiful story of a young woman and how she navigates her life with mental illness and that made me want to be a part of this great new Australian work. I’ve also wanted to work with Lee for ages.

Is this the first time you’ve worked at Griffin?
Yes and hopefully not the last.

Do you think the industry needs to change in regard to casting people of more diverse backgrounds?
Yes.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully not being a waiter. Maybe I’ll have a child?

Hannah Waterman

Shiv Palekar: What music have you been listening to lately? Have you used it as an ‘in’ for the play?
Hannah Waterman: I tend to listen to whatever is in my library whilst cooking. It’s more of a relaxation thing and a release than an ‘in’. Although I do always have a character perfume!

What’s your favourite food? Do you eat before or after a show?
Cheese, I’m essentially a rodent. I eat before as I’m a type one diabetic and this means I have time to digest and for my blood sugars to settle before hitting the boards.

What makes you laugh?
My family. Not always in a good way, mostly though.

A memorable meal your Mum cooked you?
Mum’s lasagna was a favourite as a child and is now one of my sons favourite meals so the tradition continues.

What’s it like being a working mum? Advice for actors who are thinking of being parents?
Being a working mum is tough in any profession and I think we have a long way to go yet in making theatre and television more accessible for working mothers. Luckily the Griffin team is very sensitive and accommodating and recently allowed my 7 year old to come to rehearsal. It would be wonderful if one day that became the norm. Don’t let being an actor put you off becoming a parent. The industry is moving in the right direction and ultimately kids are pretty portable and fairly adaptable, at least when they’re young!

Shiv Palekar and Hannah Waterman are appearing in The Almighty Sometimes, by Kendall Feaver.
Dates: 27 July – 8 September, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre

Review: Hello, Beautiful! (Performing Lines)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 9 – 14, 2018
Playwright: Hannie Rayson
Director: Matthew Lutton
Cast: Hannie Rayson
Images by Andrew Bott

Theatre review
We live in a world determined to render the older woman invisible. Having exhausted her roles as sex object and mother, she is thought to have turned irrelevant, neither madonna nor whore, made to feel as though she has outstayed her welcome. With Hello, Beautiful! Hannie Rayson claims space as that grande dame, in a theatrical landscape that routinely excludes women of a certain age. Rayson represents only herself in this autobiographical work, but her presence is fundamentally political.

Rayson performs stories from her memoirs, beginning with her childhood in 60s suburbia, through to university, activism, parenthood and an ever-increasingly successful writing career. She offers glimpses of a charmed life, not particularly dramatic or eventful, but we find ourselves captivated by her delightful avidity, and share in the joys of her personal reflections. Staged with little fuss, Matthew Lutton’s direction places emphasis on Rayson’s talents and natural allure, for a simple production that achieves all that it sets out to do.

It is without exception, that societies benefit from knowledge and experience of their elders, yet in so much of Australia, we relegate our seniors to distant corners, anxious about the truths they will tell, and fearful of the mortality that they personify. Hannie Rayson’s contributions are significant and ongoing, and it is our privilege to be able to hear her speak. Bright, young things are dazzling to the senses, but it is at our own peril, that we ignore the only true repositories of wisdom.

www.performinglines.org.au | www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 4 – Jun 16, 2018
Playwright: Brooke Robinson
Director: Marion Potts
Cast: Fayssal Bazzi, Tara Morice, Kelly Paterniti
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Sandra says and does everything right, but ends up failing at every housemate interview, unable to find a place to live. Brooke Robinson’s Good Cook. Friendly. Clean. features a heartbreaking series of scenes depicting Sandra at those interviews, being rejected for no ostensible reason, other than the fact that she is a middle aged woman battling cancer. This is what we, as a people, have come to. The play is a fierce indictment of Sydney, and cities like it, where inhabitants have allowed money, and access to property, turn us into monsters that spend our entire lives trying to devour real estate and accumulate wealth, without any consideration for those among us who have basic needs yet to be fulfilled.

All Sandra needs is a home. Her budget although modest, is reasonable, but we discover, quite literally, that no one wants her. Playwright Robinson has identified something so ugly but so accurate, about modern Australia, and the reflection she offers up through the mirror of her play, is so hideous, it is almost unbearable to watch. We do of course, find ourselves mesmerised by the car crash scenario, a human catastrophe unfolding before our eyes, powerfully directed by Marion Potts who never once lets us off the hook. Potts shows us not only that the system is broken, but the individuals who operate within said system, people like us, are revealed to be the degenerates that we often are; selfish, uncaring and cruel, participants in a rat race that will inevitably deliver more losers than winners.

In the central role is Tara Morice, who retains for Sandra a sense of dignity, whilst telling a compelling story of desperate despondency. It is a splendid performance, rigorously gauged to provoke just the right response from her audience, not only of compassion, but also a more deliberate and contemplative one, involving the way we think about our interactions with the needy in real life, and also to picture what it would be like, should we one day, find the shoe on the other foot. Fayssal Bazzi and Kelly Paterniti play a variety of roles, mostly unsavoury types, to excellent effect. Whether eccentric or plainly despicable, the pair keeps us attentive, always anticipating the worst, but masochistically enjoying the black comedy that inevitably arises. It is a tight trio on this stage, confident and sleek with a presentation that is as entertaining as it is hard-hitting.

The negative byproducts of our capitalism are evident, but it seems we are too far gone, to be able to imagine a radical turn around. It is a system that demands pragmatism, leading us to act only with self-interest and greed. Sandra is not a home owner, maybe by choice or maybe by circumstance, and we watch her being punished for not playing by the rules. We are all required to want the same, and any deviation can mean disaster, yet the competition that we are all meant to participate in, is predicated on the dispossession of many. This is part of a very big debate that has gone on for decades. Words will continue firing from all sides, but efforts to find solutions that will make life better, for the greatest number of people, will also persist. Kindness may no longer cost us nothing, but it is a price we must be willing to pay.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

5 Questions with Shannan Lim and Vidya Rajan

Shannan Lim

Vidya Rajan: What does being Asian-Australian mean to you? Do you like the term?
Shannan Lim: For me, ‘Asian-Australian’ works. I was raised between Singapore and Australia. So it indicates two parts of an identity—people are always more than one thing. I am ambivalent about the term though. I’ve always thought, you can only call yourself ‘Australian’, without a prefix and without questions, if you look white.

What do you enjoy most about Asian Ghost-ery Store?
That it alternates between frank, sometimes mumblecore dialogue between our characters to the audience, and then over-the-top or physical scenes. As a writer you can speak in two different tones, and as a performer there are different rhythms to play with so that’s nice. And I really like the ending of Asian Ghost-ery Store!

What has been most challenging, either artistically or in reception?
Because you and I play versions of ourselves and all the stories are at least partly truthful, even if they are edited or swapped between us or amplified, when the audience wasn’t onboard in the earlier days it used to shake me. But this has changed the more Asian Ghost-ery Store has grown, the more experience we’ve had doing it.

Has there been anything that has surprised you about your identity through making this work?
The biggest shock has been how much people have connected with our brand of Asian-ness, which is kind of pathetic and self-involved. But it’s very relatable, I think. It’s strangely made me —at the same time—more OK with my Asian identity and how it relates to other parts of my life, and more riled about the politics of race.

What does political theatre or practice mean to you now and going into the future?
Is this an essay question? If you’re making political theatre your intent is to have the audience question something about their everyday that they take for granted. I’m a clown too, and clowning is outside of intellectualism. So going in the future, I want to balance the politics in my work with me just rolling around on the floor for no reason.

Vidya Rajan

Shannan Lim: We started creating Asian Ghost-ery Store close to four years ago. How have you changed as an artist, as a person since then?
Vidya Rajan: Has it been that long? I’ve changed immensely. I’ve become more serious about being an artist I suppose, I moved to the Melbourne (the true mark of it haha) pretty and finished study at the VCA recently. I’ve explored new forms of work, and I think or hope my practice is evolving in exciting ways and becoming deeper. I suppose I hope the same for myself as a person but I am not sure if that’s true.

If the play was turned into a TV series and you had to cast different performers, who would you cast as our characters Shan and Yaya? What qualities would you look for?
Aiya! I’d be looking for actors who could be sassy and off-kilter but emotional at the same time. Maybe John Early and Kate Berlant, but in…brown and yellow face (NO). Nobody springs to mind really, which could be a function of my lack of knowledge, or the fact there’s such little representation still.

What would Asian Ghost-ery Store look like if it were staged a hundred years in the future?
I think and hope it would lose some of its immediate relevance that relies on certain racial stuff being true? It would be like staging an interesting history piece. But I hope the humour and relationships would carry through to the holograms.

What are you looking forward to seeing or doing while you’re in Sydney?
I’d really like to see other shows at the fest! Other than that, I’ve rarely been in Sydney so all the touristy stuff. I love a good botanical garden.

What’s the next project you’re working on?
A few things! I’m writing on a pilot at the moment, and devising a couple of shows. Also working as an Associate Artist with Theatre Works in the first part of the year. I’m also trying to stop my aged Indian relatives from constantly sending me inspirational memes about god which is almost a full-time job.

Shannan Lim and Vidya Rajan appear in Asian Ghost-ery Store, part of the Batch Festival at Griffin Theatre Co.
Dates: 11 – 28 April, 2018
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre