Review: Mercury Fur (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 24 – Jun 8, 2019
Playwright: Philip Ridley
Director: Kim Hardwick
Cast: Janet Anderson, Danny Ball, Lucia May, Romy Bartz, Meg Clarke, Party Guest, Jack Walton, Michael McStay
Images by Jasmine Simmons

Theatre review
Civilisation is all but wiped out, in Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur. Out of the rubble are remaining humans trying to get on with things, holding on to memories of more coherent times, so that they can try to make some sense of the meaningless now. Brothers Elliot and Darren are party planners, for a sordid event about to take place. The host’s requirements are absolutely immoral, but at a time like this, nothing should matter anymore. Yet a struggle remains, as we watch the siblings unable to come to terms with what they had agreed to undertake.

Surreal and very dark, Ridley’s play seems intent on shocking its viewer, as is typical of British “in-yer-face theatre” two decades ago. Director Kim Hardwick’s approach is more considered, for a staging that abhors cheap effects, working instead to find, within a conceit of extreme depravity, only the truth about our humanity. Early portions of the show are, as a result, perhaps too sedate, but there is no doubt that when the stakes are raised, the story becomes effortlessly gripping.

The actors are excellent, all of them distinctive and memorable in their respective parts. Josh McElroy is particularly impressive as Party Guest, the worst kind of bad guy, completely despicable, but made thoroughly entertaining by McElroy’s uninhibited portrayal. Also remarkable is Meg Clarke, luminous as the painfully innocent Naz, caught up in a filthy world, desperate for acceptance, and ending up in a treacherous crossfire.

Most of us go about our daily lives, pretending that evil does not exist. We have to believe in the best of people, if we wish for an opportunity to thrive. Evil is real however, and in Mercury Fur we see the way it manifests when untethered. In an apocalyptic aftermath, there is momentum for destruction to keep its pace, until one meets utter annihilation. Resilience is also real, and many of us will know to pick up the pieces, and build again. The extinction of our species is entirely possible, although our instinctual rejection of that truth, might be able to keep us hanging on for some time longer. |

5 Questions with Janet Anderson and Joshua McElroy

Janet Anderson

Joshua McElroy: When did you first know you wanted to act?
Janet Anderson: I think because I was lucky enough to grow up in New York I was, in a way, immersed in the top brass of the theatre world. After that I think it was inevitable. I come from a very (and I mean very) large extended family and grew up singing and performing with all of them. So I think it was kind of born into it. Fun Fact: A Star Is Born is actually based on my life. What really cemented it for me was going to Newtown High School of the Performing Arts (as did Meg Clarke and Jack Walton) and being surrounded by so much talent and passion made me realise that that was the career for me.

Is there anything about this show that scares you?
Absolutely. When I first read the play I remember having to physically put it down and hide under my covers for a breather. There is a particularly gruesome and shockingly graphic depiction of the Kennedy assignation that put a few knots in my stomach. As well I think because Philip Ridley leaves a lot of the play vague, it leaves the audience wondering and jumping to the worst conclusions they can come up with. But after digesting the play a bit and getting past the surface level shock, Philip Ridley has really masterfully and in some ways beautifully used language to show how this world is collapsed into basic human instincts. In the end of it all, the play is essentially about this make-shift family trying to learn how love, and learn what family means in this absolute shit-show which Southend London has become. The truly scary part is that the plot is not far fetched at all, the kinds of language and acts depicted are a reflection of what truly happens when a society reaches boiling point. We saw it in Rwanda, in Guernica, in Vietnam. I think it should scare us all.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
None that come to mind. Maybe I just haven’t done enough shows to develop one. I try to get more zen then hyped I find. With a show as visceral and emotionally draining as Mercury Fur though, I think the cast should begin by shotgunning a red bull, or taking an ice bath while simultaneously being tasered in the chest, something to that effect. And not just the cast. Im advocating that the audience come prepared with a paper bag and a defibrillator just to be on the safe side.

How many stars out of 5 would you give yourself as an actor?
6/5. I would say 7 but modesty is one of my many talents.

How many stars out of 5 would you give yourself as a person?
2/5. Would not recommend.

Joshua McElroy

Janet Anderson: Why is this play important in the social climate we’re in now?
Joshua McElroy: Mercury Fur is straight up offensive which I think is great. I’ve always delighted in watching people become outraged. Call me sick but ever since being a little kid watching people who have the luxury of taking offence (aka my parents whom i love) squirm at “swear words”, “unnecessary” violence or sex would always bring me great pleasure. I guess I never understood why? In all honestly I still don’t understand. The classics are full of this stuff. King Lear pulls his eyes out. Medea slaughters her own children. Incest etc. KXT has a great fire escape if someone sets the theatre on fire I reckon most of us would survive. Maybe not Meg (Naz) but then again… she’s expendable 😉

What is your character motivation in the play? How does he fit into the piece?
I don’t want to give too much away but I am looking to fulfil a dream. Loose myself for a night. To immortalise a moment that is at the highest corner of the human experience. He is the final and most horrifying piece of the hideous jigsaw puzzle.

What is the favourite role you’ve played?
I like playing bad guys.The most fun I have ever had playing a role was in a development of show called Follow Me Home which featured a hyper aggressive abusive young man who was looking for his girlfriend on a train carriage at 2am.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the play?
As the heart is home to love, so does it house evil.

How would you survive the apocalypse?
What kind of apocalypse? I reckon for most types of apocalypses the first thing I would do would be grab my compound bow and knife. Steal my roommates motorbike because… fuck him he has a car. Wiz around and make sure a few mates who aren’t Meg and my family were okay and then fang it out west to the farm. Grab a big supply of tinned food, vegetable seeds, magnifying glass, bells and fishing line. Then head up into the mountains after grabbing some ammunition and a gun and set up camp on a hillside plateau near a natural spring. Set up a perimeter from there with the fishing line and the bells. Live off the the land. BOOM. COME AT ME APOCALYPSE.

Janet Anderson and Joshua McElroy can be seen in Mercury Fur, by Philip Ridley.
Dates: 24 May – 8 Jun, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: The Serpent’s Teeth (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 9 – 24, 2018
Playwright: Daniel Keene
Director: Kristine Landon-Smith
Cast: Danny Ball, Bernadette Fam, Phoebe Grainer, Nicholas Hasemann, Lisa Huyhn, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Steven Menteith, Jillian Nguyen, Angela Sullen, Jens Radda, Joseph Raggatt, Saleh Saqqaf, Chloe Schwank, Louis Segeuir, Ross Sharp
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The two very distinct halves of Daniel Keene’s The Serpent’s Teeth, contrast the repercussions of war and violence, as characterised by their distance from actual conflict. The play begins close to the action, and later takes us away from the borders, for a sensitive examination of human responses to trauma. Appropriately fractured, the writing bears an inherent chaos that understands our impulse to create cohesion out of disorder. We form narratives out of the rubble, to see both the familiar and the unfamiliar, although it is arguable if much of it proves to be satisfying.

In a small space that effectively magnifies creative intentions, the large cast of fifteen endeavour to represent the complexities and diversity of war-time experiences, by conveying nuanced portrayals usually absent from mainstream reportage of disaster and strife. Director Kristine Landon-Smith elicits contemplative performances from her actors, for a show though not always engaging, is dignified in its determination to maintain a restrained, rather than sensationalist, approach. Rare dramatic outbursts therefore become memorable, with Phoebe Grainer and Jillian Nguyen particularly strong in their theatrical moments, offering us a taste of something slightly indulgent, and therefore emotionally accessible.

All the people in The Serpent’s Teeth are acutely affected by wars taking place, whether in their own backyards or in foreign lands. The rest of us, although implicated in our nation’s battles, are often ignorant of those operations. It is this very ignorance that allows atrocities to be carried out on our behalf; we are culpable but are either blissfully unaware, or simply intimidated and turned helpless in the face of its enormity. Stories about war are careful to avoid its glorification, so the message is always unambiguous and predictable, yet our shared acknowledgement about these ravages, seem to do nothing to make this world a better place.

5 Questions with Phoebe Grainer and Jill Nguyen

Phoebe Grainer

Jill Nguyen: What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind as an artist, actor, writer? How do you want to be remembered?
Phoebe Grainer: I don’t care for words like legacy or how I want to be remembered. I want to live my life creating work and doing things that are meaningful, that I am empowering and uplifting my mob, the Kuku Djungan people and other Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

What was the first play that captivated you and in some way defined you?
When I was in high school up in Broome, I went and seen a rehearsal of a play called Jandamarra. I’m not sure how I found out about it or even if I was allowed to go watch but I was there. Jandamarra is a legend of the the Bunuba people up that way, he is a warrior and a leader who defends his country, his mob. When I saw this rehearsal, all Aboriginal cast, talking language. It was beautiful. I had never seen anything like it. I just remember thinking wow, I want to do that.

What’s been the biggest learning lesson so far in your journey with The Serpent’s Teeth?
I think it’s been a reminder of how hard you need to work for things you want to do.

Favourite pre, during and post rehearsal snacks?
I have been eating so much Thai fried rice and chicken nuggets!

As an Indigenous Australian artist, what advice can you give for the next generation of young Indigenous people who want to pursue creative dreams?
Speak to the old people, Elders, your grandparents and parents. Culture is important and we need to keep it strong. Always know why you do the things you do, creatively, professionally and in everyday life, give back to your community. Critically think about the world. Know that you can do the things that you want to do.

Jill Nguyen

Phoebe Grainer: What was your experience like growing up as a Vietnamese-Australian woman in Melbourne?
Jill Nguyen: As a kid, I never felt that different to anyone else. The inner west of Melbourne where I grew up was super diverse, which was wonderful. Asian, black, white, everyone. It wasn’t until I went to university at 18, that I was quite shocked by how little some people knew about Asians in general. I did do Arts at Melbourne Uni, which was pretty white. I’ve experienced racism of all kinds, ranging from subtle to downright overt, and it’s only made me more resilient. In saying that, I am so lucky to have grown up in Melbourne. It’s my home.

How did you get into acting?
After 3 years of higher education, working full time at the bank and travelling overseas for a year and having my soul crushed in between, I came to my senses and decided to follow my dream. I started taking acting classes 2 years ago and I haven’t looked back since! I just jumped into the deep end and worked really, really, really hard to get myself out there. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Who did you look up to on your journey to becoming an actor?
Honestly, I didn’t have too many Asian females to look up to, but I always loved Marilyn Monroe a lot. In recent years, I have felt really empowered by Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh and Gemma Chan, all power houses in their own right. They light my fire.

Has the Vietnamese-Australian community reacted to your work, if so how? And how has the wider Australian community reacted to your work?
I guess my journey has just begun in some ways and I’m really excited for Viets all over the world to see my work. I was recently cast in Justin Kurzel’s True History Of The Kelly Gang, as Molly Kane. I act alongside Nicholas Hoult, George McKay and Thomasin McKenzie. I’m hoping a young and impressionable Vietnamese girl sees me in this feature and somehow has the confidence to follow her dreams too.

What does it mean for you to be a woman of colour in the arts?
It means everything to me. When people say things like “oh race doesn’t matter”, I feel an invisible slap in the face. Well, of course it matters. My heritage is Vietnamese, Chinese. I’m not going to run away from that. People of colour have been historically marginalised, purely based on the colour of their skin. I think my presence and contribution to the arts in film or theatre is political in its’ own right. I won’t stop creating, fighting and hustling. For so long, the realm of the art world and film, in the western world has been exclusively white, male dominated and right now, is the best time to change it up, completely. I feel a sense of solidarity with other women of colour artists too.

Phoebe Grainer and Jill Nguyen can be seen in The Serpent’s Teeth by Daniel Keene.
Dates: 9 – 24 Nov, 2018
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

5 Questions with Yerin Ha and Mark Paguio

Yerin Ha

Mark Paguio: Who has been your biggest influence in your career so far?
Yerin Ha: My biggest influence would have to be my Mum. I’m very grateful that she has not once questioned my career path but instead, always supported me in every way that she can. She even convinced me that I should study acting in Korea because of my Asian background. Even though those were some of the toughest years of my life, I don’t regret it one bit as it made me learn more about who I am, my culture, my language and potential opportunities for me overseas. She has also been the biggest support in my life and has played a major role in moulding me into the performer and woman that I am today.

What do you think is missing in the Australian performing arts sector right now?
Authentic stories, especially for people with culturally diverse backgrounds. If we want to see more people of color on stage and screen, it begins with the writing and producing. But if
there are no writers to write these authentic stories and no producers willing to take risks, it’s just going to be the same stories done by the same people. It would be nice to close the gap
with new voices, new faces and new stories. If you weren’t acting, what field would you be pursuing? I think I would be a baker/patisserie chef. Weirdly enough I get such a satisfaction from
watching/actually putting icing on cakes until it’s smooth with no bumps, and decorating it with whatever you want. The options are endless.

If you had the opportunity to play a role you would never be able to see yourself play, what would it be and why?
It would have to be Debbie Reynold’s role in Singin’ In The Rain. One of my all time favourite movies. I would love to be able to play alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor who are two of the most amazing actors back in that time. The songs and the dances just fill me with such joy when I watch the film, but I couldn’t see the industry accepting that role being played by an Asian women (still to this day).

What attracts you to the headphone verbatim technique and does it differ from a conventional play – from an actor’s point of view?
The process and art form of collating the material for headphone verbatim, and being able to share real stories told by real people intrigues me. These are stories from people you see on
the streets and the technique of headphone verbatim reminds the audience that everybody has their own history and stories, which I feel like we tend to forget as we get caught up with our own lives. I think it does differ for an actor when working on a conventional play, as you’re not bringing options to the floor about how you think the character would behave or talk. Headphone verbatim is a technique that requires you to find character nuance and gesture through voice and intonation. It is a form with so much potential to tell authentic stories, yet is so scarcely seen in Australia.

Mark Paguio

Yerin Ha: What are some of the challenges you face being an Asian actor?
Mark Paguio: I could write a whole essay on this, but given I hate writing essays I won’t. Other than the usual things such as lack of opportunities, prejudice, lack of trust in the bankability of Asian actors etc., I think the lack of accessibility of audiences outside of the white, middle-aged sector to theatre presents a huge problem. It’s a beautiful thing to see yourself or your culture being represented, but when you simply don’t have the funds for – or exposure to – inclusive theatre, it hinders the ability for the industry to grow in a way that addresses the other issues which I have stated. We need more Asian audiences, too! Of course, this issue extends to other actors of colour, actors with disabilities, trans actors etc.

If you could rewind time and change one thing what would it be and why?
There is an infinite amount of things that I would go back in time to change, that would either be beneficial to me in my adult life (i.e. forcing my younger self to play more sports so that I can learn to catch a damn ball in my drama classes), or beneficial to the world (i.e. stopping colonisation because I’m capable of that apparently). But the first thing that comes to my head would be to go back to a particular day in primary school, where the savagery of my 12-year-old self lead to a friend crying because he felt ridiculed from a joke I had made. I felt awful, but this was the first time, to my knowledge, that my words had severely hurt another person, and because of this I was frozen with shame. So I walked off, while my other friends consoled him, without a proper apology. The guilt of that still haunts me to do this day. Let’s make things clear, though. Realistically, I wouldn’t go back to stop myself from making the joke. I would go back to make sure that I apologised.

If you could spend one day with your favourite actor what would you do?
I would spend a day pampering myself because I am my own favourite actor. Kidding. I wouldn’t say I have a favourite actor because there are so many to choose from, but I would love to go to an all you can Korean BBQ with Timothée Chalamet. Firstly, because I would love to pick his brain as a young actor who is killing the game. Secondly, because he seems like a pretty energetic, humble, and intelligent dude that would chat the night away (and chatting over great food with my friends is my favourite pastime). Thirdly, he’s a huge Cardi B fan and I think we’d really vibe together.

What aspects of headphone verbatim do you find most appealing?
Finding the character from text is a process. A huge process where you get to explore and play. Once you get to show it in front of the audience, all the work becomes so rewarding. Naturally, with any process like that it comes with its trials and tribulations. The beauty of this work, and hearing these voices being played in your ear in real time means you get to just dive into their rhythms, energy and lives with ease. All you have to do is connect.

What excites you most about having a career in the arts?
Other than living in fear about when my next paycheck will be, the most exciting thing about having a career in the arts, at least right now, is that the zeitgeist is heading towards an industry that wants to tell stories that reflects the people within the society and the world we live – or that it now wants to tell stories that go beyond the world we live, but is inclusive of the people within our world – despite race, religion, sexual/gender identity, ability etc.

Yerin Ha and Mark Paguio are appearing in I Walk In Your Words, directed by Kristine Landon-Smith.
Dates: 9 – 11 May, 2018
Venue: ATYP