Review: Idiot Juice (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: The Factory Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 29 – Sep 2, 2017
Playwright: Charlie Falkner
Cast: Charlie Falkner, Alex Malone, James Sweeny
Image by Luke McMahon

Theatre review
Charlie Falkner’s creation provides a simple structure for Idiot Juice, with three siblings hawking “medium juice” at a funeral, claiming that it provides visions of the dead for an hour, with each dose consumed. Within this context, performers improvise jokes in accordance with its predetermined plot trajectory. With death positioned at the centre of the action, we find ourselves on fertile ground for dark comedy, and opportunities are certainly present for poignant existential reflection, but the trio keeps things resolutely light.

Each comedian brings to the stage a distinct style of humour, with James Sweeny’s brassy approach proving invaluable in holding our attention captive. Alex Malone’s whimsy prevents the show from turning predictable, and Falkner’s self-effacing impulses are key to his charm. It is a cohesive group, and when the chemistry works, their show vibrates with a sense of unmistakable excitement, but an inability to maintain a consistently tight rhythm at several points, exposes unfortunate deficiencies in dexterity and confidence.

To be able to laugh at death, requires that we interrogate and excavate the deepest of our humanity. It forces us to examine how we apportion value, to identify the things that matter in life, or more accurately, to question those that reveal only frivolity. Idiot Juice is about gullibility, and how we are easily fooled into adopting ideals that are nothing more than myth or romance. As the saying goes, only death and taxes are certain in life, so everything else must only be a manifestation of the subjective imagination, and what we become, has a lot to do with choices.

Review: Front (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Jun 28 – Jul 15, 2017
Playwright: Michael Abercromby
Director: Michael Abercromby
Cast: Jack Angwin, Charlie Falkner, Elle Harris, Andreas Lohmeyer, Mary Soudi, Lincoln Vickery
Image by Tom Cramond

Theatre review
They are called Rough Cut Punt, a band that is going places, fuelled by big dreams, and even bigger egos. In Michael Abercromby’s Front, we meet four young men, talented but naive, trying to foster a career with only passion as guidance. Before too long, things begin to unravel, of course, in this age old tale of a partnership gone sour. Its narrative might be predictable, but the show is nonetheless enjoyable. Front is a story we have heard before, but its themes of betrayal and of innocence lost, will always retain their pertinence.

It is a tight and energetic production that Abercromby has directed. Scenes move past efficiently, with transitions, of time and space, handled remarkably well. The stage is effectively demarcated, by lighting designer Liam O’Keefe and set designer Shaynee Brayshaw, to offer a sense of vigour and action to keep us involved. Our frontman is played by Lincoln Vickery, whose vulnerability prevents us from being alienated by his poor behaviour. Vickery can seem a reluctant villain, but his charisma holds our attention even when the going gets tough. Charlie Falkner is relied upon to provide the comedy, as band guitarist and resident stoner, with his impeccable timing giving the production a much needed lustre. Also memorable is Mary Soudi as a recording executive, vicious and vile, accurately presented for some of the play’s more dramatic moments.

Like most people who fear being ordinary, artists are aghast by the thought of being generic. Rough Cut Punt wants to have a good time, but it knows that its survival depends on finding something original. Front may be an entertaining work, but we want it to say something new, so that its effects can last beyond the curtain call. Its prologue and epilogue are one and the same, both expressing the artist’s zeal for the vocation, but we see success eluding our protagonist, as he continues to ignore his craft.

Review: Sex Object (Jackrabbit Theatre / The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Apr 19 – 29, 2017
Playwright: Charlie Falkner
Director: Michael Abercromby
Cast: Charlotte Devenport, Charlie Falkner, Andrew Hearle, Grace Victoria
Image by Omnes Photography

Theatre review
Ben is addicted to pornography, an increasingly widespread problem resulting from recent technological advancements, that have allowed unprecedented access to explicit sexual content. Unable to conduct a healthy relationship with his girlfriend, he decides to break things off, but Ron’s father has just passed away, and timing is a real issue. Charlie Falkner’s Sex Object may not be very sure about what it wishes to say, but its dialogue and characters are certainly amusing. We go on a delightful ride with the youthful foursome, entertained by the things they say and do, and even though we end up at a place quite unexceptional, the journey is ultimately a pleasing one.

The show is energetic, full of effervescence, and we are kept engrossed in each of its very chatty sequences. Director Michael Abercromby is determined to have interchanges occur with great exuberance, which holds the audience’s attention well, but it is doubtful if we ever find an opportunity to invest anything deeper than cheerful laughter. Falkner’s own performance as Ben is charmingly idiosyncratic, like a Millennial Woody Allen, struggling to make sense of his own world, while exposing the dysfunctions that we all share. Playing Gustav is the very funny Andrew Hearle, long-limbed and manic, prancing around the stage with uncontainable enthusiasm, and proving himself to be an awfully infectious presence.

The play beats about the bush, wishing to talk about sex in the modern era, but is unable to get deep and dirty with its ideas. Taboo subjects are by definition seldom discussed, and as such, we often lack the ability for their articulation. Not only do we lack the language, we lack the philosophy, because silence hampers how we communicate and how we think. It is clear that Sex Object wishes to interrogate something contemporary about our sexualities, at a time when technology and commerce are allowed to penetrate all that is intimate and private, but what it actually does say is insubstantial. In its inevitable and unintended prudishness, we receive instead a barrage of jokes, like children discovering sex, unable to appreciate it for its profundity, indulging instead in its many awkward and silly, although not unenjoyable, thrills and spills.

Review: Sweet Phoebe (Jackrabbit Theatre)

jackrabbitVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Nov 1 – 12, 2016
Playwright: Michael Gow
Director: Suzanne Pereira, Anthony Skuse
Cast: Charlotte Hazzard, Alastair Osment
Image by

Theatre review
There is something superficial about Fraser and Helen’s relationship in Sweet Phoebe. They spend most of their time talking about work, using it as a distraction from issues at home. When a friend’s dog comes to live, their life begins to unravel, revealing problems they had previously chosen not to acknowledge. Michael Gow writes about how we get caught up in unimportant things. Middle class existences in wealthy Australia are preoccupied with inconsequential and frivolous obsessions that allow deeper parts of ourselves be ignored, until they become urgent for attention, culminating in crisis points, leaving us crying for help.

As Helen, Charlotte Hazzard presents truthful emotions that give the pair’s small world a sense of volatile authenticity. Alastair Osment’s theatrical approach highlights the artificiality and showy shallowness of Fraser. Both actors bring to the piece, a fine balance of comedy and tragedy that is often entertaining and quite gripping. Directors Suzanne Pereira and Anthony Skuse ensure that dynamics between characters are explored with sensitivity and a resonant accuracy. A plot twist does however, turn the production slightly predictable and banal towards its end, causing its conclusion to arrive deflated.

The play contains sharp humour and pointed commentary on modern couples, asking questions about the nature of intimate relationships in today’s climate of rationality and independence. As traditional values and religious beliefs fade away, it becomes necessary to understand the evolution of our psyche as it pertains to these unions, if we are to learn how to keep marriages working. There is little evidence in Sweet Phoebe that the couple should remain together, aside from the practicalities of property co-ownership. Where signs of romance do emerge, they materialise in negative ways through jealousy and anger, and while they do engage in sexual intercourse, it seems that their connection is less than extraordinary.

It is hard to make a meaningful life, when we are surrounded by things that matter little, or when we forget that time is finite. We should not be foolish with what we choose to pursue, and our decisions must never cause harm to others, but as our times become increasingly narcissistic, the likelihood of creating rich existences can only diminish.

5 Questions with Charlotte Hazzard and Alastair Osment

Charlotte Hazzard

Charlotte Hazzard

Alastair Osment: What do you think Sydney audiences will enjoy most about Sweet Phoebe?
Charlotte Hazzard: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Sydney audiences will enjoy most about Gow’s play. I think the fact that it is set in Sydney will resonate with audiences. He paints such an unexpected, unpredictable and genuine picture of the private homes of others that Helen and Frazer find themselves and I think that’s thrilling – what sits indoors. That’s hopefully just one of the many.

How would you describe your character Helen in five words.
Open. Willing. Bubbling. Observant. Fire.

What made you decide to be an actor?
I was very shy when I was younger and so my mother forced me to do speech and drama classes and it quickly turned into a real passion. I was also mentored by a wonderful actress through high school and she made me really believe that I could pursue this career path.

What is your favourite role you’ve played in your career to date.
Tough… I’m going to answer this without considering this play…

Last year I worked on Angela Betzien’s War Crimes and played a character called Jade. Was my favourite because of many things cast/crew/sisterhood/everything but also the character is a total badass. She’s 16 years old and has been through hell and back- but despite all that she is the ultimate warrior. Never the victim, relentless, full of strength, life and love. I was really inspired by her.

What has been your greatest challenge with the text so far.
This has been such a wonderfully challenging play. There is a lot of white space on the page and also in the lives of the characters- there a not a lot of answers in the script but instead a lot of clues of what this pair are dealing with. With how they deal with each, their language and how they evolve through the play. Excavating and discovering these characters and their relationship with the very little purposely given has been a welcomed challenge. Michael Gow has also written without punctuation and when I first picked up the text I was like wow! What a freeing gift! but one of the other challenges, because although there is no punctuation it has been quite purposefully composed and discovery is still ongoing.

Alastair Osment

Alastair Osment

Charlotte Hazzard: Why did you decide to become an actor?
Alastair Osment: It’s the only thing I wanted to do when I left school… and to be honest it’s the only thing I was ever good at. My parents encouraged me to do a trade after high school . So after I completed my 4-year apprenticeship to become a qualified electrician I went off to WAAPA to study acting.

What has been the greatest challenge so far with this text?
This play was deliberately written without punctuation to allow the actors playing it to find the thoughts and syntax through discovery, rather than it being prescribed. That’s a great freedom… but also a massive challenge because I’ve found I’ve had to explore every ‘wrong’ way, to get to the ‘right’ way of delivery/sense.

Have you ever lost a dog?
A few times actually! Our childhood dog, Heidi, used to escape by slipping through the handrails on the upstairs veranda and jumping from the 1st floor!! Insane. We always found her again… but she kept on making those death-defying leaps.

What type of dog did you having growing up?
We had a Blue Heeler named Jude. And later we had a Fox Terrier named Heidi.

How would you describe your character Frazer in 5 words?
Passionate, Determined, Aspirational, Front-footed, Proactive.

Charlotte Hazzard and Alastair Osment are appearing in Sweet Phoebe by Michael Gow.
Dates: 1 – 12 November, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: Dirty People (Doonbrae Productions / Jackrabbit Theatre)

depotVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), May 4 – 8, 2016
Playwright: Charlie Falkner
Director: Michael Abercromby
Cast: Charlotte Devenport, Sam Delich, Charlie Falkner, Sam Davenport, Zoe Jensen
Image by Tom Cramond

Theatre review
Charlie Falkner’s Dirty People is a delightful romp about the selfie generation. Its dialogue is clever and idiosyncratic, with hints of originality that gives the work remarkable character. There are moments of self-conscious social commentary that attempt to add a sense of gravity, but Michael Abercromby’s direction is more memorable for astutely delivering every nuance of comedy discoverable in the script. Abercromby’s style is vibrant and adventurous, with an infectious sense of humour that ensures an enjoyable time in the theatre for all concerned.

Although slightly rough around the edges, the youthful ensemble performs the work with excellent conviction. Their presentation is well-rehearsed, and chemistry is strong in every scene. They craft distinct personalities that convey the plot effectively, each one bringing their own charm to the stage. As an actor, Falkner demonstrates good timing and creates a rich interpretation of his part using a wealth of unexpected subtleties. Sam Delich brings a broader approach to get the laughs, and proves himself to be an endearing presence in both his roles. There is a good sense of cohesion in the cast, which is a pleasant surprise considering the diverse comedic tones they each embody.

Although Dirty People misses the opportunity for a more critical take on the state of the world today, it offers effervescent entertainment that is often silly but never stupid. Its satire is fun-loving, and even though thoughtfully conceived, it does not burden us with the disappointments of real life that are its inspiration. The nature of people is full of dirt, but how we aspire to find grace and decency is the key to an enlightened existence.