Review: Tonsils And Tweezers (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 12 – 27, 2018
Playwright: Will O’Mahony
Director: Michael Abercromby
Cast: Travis Jeffery, James Sweeny, Megan Wilding, Hoa Xuande
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Will O’Mahony’s black comedy Tonsils And Tweezers centres itself on two young men, who share not only a very close relationship, but also the unyielding malaise of modern masculinity. We see them bond as outsiders in school, and witness how that relationship shapes the adults that they try to become.

The narrative might be fairly simple, but the plot is a deliberately beguiling one that ends up delivering more confusion than it intends. We sense an emotional crescendo being constructed thoughtfully as each scene progresses, but its inability to have us sufficiently identify with either Tonsils or Tweezers, takes us to a conclusion that never manages to be more than lukewarm.

The actors however, are full of conviction and reliably entertaining. Travis Jeffery and Hoa Xuande are the leads, both authentically present and impressive with the gravity they bring to the stage at crucial junctures of drama. Even more appealing, are supporting players James Sweeny and Megan Wilding, memorable with the scintillating humour they are able to introduce throughout the piece. None of these characters are particularly likeable, but it is a cast that we are glad to have spent time with.

Director Michael Abercromby takes us through the play’s many blunt atmospheric shifts with admirable elegance and efficiency. Lights by Liam O’Keefe and sound by James Yeremeyev have a tendency to work slightly too literally, but are highly effective with the way time, place and mood are calibrated for our subliminal comprehension. Patrick Howe does remarkable well as set designer, creating a space beautifully sleek in its minimalism, whilst portraying a cold brutality that is consistent with emotions relevant to the text.

In Tonsils And Tweezers, the Australian man’s problem with self-expression is, characteristically, looked at, but not looked into. The inability of our boys and men, to articulate and to understand their own feelings is, as the play points out vigorously, clearly detrimental, but how all this transpires, is all but neglected. We know the effects of toxic masculinity, but are yet to examine it in a way that can bring us satisfactory solutions. The dismantlement of old structures that we continue to live within, is necessary but strenuous. Some have begun work on that process, but more will have to come on board, if we wish to truly progress.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

5 Questions with Travis Jeffery and Hoa Xuande

Travis Jeffery

Hoa Xuande: Before you read Tonsils And Tweezers, going purely from the name, what did you think the play would be about?
Travis Jeffery: I had absolutely no idea what the play was about before I read it. I love the title, but the only thing it gives away is two of the characters names, and even that’s not crystal clear. Will O’Mahony is a very intelligent human and writer so I gathered the title wasn’t going to be literal, but the thought did cross my mind that ‘hey maybe it’s just set at the dentist’.

What kind of kid were you at school?
I was the funny chubby kid at school. Or at least I tried to be funny, I was definitely chubby. My passport photo was taken in 2009 when I was around 107 kgs, these days when I whip it out at the airport I occasionally get laughed at… at least I’m getting laughs 😦

What are the similarities or differences between you and your character?
The importance of friendship is definitely something myself and Tonsils have in common. My friendships are one of the most important parts of my life, whether it’s on or off stage it’s wonderful knowing you have people that will be there for you, including you, Hoa Xuande. At the heart of Tonsils And Tweezers is two best friends trying to help each other work through something traumatic, it’s their friendship that drives the play.

What do you think your character’s name actually is and why?
Interesting question Hoa, lets go with Peter. Purely because in one of the rehearsals James Sweeny, who plays Max, called me Peter when he wasn’t cut off in time. Or maybe his name really is just Tonsils, like Cher!

Where do you go to get your dance moves?
I learnt my moves at the school of hard knocks! Don’t be fooled into thinking I woke up one morning and they were there. Years of hard work and dedication has been put into my skills. Hitting the D-Floor rain, hail or shine to keep my moves in peak condition. Actually to be honest I was born with absolutely no rhythm so dancing is incredibly hard for me, come watch the show and see for your self.

Hoa Xuande

Travis Jeffery: What do you enjoy about Tonsils And Tweezers and Will O’Mahony’s writing?
Hoa Xuande: I’ve had the chance to work with Will twice now on his plays, including the original development of Tonsils And Tweezers, and the thing that really sticks with me about his writing is how frivolous and fun his plays are until it drops you into the deep end and puts you into an emotional mess. Without trying to sound smart he creates these ideas and clues along the way, which ironically makes his plays really clever. In Tonsils And Tweezers we just get to be silly and play until we hand the audience the play’s actual intentions and emotional truth. It’s really fun to do that every night!

What’s the biggest difference between this production and the original?
The biggest difference between this production and the original would have to be the pace between the two shows. The original was put on as part of a double-bill of theatre at the Black Swan State Theatre Company in Perth so we had some time constraints so Will, who also directed the piece himself, really got us to rapid-fire the text. I mean, we really spoke quite fast! But this production has allowed me to just re-discover the text and give the play a little more ‘breathing room’ so it’s nice to be able to just take your time a bit more in this version of the production and make new choices that you hadn’t previously thought about before. It’s just been great to be able to do the same text again but in a different way!

This question has 2 parts! Part 1: What do you like most about rehearsals? Part 2: What do you like most about working with me?
Haha, well… early on in rehearsals, it was interesting to re-discover the play with Travis and Michael and because I had done the play before, I thought, “Nah, I’ll be right.” But as they kept mining the text and discovered things I had completely missed before, I found myself questioning what I actually knew and what my choices were in the previous production and whether I had even understood the play in the first place. So stepping through the play once again in these rehearsals has actually been quite a refreshing feeling. Travis, mate, I like your can-do attitude! Strong choices even if they might be wrong, or always wrong, haha! Nah, actually that was me every day!

Is it true you only own one white shirt and wear it every day?
False, my friend, I actually own more than one white shirt. Three, to be precise. One of which is being used in the show right now! But I choose to wear my ‘rehearsal’ white shirt every day for rehearsal purposes. FYI, it does get washed every week, I think!

Did you ever have a nickname that you hated? Do you have one now?
I’ve had plenty of nicknames or more like mis-pronunciations of my name that’ve probably turned into a nickname at some point in time. The strangest reading of my name once was ‘hon’ and I was like, ‘Interesting, don’t know where the ‘n’ came from but I’ll take it!’ It’s pronounced ‘hwa’ by the way, like a karate chop! That phrase has become attached to my name every time I introduce myself now, haha! But no, never really hated any nicknames. Do I have one now? Don’t know, probably, but Xanadu’s been making the rounds because it looks similar to my last name!

Travis Jeffery and Hoa Xuande can be seen in Tonsils And Tweezers by Will O’Mahony.
Dates: 12 – 29 Jan, 2018
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

5 Questions with Zoe Jensen and Emma O’Sullivan

Zoe Jensen

Emma O’Sullivan: What do you find the most challenging about performing?
Zoe Jensen: The thing I find the most challenging is pretty basic: it’s the absolute fear that I will second-guess myself in the moment and drop a line, or forget some blocking, or (worst thing ever) lose my shit and start laughing and not be able to pull it back! Thank goodness though most of these things aren’t issue if you practise often enough!

What’s your secret for getting into character?
Everyone’s got their own way of doing it. What I find works for me is to spend at least half an hour before the show going over the big moments in the play for my character. Clarifying this to myself. I find that once I’ve found those 2 or 3 moments, I can drop into it a lot easier. Also just being in the space, walking around and warming up, going over lines or speeches, even just listening to some music – these are all extremely helpful tools.

What’s your dream role?
My dream role would be to play a super bad-ass cold-hearted private detective, and solve some really messed up crimes. (This is what I would love to do in real life but I don’t have the patience to go to uni and do some science thing for years and years, so playing a character who does this would be the BEST THING EVER!) One day…

Tell us about your show Orange Is The New Crack?
Our show is a silly silly silly little show, that will make you laugh A LOT and forget about everything outside of the theatre 😊 There’s no big morals, or messages or anything like that. It’s just myself, Jane and Michael reverting back to childhood and playing a funny make-believe game. I assure you it’s very entertaining!

Why should people go and see Hijacked Rabbit?
Four new pieces of Australian Work?!?! That’s incredible! And they are all under an hour, and have really talented actors, writers and directors behind them, and you can have a drink and a HUGE laugh. It’s such a fun, chilled, entertaining night 😊

Emma O’Sullivan

Zoe Jensen: What do you find the most challenging about performing?
Emma O’Sullivan: There’s a tonne of great challenges for me when performing. One big challenge is making sure I leave whatever day I’ve had at the door. Some days a billion different things happen before I’ve even headed in to the theatre, I try my best to make sure they don’t bleed into the story I’m about to tell onstage.

The second big challenge for me is if I’ve got the luxury of doing heaps of runs of a show then finding that sweet spot between all my preparation and keeping it fresh as a new pair of sneakers every night, you know? You don’t want to go nuts and do stuff like throwing a chair across the room mid scene to keep it fresh – I just want it to be nice and aired out for each audience. Trusting the work I’ve done and then going out there and performing it like; I haven’t done it for the last 2 months, and I didn’t trip over and rip my pants in act one the night before and just go for it. Each show may be the last one I ever get to do so I try to just go for a ride.

What’s your secret for getting into character?
I just try to get the hell out of my own way. Before each show I warm up like there’s no tomorrow, then just sit somewhere for 5 minutes. I just close my eyes, breathe and try to tune out any noise from the day – and any thoughts that are useless for the task I’ve got ahead of me. I started doing that a few years ago and it really seems to help me.

Now, tell us a about Hijacked Rabbit and how you’re involved?
Hijacked Rabbit is this rad season that Jackrabbit Theatre have put together. They’ve selected four one-act, really punchy and tasty pieces of theatre to show at Blood Moon Theatre in Kings Cross from October 31st- November 11th. It’s such a fantastic opportunity to get some theatre onstage that ranges from balls-to-the-wall comedy through to some seriously heartfelt moments.

I’ll be performing in Hit which is written and directed by Lincoln Vickery. The cast also includes heaps of serious talent including Adam Sollis, Seamus Quinn and Elle Harris. It’s such a treat getting to see them all work. The show is honestly like nothing you could ever imagine and is such a blast to perform in. And on every other night I’ll be performing in a one-woman show I’ve written called It’s Mars Time, directed by Charlotte Devenport. I literally cannot wait to do it!

Oh, and then of course there’s your show Orange Is The New Crack written by James Sweeny and Gate 64, written and performed by Jane Watt.

And your one woman show, It’s Mars Time, where does the inspiration come from for your character of Judy?
It comes from loads of different points of interest for me. One of them is the fact that some people (including myself) are just not natural born leaders. I honestly find it hilarious having to really figure out any sort of leadership position I’m in as I go along. Sometimes doing it right and sometimes getting it so so wrong. But what I’m really interested in is watching someone deal with that in a super heightened situation such as; being in a leader in a WWIII bunker, and being severely under-experienced for the job. There’s a comical amount of people in leadership positions in the world who – like Judy – are not natural born leaders and have to just deal with it. It can be hilarious to watch but the results can also be a real tragedy.

I’m also really intrigued by people who have extremely heightened survival instincts. And I love that they’ll prepare for a war no matter the circumstances, they’re survivors and just do what they need to do. I’m fascinated by their natural instincts to get organised, and get prepared for a tragedy at any given moment. You name it – they’ve got a plan for it.

And which show is better do you think, Orange Is The New Crack or It’s Mars Time?
(Laughs) Both of the shows are brill! But lucky for everyone they’re on the same night as a double bill, so the they/I don’t have to choose 😉

Zoe Jensen and Emma O’Sullivan are appearing in Hijacked Rabbit, an anthology of 4 comedies.
Dates: 31 October – 11 November, 2017
Venue: Blood Moon Theatre

Review: Hijacked Rabbit (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Oct 31 – Nov 11, 2017
Playwrights: Emma O’Sullivan, James Sweeny, Lincoln Vickery, Jane Watt
Directors: Michael Abercromby, Charlotte Devenport, Lincoln Vickery
Cast: Michael Abercromby, Elle Harris, Zoe Jensen, Emma O’Sullivan, Adam Sollis, Seamus Quinn, Jane Watt
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Hijacked Rabbit features 4 separate hour-long comedies, each with its own style and characteristics. The plays are individually surprising, although some are funnier than others, and not all are equally meaningful. A matter of personal taste would determine how an audience member responds to the varying comedic approaches, but this is an amusing collection of ideas, presented with infectious enthusiasm.

The one-woman piece Gate 64, written and performed by Jane Watt, sees Winnie, who resides at an airport, talking to her captive crowd, comprised of passengers awaiting a delayed flight. Exploring delusions and memories, fantasies and hopes, Watt demonstrates impressive talent in both artistic capacities. As playwright, she is witty and gently profound, and as actor, she is simultaneously sensitive and daring, tremendously likeable as a result of the extraordinary vulnerability she brings to the role.

Watt again appears in Orange Is The New Crack by James Sweeny, accompanied by equally funny players Michael Abercromby and Zoe Jensen, for some excellent scenes of hilarious tomfoolery. It is this accomplished trio that takes us through the delightfully messy story from ancient times, of sugar-peddling women, their junkies and other dependants.

Although not always executed with finesse, the plays prove themselves to be fantastically imagined. Hit by Lincoln Vickery is a dynamic, fast-paced story about hit men and gay love. It’s Mars Time by Emma O’Sullivan is inspired by the troubles of our times, and the desire to flee this anguished existence.

Each segment of Hijacked Rabbit offers moments of brilliance, and we are enchanted whenever a glimmer of genius is revealed, within these rambunctious, jaunty proceedings. It is the raw talent on show that has us excited, and on this occasion, proves itself to be more than satisfactory.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

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.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

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.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

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.

www.jackrabbittheatre.comwww.thedepottheatre.com