Review: Sensitive Guys (Cross Pollinate Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 30 – May 11, 2019
Playwright: MJ Kaufman
Director: Blazey Best
Cast: Natasha Cheng, Nancy Denis, Alex Malone, Shell McKenzie, Samm Ward
Images by Clare Hawley
Theatre review
We meet two small groups of students at an American college. One is a Men’s Peer Education Group, and the other a Survivor Support Group comprised of women victims of sexual assault. MJ Kaufman’s 2018 play Sensitive Guys looks at young men grappling with sexual politics, at a time when boundaries seem to be shifting, as the traditionally subjugated learn to push back against injustices of many kinds. In the story are what we might term woke men, but we discover that thoughts and actions do not necessarily correspond, for those who claim to know better. There is excellent humour in Kaufman’s writing, and although didactic in nature, its clarity of intention makes for a political work that feels immediate and digestible.

It is a passionate production, cohesively designed by an efficacious team of creatives, to facilitate a simple depiction of contemporary concerns. Directed by Blazey Best, the show offers an accurate representation of our hopes and anxieties as they stand today, in relation to the development of discussions around sexual misconduct. The show is a consolidation and reiteration of recent ideas from the Twitterverse, no longer fresh but still pertinent. An excellent ensemble of five actors deliver a well-rehearsed performance, earnest but also comical, able to keep us amused as they take on the responsibility of expounding some valuable lessons.

The young men in Sensitive Guys have much to unlearn; their understanding of sex and gender is revealed to be more damaging than they had ever imagined. There is a pleasure in watching bad boys flagellate themselves on stage. We want to see them punished, as well as see them become better people. The moral of this story is incredibly basic, but the truth is that we keep imparting to our children, old values that are harmful to many and beneficial to few. How we teach masculinity and femininity must come under scrutiny, as do our reasons for insisting on those binaries.

www.crosspollinate.com.au

Review: A Little Piece Of Ash (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 16 – 26, 2019
Playwright: Megan Wilding
Director: Megan Wilding
Cast: Toby Blome, Luke Fewster, Alex Malone, Moreblessing Maturure, Stephanie Somerville, Megan Wilding
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Lily has just moved on to the next realm of existence, or in Indigenous terms, the Dreaming. Her presence in A Little Piece Of Ash, could be termed spiritual, a ghost perhaps, depending on one’s cultural proclivities. She sits in her comfortable armchair at home, like an angel watching over her daughter Jedda, as though little has changed. Megan Wilding’s play depicts death, of the human body, as a transitional extension of life that we must learn to endure, involving excruciating pain but is nonetheless and ultimately sublime. Jedda is unable to see or hear her mother, but in some ways knows that Lily is still here.

As we watch the grieving process take place, we understand it to be a journey toward enlightenment, trusting in an eventual peace that young Jedda will arrive at. Wilding’s writing is sentimental, occasionally humorous, a concentrated examination on the days immediately following Lily’s passing, honest in its inability to see beyond its all-consuming sorrow. Although somewhat repetitive in its expressions, A Little Piece Of Ash‘s sincerity is undeniable. Wilding is also director and actor (as Lily) in the piece, and it is her exceptional charm that really lights up the stage; one would be hard-pressed to conjure a performer more likeable.

Stephanie Somerville plays Jedda, memorable for the intensity that she sustains for the entire ninety-minute duration. It is a powerful portrayal of loss, effective in communicating the young woman’s state of trauma. A strong support cast is on hand to offer some texture to the show, with Alex Malone particularly authentic with the emotions she displays in the role of Ned, who had regarded Lily a mother figure. Design elements of the presentation are rich although not always executed with elegance. There is a raw quality to A Little Piece Of Ash that can at times seem unintentional, but its overall impact is more than adequate.

No matter what we believe happens after a person dies, it is how we as the living, manage deaths, that truly matters. How we honour those who pass, determines the people we are in the here and now. How we remember the deceased, informs the way we conceive of our future. The more we are able to recognise that the past is inextricable from the future, the greater respect we will be able to muster for all that surrounds us. When we imagine the dead to simply cease to exist, or that they progress onto completely disconnected dimensions, we run the risk of causing interminable damage to the present. The soul is eternal, whether or not we are kind to it.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

5 Questions with Stephanie Somerville and Megan Wilding

Stephanie Somerville

Megan Wilding: What has been the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard?
Stephanie Somerville: Probably something Rick Brayford, the head of the Aboriginal acting course, at WAAPA told me before I went for my call back for the acting course. I was super, super nervous and he said to me “It’s your land, now go act those little white girls off the stage.” I find myself saying that to myself a lot; it grounds me, gives me confidence and makes me laugh.

Do you have a mantra you say to yourself before you go on stage?
“It’s your land, now go act those little white girls off the stage.”

What has been the most exciting thing about bringing A Little Piece Of Ash to life?
I’ve never gotten to work with a writer/director on a play before. It feels like such an enormous privilege to help a friend and someone who I admire so deeply tell her story.

Do you have a good warm-up song that you blast before a show?
I usually have a little playlist for each show I do, and I’ve got a few already for A Little Piece Of Ash. It’s a lot of country music, but ‘G.U.Y’ by Lady Gaga is always a great one to get the blood pumping.

Why should people come and see A Little Piece Of Ash?
It’s a deeply touching and hilarious play about the absurdity of life, death and how we deal with it. It’s written by an incredible new talent. It’s powerful, it’s truthful, it’s Aboriginal and it’s completely unapologetic.

Megan Wilding

Stephanie Somerville: What first made you want to start writing?
Megan Wilding: Ever since I was a little anxiety-riddled kid, I found it hard to express what I was feeling. I discovered at quiet a young age that I could explore things that that were going on around me that I didn’t really understand through writing and making stories. As I grew older and became more aware of the theatre industry, it was just a natural progression that my writing turned into plays and performance poetry. It’s nice to give my feelings to characters and let them explore the extreme. Writing A Little Piece Of Ash certainly helped me understand my feelings towards loss and love a lot more.

Why did you feel it was important for you to also direct A Little Piece Of Ash?
Can I say I’m a bit of a control freak? A Little Piece Of Ash is my first little trauma baby, and I wasn’t ready to give her away just yet; I wanted to see her take her first steps and start to walk. Also, I’ve wanted to pursue directing for a while and this presented itself as a really great opportunity to jump in. Hopefully from here some more opportunities will come along.

What’s one thing you wish people talked about more?
Everything. Treaty, trauma, and truth. But more importantly I wished more people listened when someone spoke. It’s scary how much talking is done to blocked ears.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
That there’s no one way to grieve; that you can and should reach out if you need to; that love can be expressed across time and space.

How do you unwind after a long day of writer/actor/directoring…?
I’ve watched every season of RuPaul’s Drag Race at least 5 times. Honestly, that show with all feathers and fierceness helps me switch off every time. Or a nice, hot, eucalyptus bath.

Stephanie Somerville and Megan Wilding are collaborating on A Little Piece Of Ash.
Dates: 12 – 27 Apr, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Jackrabbit Theatre / Little Eggs Collective)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Apr 2 – 13, 2019
Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Director: Julia Robertson
Cast: Lloyd Allison-Young, Mathew Lee, Nicholas Papademetriou, Nicole Pingon, Callan Purcell, Annie Stafford, Grace Stamnas, Mike Ugo, Laura Wilson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
The theatrical action takes place in a rectangular sandpit, with nine people in disciplined formations, illustrating the 1798 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Romanticist’s words are turned tangible, as we watch his ship’s adventures unfold, from an optimistic start, into a journey that becomes increasingly perilous. The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is parsed through the bodies of performers, for a transformation that takes the storytelling from one artistic form to another, and in the process, bending time to create a channel in which the past can visit the palpable present.

Directed by Julia Robertson, the production is whimsical, resolutely so, but it is insufficiently engaging, due mainly to the traverse arrangement of seating, which disallows the visual dimensions of the show to truly fulfil their intentions. Without an adequate backdrop, and without a raised stage, our eyes become restricted in what they are able to absorb and discern. The ensemble is focused, exquisitely cohesive with their offering. It is a spirited effort, especially inventive with the music and sounds that they generate, and along with composer Oliver Shermacher, auditory pleasures are a principal accomplishment of this work.

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner may not connect as potently as it should, but it bears an integrity that is reassuring. There is a purity to its approach that feels artistically uncompromising and, therefore, admirable. In what we term “independent theatre”, nobody pays your bills but yourself. The sacrifices involved in undertaking this often thankless work are mammoth, and artists should not placate or ingratiate, in the hope of some imaginary professional advancement that will result. Their only responsibility is to the truth, and that is what we are here for, wherever we find ourselves to be.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com | www.facebook.com/littleeggscollective

Review: Leopardskin (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 26 – Apr 6, 2019
Playwright: Michael McStay
Director: Samantha Young
Cast: Nick Gell, Travis Jeffery, Zoe Jensen, Emma Kew, Guy O’Grady, Ella Watson-Russell
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Luka and Val are petty thieves trying to make the big leagues. They hear of an Italian billionaire philanthropist giving away his priceless antique clock, and make a beeline for an opportunity to nab the prize. Michael McStay’s play is a farce in the classic vein, reminiscent of Molière, Fo and Brecht, complete with bumbling cops, mixed identities and love triangles. Witty and wild, extremely quirky and downright silly, the work is almost astonishing in its ability to steer clear of anything that could be classed deep and meaningful. Amusement is of course, one of the main reasons we go to the theatre, and Leopardskin delivers it in spades.

Samantha Young directs a wonderfully flamboyant show, very loud and very mad, quite the counter-cultural statement in what feels to be a terribly conservative milieu. With just enough attention placed on making sense of the frankly perfunctory narrative, Young puts her energy into making every second count, so that the audience’s synapses are firing, all of us tickled and fascinated, from beginning to end. When not laughing out loud, we find ourselves grinning from ear to ear, in deep enjoyment of this peculiar beast of an unapologetic, outlandish comedy.

Six very excitable performers can be seen luxuriating on stage, in full throttle madcap mode. Luka is played by Guy O’Grady, sarcastic in his unexpectedly pompous rendition of the small-time crook. Zoe Jensen is vibrant as Val, the rookie pickpocket who defies underestimation. The idiosyncratic tycoon Giuseppe Monterverdi is made an effervescent joy by Travis Jeffery, who brings surprising texture to his performance. Nick Gell takes all four of his characters to high camp territory, unforgettably gregarious with his vaudeville style. Also very effective in multiple roles is Emma Kew, whose timing is surpassed only by her effortless comedic presence. Senator Olive Darling is depicted with precision and a lot of exaggeration, by Ella Watson-Russell who contributes to the exceptional mischievousness of the production.

In accordance with its title, the show features costume pieces in all manner of leopard spots, that perennial symbol of bad taste in Anglo-Saxon societies. Indeed, in Leopardskin‘s embrace of all things brash and obnoxious, we encounter an anti-conformist aesthetic that tells so much about what constitutes normal and respectable, in our art and in our lives. When we scrutinise each other, to police an idea of tastefulness in the way we look and behave, we reveal a set of values determined to separate people into classes. When we dare to disrupt those codes, bad traditions can begin to be dispelled, and more than that, a shitload of fun will be had.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

Review: Wrath (Jackrabbit Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 8 – 22, 2019
Playwright: Liam Maguire
Director: Liam Maguire
Cast: Madeleine Vizard, Adam Sollis, Jonny Hawkins, Elle Mickel, Amy Hack and Emma Harvie
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
It all kicks off when the CEO spots a pubic hair in the boardroom. Liam Maguire’s Wrath is an absurd and very grotesque look at corporate culture, that dog-eat-dog world in which some of the most brutal of human behaviour can be found. Disguised behind a pretence of uncompromising suit-and-tie civility, with the notion of profit maximisation as guiding principle, these people are entrenched in a system that is profoundly immoral and surreptitiously harmful. The play amplifies all that is wrong about a segment of our lives that has grown substantial and ineludible.

There is semblance of a narrative, but it only serves as conduit for comedic sequences that attack and satirise out institutions of greed. Maguire’s exaggerated approach to humour makes for a flamboyant presentation; Wrath is often hilarious, with a wild spirit that persuades us to luxuriate in its artistic risks. Sound by Sam Maguire and lights by John Collopy, are valuable in creating the show’s faux display of overwrought melodrama, but design schemes eventually turn repetitive, and their efficacy markedly fades in later segments.

An eccentric cast keeps us amused from start to finish. Madeleine Vizard’s extravagant interpretation of CEO Stockwood is brilliant, in its unrelenting incisiveness for a scornful embodiment of the ruthless and power mad. It is a deliciously camp performance, satisfying with the textures she is able to provide in spite of all the exaggerated embellishment. There is a lot of big acting in the piece, and Elle Mickel is chief offender, in the best possible sense. As Daphne, she does not hold back, and we go along with where she dares to tread. Emma Harvie executes perfect timing for the mousy January, a secretary of few words, but all uttered with sublime precision.

These monsters of industry are pervasively and deeply woven into the fabric of our lives, and to wish to have them completely extricated is a pipe dream. We can however, restrict our individual participation in their dominion. We can find ways to retreat from them, to identify their competitors and adversaries, and work to boost those who will bring a greater sense of balance to how power is distributed in our economies. We need to resist the allure of the shiny seductive exteriors, of corporations that can never live up to what they promise. If we can take down the big guys, then those of us who are small can flourish.

www.jackrabbittheatre.com

5 Questions with Nicole Pingon and Mike Ugo

Nicole Pingon

Mike Ugo: If you were about to embark on a journey on the deep blue seas, what two things would you take with you and why?
Nicole Pingon: A waterproof notebook and stationery set. I don’t think this has been invented yet, (at least not that I know of), but I’d love to be able to write and doodle, without worrying about the risk of losing them to the ocean!

Why do you think this story is relevant today?
The ideas Coleridge lamented back in 1798, like reciprocity with the natural world, guilt and existentialism frankly couldn’t be more relevant today, as we live in a time where things aren’t exactly looking bright for our future – socially, politically or environmentally. Not only have Coleridge’s ideas have persisted over time because we are still flawed humans, I think the reason this particular story continues to resonate with us, is due to its exploration of these big scary ideas through a philosophical and moral lens. It deals with fundamental human concerns in a way that feels magical and otherworldly, yet undeniably human and close to home. This story continues to remind us that like the natural world around us, we are creatures of this earth and perhaps don’t have as much control over the future as we may believe we do. Because without Mother Nature, where does that leave us? This is a question Coleridge asked, and a question we will continue to ask ourselves until – I suppose until something changes.  

Working on this production, how has it impacted you?
I’m a firm believer in the fact that we’re constantly learning and growing, and being a part of this production has absolutely been a testament to that! I’m continuously growing throughout this process, both as an artist and a human. I’m so grateful to create with some of the most wondrous, generous and talented creatives, and am constantly inspired by them. Every moment in the room has honestly been such a joy. The excitement I feel is a reminder of how much I love being on the floor, collaborating, discovering and creating. As a human, it’s really encouraged me to read further, watch more and helped me deepen my own worldview, particularly surrounding environmentalism and the language we use to discuss it. It’s also ignited a spark in me to continue exploring new ways to communicate big ideas through performance.

Little Eggs Collective in a sentence?
A collective of passionate, ambitious and diverse storytellers, creating new work and new modes of storytelling, who also happen to be the most wonderful eggs you will ever meet!

Which country would you like to visit that you haven’t been to and why?
I’d really love to visit Iceland some time soon! Not only is it absolutely beautiful, it’s a country that genuinely puts the environment at the forefront. I’d love to immerse myself in their sustainable way of living, and see how it all works. Otherwise Antarctica would be super cool, because Antarctica!

Mike Ugo

Nicole Pingon:What is your favourite bird?
Mike Ugo: Favourite bird would have to be an eagle. My surname actually means eagle of God in my native language (Igbo). Shoutout to my dad, he is late now but I always carry him with me in my heart everywhere I go.

Why do you think this story is important to share?
As a society we can often place significance on the wrong things, whether that be on social media, an excessive indulgence in material goods, celebrity gossip/culture, standards of beauty, the list goes on. These things tend to be glorified in society; but when someone is dying, suddenly all of that becomes trivial.

What type of life did I live?
How did I treat people?
Did I travel enough?
Did I get to experience all the jewels of this beautiful earth?

This story urges you to look within yourself and ask yourself what it means to be human because at the end of the day we all bleed the same. But not only that, realising that it is a gift just to breathe fresh air and that it’s really in all of our best interests to protect and preserve our environment.

What would you love to see in the future of the Sydney theatre scene?
Well as well as having a brother, I have two sisters. If you add my mother, that’s three women in the household (lol) and I would love to just see more female related stories. That would be cool to see. When women win, we all win!!! There’s more than enough room for everyone to shine, so us as men shouldn’t ever feel threatened in any way, shape or form.

What have you learnt/enjoyed about the process of creating this show?
Everything. This type of theatre-making is new to me so just being patient with the whole process. I won’t disclose any gems haha because that stays in the room, but I will say I’m forever indebted to Julia Robertson because she’s the first person to give me an opportunity in the Sydney independent theatre scene. She’s a real genuine soul and you want to be around people like that. I’m still early in my development in terms of acting so every rehearsal has been a gift. It has been challenging because I’ve never been in this type of environment before and the level of excellence amongst everyone is high. But the energy is amazing and everyone is so warm.

What does it mean to be a person of colour in the arts in Sydney?
Well, thank God for my parents raising me with love and affording me with so much. This is why I’ve always loved who I am and translating that positive energy into stories for younger generations is something I find invigorating.

Nicole Pingon and Mike Ugo can be seen in The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.
Dates: 2 – 13 Apr, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre