Review: Night Slows Down (Don’t Look Away Theatre Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Nov 17 – Dec 9, 2017
Playwright: Phillip James Rouse
Director: Phillip James Rouse
Cast: Andre de Vanny, Danielle King, Johnny Nasser
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
It is no secret that something very sinister is happening to our politics. For a variety of reasons, Australians have gradually become more extreme in our views, increasingly unable to tolerate differences, of opinions, lifestyles and backgrounds. In Phillip James Rouse’s Night Slows Down, a disastrous scenario presents itself, and the dark fantasy of those we call the alt-right or neo-Nazis, becomes reality.

The fascists have taken over, and they run the country by unleashing all the menacing impulses that have hitherto been forbidden. It is a regime based purely on unexamined emotion, where logic and level heads mean little. This is not the first time that we see a Nazi government, but unlike stories from the previous century, Night Slows Down is immediate, urgent and real. We recognise the people and places, and are unable to relegate these atrocities to a hazy past, a distant history that we tell ourselves is all but vanquished. Rouse’s stunning play is about a very near future, when we have taken one too many missteps, and the last straw finally breaks the camel’s back.

It is a fierce indictment of whiteness in cultures like ours; an ethnic majority that continually feels the need to exert its dominance. Even as it retains power, it never stops imagining a demise, and its imperialistic drive seems unable to be tamed. Their war cry in the play is “For The Future” through which enemies are constantly identified, for the now is never enough.

Fascism is not an idealistic state of being, but a never-ending project that discriminates and destroys. It has no meaning unto itself, except as an apparatus of ceaseless segregation and eradication. It pretends to be protecting something pure, but in fact its only true objective is to annihilate. The meaning of white is never stable, and those who seek preservation through its identification, are wholly responsible for their own anxiety.

Actor Andre de Vanny is outstanding as Seth, the racist bigot with no talent except for divisive politics. Like all the idiots in government we know who operate in the same way, it is a pointless exercise trying to reach a satisfactory understanding of their psychology, yet de Vanny has us entirely convinced of the villain’s whys and wherefores. His powerful portrayal of a simpleton overcome with hate, is as thrilling as it is distressing.

Also remarkable is leading lady Danielle King, who has us entranced with a profound capacity for depth and nuance. The emotional and intellectual scope she brings to the role of Sharon, allows us to interpret the story beyond the surfaces of good and bad. We are inspired to investigate the resonance she delivers, to discover for ourselves, what it is that consumes us as a society today, and whether we are able to offer effective resistance to corrupting forces. Johnny Nasser is a quieter presence, but no less affecting a performer, leaving an excellent impression, with a dignified emphasis on delivering authenticity to the role of Martin and his shocking persecution.

Lighting design by Sian James-Holland adds dynamism to proceedings, with a creative intricacy that sets a precise tone for each scene. The set is imagined with appropriate restraint, and cleverly executed by production designers Anna Gardiner and Martelle Hunt, to facilitate optimum showmanship by the very compelling cast. Night Slows Down is a tightly orchestrated work, brilliantly helmed by Phillip James Rouse as writer and director, to tell us something irrefutable and pertinent.

It is a discussion shaped by the most pressing issues of today. So much that is conceptual, buzzing in the ether, is consolidated here, for a catastrophic manifestation of our worst nightmares. It functions as warning and premonition. The drama captivates because it speaks our truth so loudly, even though the circumstances it describes, are grandiose in its fictiveness. We are terrified, because we know that the worst is only a hair away.

http://www.kingsxtheatre.com | www.facebook.com/DLATheatre

5 Questions with Danielle King and Johnny Nasser

Danielle King

Johnny Nasser: Is theatre dead?
Danielle King: Fuck, I hope not! Maybe it’s starving. But it’s, historically, proved resilient. And, surely, somebody who has the insight, ability and fortunes to recognise the benefits of having a thriving arts scene to the mental health, education, evolution and tourism trade of a society will realise that it needs support….? Aren’t there studies saying this by far, far greater minds than mine? It’s hard enough trying to justify being involved in productions within the Independent Theatre scene where the actor is sponsoring the production with their time and resources for free without holding onto the ideal that Theatre will, any day now, be restored to health. Risks are still being taken, new writing still being discovered and classics still being performed- we just need to turn up and support the companies doing it.

Why do you act?
Because- you’ll be relieved to know- I’m not qualified to diagnose you, operate on you in surgery, defend you in a court of law, educate you in a classroom or even mix you a cocktail but I can be part of a company that tries to tell you a story to make you think differently, laugh, fall in love, chill you, break your heart and help you forget a shitty day. And I think that should have its place, and I’d like to be a part of that.

You have a lot of experience with classical text, does your approach as an actor differ with new writing?
I don’t think so. You’ve still got to find the truth and humanity in any text and attempt to communicate that. The difference is that you may be one of the first, if not the first, performer to attempt to find that characters voice in new writing, whereas you’re often following in other actors footsteps- sometimes extremely well documented and lauded and, therefore, intimidating footsteps. In new writing, you often have the writer there to be able to develop the piece and the language within it with the cast. Phil is handling our mangling of his writing with a gracious patience and, at times, a stick…

Have you ever been involved in a riot?
I haven’t. Especially not like the one Sharon describes in the play. I guess I can understand how a group of people can quickly and seemingly inexplicably become a mob and its terrifying. Even something as innocuous as a group of fans for a celebrity or a football match that’s particularly heated can become dangerous if the hysteria gets out of hand. To have that number of people powered by protest, frustration or passion it doesn’t seem to take much for civil human behaviour to become riotous. Maybe it’s something about being a group, you’re faceless and so the consequences feel removed. That seems to be Sharon’s experience in the play.

Do you have racist friends?
That’s such a tough question. Yeah, I probably do. Thoughtless, careless comments are made by some, which I may or may not call out at the time. So that’s something for me to address.. Snap judgements made, and shared, whilst watching the news etc. Having conversations with the cast and other creatives around events and sentiments in this play has been really challenging, however, with what’s happening around the world these are conversations to be had- and our medium happens to be the theatre.

Johnny Nasser

Danielle King: This is the first time we’ve worked together. Who are you and how’d you start acting?
Johnny Nasser: I’m someone who still doesn’t know what they want to be when they grow up, so I will continue to act until that happens. When will that be I wonder? I got a taste for acting as a teenager and had an older brother who was an actor who introduced me to the storytelling caper.

You recently did a creative development on another show and Night Slows Down is a new work, is this a coincidence or do you particularly enjoy being involved in the new writing process?
75% of the theatre work I have done has been new or actor supported devised work and I think I’m naturally drawn to that. Working on a new work takes a lot of commitment, energy and there’s no guarantees of an amazing product. When a show you’ve been involved in from its infancy works and resonates with an audience it’s very satisfying.

The subject of the play is pretty close to the bone looking at world events. Have you ever experienced similar behaviour to Martin, though not to the extent of the events in the play?
I’m of Lebanese descent and growing up got called the usual names: Wog etc… can’t say I enjoyed that and didn’t understand why I was being belittled when I felt like any other Australian kid. Even in terms of casual racism people should consider how a comment is received rather than intended.

When is violence acceptable?
When a cockroach invades your home. That sounds like a Seth comment from the play doesn’t it? My answer is never and sometimes. I have great admiration for those who refuse to resort to violence in the face of violence and tyranny. Could I be that brave? I doubt it.

What music are you listening to and are you discovering anything new?
In the play, Martin and Seth get into a passionate discussion about Kendrick Lamar, so I’m listening to plenty of Kendrick. Especially “M.A.A.D City” which is totally…… dope? Is that what the cool cats say? It’s quite a departure from my usual diet of ABC local radio I tell you!

Catch Danielle King and Johnny Nasser in Night Slows Down, by Phillip James Rouse.
Dates: 17 Nov – 9 Dec, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: She Rode Horses Like The Stock Exchange (Rocket Productions)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Oct 20 – Nov 11, 2017
Playwright: Amelia Roper
Director: Nell Ranney
Cast: Nikki Britton, Tom Anson Mesker, Matilda Ridgway, Dorje Swallow
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
A couple attempts to have a pleasant Sunday picnic, but investment banker Amy’s mind is preoccupied with work. She obsesses about money and power, unable to enjoy her day in the park, even as she is immersed in the glorious sunshine, with her beau Henry by her side.

Amelia Roper’s She Rode Horses Like The Stock Exchange examines our propensity to dwell on materialism and narcissistic conceptions of success, whilst ignoring the better things in life. Its characters pursue hollow dreams, making big sacrifices that amount to nothing. For all of us who participate in societies defined by commodification and consumption, that inability to find fulfilment and happiness can only ring true.

For all its pessimism, the play is humorously written, in a style that charms with its idiosyncrasy. Speech patterns are a delight in Roper’s piece. The production, helmed by director Nell Ranney, is correspondingly quirky, made memorable by Isabel Hudson’s attractive set and costume design. Early moments struggle to resonate, but the show recovers wonderfully when a second couple joins the stage.

Nikki Britton and Dorje Swallow are a vivacious pair, bringing necessary acerbity to the black comedy being performed. Their housewife and executive stereotypes are personalities we want to laugh at, and the actors allow us that opportunity by presenting those roles in a crisp, uncomplicated manner.

Tom Anson Mesker and Matilda Ridgway have more complex concerns, and although less funny with their interpretations, what they bring to the table is equally meaningful. Ridgway is especially effective in moments when we deal directly with issues of professional sexism, cuttingly salient with what she wishes to impart.

Amy and Sara may have diverse strategies in surviving patriarchy, but both are serving and preserving its dominance. The career woman plays by every rule at work, but finds herself discarded. The wife does all that is expected of her at home, then loses everything. They wager all that they have, on systems designed to fail them, and remain oblivious to the quandary that has them confined. We are taught to be good, and we spend years of our lives behaving appropriately, until a day comes when we realise our own freedom to establish a personal sovereignty.

http://www.kingsxtheatre.com

5 Questions with Grace Lauer and Tobias Manderson-Galvin

Grace Lauer

Tobias Manderson-Galvin: You’ve come all the way from Dresden, Germany (via L.A) to be in Puntila/Matti and I wonder as it is the structure of a classic joke: did anything funny happen to you on the way to the theatre? PS it doesn’t have to be funny haha.
Grace Lauer: I had a crazy experience/crazy apparition while driving. 10.30pm so it’s dark. I’m on a part of the autobahn that has no speed limit so I am going quite fast, there is nothing around, no infrastructure, nothing, just road and all of a sudden lit by my headlights I see these white legs in massive heels flash up on the side of the road really close to me like right there .. and then they are gone just as quickly. Or I passed. I’m not sure. I was so perplexed.. and creeped out somehow. A prostitute? The ghost of a prostitute, the legs of a ghost of a prostitute, my imagination? I drove even faster hoping it, they wouldn’t follow me, the ghost legs of the autobahn prostitute, yes that they wouldn’t follow me or it wouldn’t follow me, my imagination – yes that my imagination wouldn’t follow me, leaving it in the dust or better on the tarmac of the autobahn near the spot of the legs of the prostitute the autobahn legs. When I spoke to my brother he offered up the information that street prostitution is very illegal in Germany so neither she nor her legs should have been there really. I didn’t succeed. My imagination is right here with me.

Driving… you play Matti the chauffeur, in Puntila/Matti, so you, I didn’t know this but so you have a licence to drive?
Only a German one. I’ve only driven in Australia a couple of times, I don’t think I’m allowed to. Somehow I got pulled over one of these times and I was so nervous, and I gave him – the policeman – the German licence and he wanted to do the test- the alcohol test. I was giggling uncontrollably and he said ‘Have you been drinking m’am’; and I was really really nervous so I wasn’t blowing properly and then I said, ‘I think I ate an orange yesterday maybe it fermented in my stomach’. And then my mother – who was in Australia, she was in the passenger seat – said “it’s my daughter’s first breathalyser can we take a photo please,” I failed three more times to do the breathalyser test and my mother wouldn’t stop taking photos so the policeman let us go.

The ghost on the street is that the only ghost you’ve ever seen?
One other time. I was running a race in year four. And I got teamed up with a guy. And the guy- so the girl were running the race. And the guys were side lined supporting you as cheer squad. So I got teamed up with this guy I was MASSIVELY in love with. And I remember running and being in front but Deborah K. was running next to me and she was much taller and had longer legs than me and so like I recall running and then the gym teacher was like ‘come on guys support your girl’ and this guy was cheering so loud and I was like ‘I NEED TO WIN THIS’ and then it wasn’t like a prayer or something but in my head I was like ‘please please run faster’ and I just shot off and won this race by like metres and metres and so that was my first encounter with a ghost. Or even the ghost.

Did you win your sweetheart’s affection?
Not until years later and we went out for quite a while. We ‘dated’. I never told the boy about the ghost though and it didn’t last. The crazy thing and I was talking about this to some filmmakers in a sauna in LA. At least they said they were filmmakers. And also it seemed like everyone has their own radio station or podcast in L.A. So anyway they seemed to subscribe to this proto-Freudian, cult-like concept that everyone has an experience between the ages of like 5 to 8 years old that defines your whole life. For me it was winning that race.

But you became an actor not a runner. So how is this your defining moment?
It was a moment of realisation- no believing, let’s say, that there is this potential for a greater benevolent force. So I’m not sure I’m totally 100 percent comfortable with Matti killing Puntila at the end. We can give spoilers here right?

Tobias Manderson-Galvin

Grace Lauer: Have you ever seen ghosts?
You know we’re in Puntila/Matti, not Ghosts at Belvoir right?

I’m asking the questions. So have you?
Once I saw a dragon. I was visited by the Patron Saint of Telemarketing. I’ve communed with angels. I can travel my soul into other people’s bodies and control them like puppets. I can manifest balls of pure energy and all four elements. I can know anyone’s deepest desires by hearing only their cough. There is a spirit panther that follows me sometimes. But no I’ve never seen a ghost.

Speaking of Freud, have you ever seen a psychologist?
A psychiatrist/therapist actually; I went for 12 weeks. Each week she (the doctor) would say ‘I’m really sorry my office is being used by a colleague so we need to use this other room today I normally use for children. So we’d meet in this room full of stuffed toys. She said get comfortable so I arranged all the toys on the couch with me; with a fluffy anaconda around my neck as a scarf. She’d ask questions and sometimes the toys would answer. At the end of the twelve weeks I said to her: ‘So what’s wrong with me doc?’ She said nothing but I was very entertaining and she felt guilty that she’d been the one getting paid for the time. I never returned.

We had 14 walk outs on the second preview; does that bother you?
Once I did a show with an audience of 5. I didn’t like the attitude of three of them so I kicked them out. The show is not for everyone. Tolerance has its limits. I bumped into the three on the street later that night and they said ‘you’re the worst comedian we’ve ever seen’. I said ‘You didn’t see me.’ Turned out one of the two people that I left in the audience was a reviewer. Five stars.

There’s a fair bit of play between yourself and the audience that you didn’t tell me about in rehearsal. Does that happen when you go to other people’s shows?
Only if it feels appropriate. I once threw a show at punk hardcore luminary Henry Rollins’ spoken word concert (at Rollins himself), and he seemed pretty chill with it, but then beat me up in the carpark afterwards while his manager shouted ‘take a photo and post it on the internet, punk, no-one will ever believe you’. So I pick my battles now. But still- F*** you, Rollins.

Grace Lauer and Tobias Manderson-Galvin are performing in Puntila/Matti, part of Sydney Fringe 2017.
Dates: 25 Sep – 14 Oct, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

Review: Puntila Matti (MKA Theatre / Doppelgangster)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Sep 25 – Oct 14, 2017
Playwright: Tobias Manderson-Galvin (after Bertolt Brecht and Hella Wuolijoki)
Director: Tobias Manderson Galvin
Cast: Antoniette Barboutis, Grace Lauer, Tobias Manderson-Galvin
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
We are told that the show’s departure point is Brecht’s 1940 script Mr Puntila And His Man Matti, but not much else can be certain in anyone’s reading of Tobias Manderson-Galvin’s Puntila Matti. Its deliberately bewildering enactment of a chaotic aesthetic, places us in a theatre that is less about stories, and more about experience and experiment, with time as a foregrounded instrument of its artistic practice. We look at a juxtaposition of bodies within time (and space) to garner meaning from any work of theatre, and in the case of Puntila Matti, we are challenged to find a way to appreciate and to comprehend all the riotous action, when its creators intentions seem to be to obfuscate the original narratives on which the show is built.

Manderson-Galvin acknowledges the European history so intimately entangled in the Western art of Australia. If Bertolt Brecht is present in every official form of theatre education disseminated on our land, then this relationship we endure, with a distant past from a faraway region, has to be interrogated. We can try to ignore old Europe’s stifling domination, and pretend to create new voices that are transparently offshoots of that heritage, or we can examine it with irreverence and subversion, as is done in Puntila Matti. Manderson-Galvin reframes Brecht in his own words, then makes them distorted and unintelligible, almost Dadaist in style. This is not a play about dependable dialogue and consistent characters. It is about the establishment, and how we can confront it.

The centrepiece is Manderson-Galvin himself, an imposing figure, wildly energetic and disarmingly intuitive as live performer. A fearlessness in his approach provides assurance of a man in charge, but it also keeps us on our toes, compelled and vigilant in the absence of the fourth wall convention. Grace Lauer provides a sense of anchor to proceedings, a necessary counterbalance that gives texture and dynamism to the presentation. Antoinette Barboutis is on the periphery, playing disoriented narrator with remarkable comedy, consistently, and delightfully, stealing the show from under the key performers.

When we come to recognise the bad in our inheritance, the brave will seek reparation. If our art is broken, it only makes sense that the most innovative of us, will attempt to find solutions. Reacting to the racist, sexist, homophobic, classist (you get the drift) systems in which we have to operate, requires that all participants, practitioners as well as audiences, must learn to face up to the new. It will be awkward, perplexing, even distressing, but those are sensations inherent in any true and radical emancipation. We may never be able to entirely abandon the past, but in rejecting the familiar and the comforting, we know that a genuine progression is in process.

www.mka.org.auwww.doppelgangster.com

Review: American Beauty Shop (Some Company)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Aug 25 – Sep 16, 2017
Playwright: Dana Lynn Formby
Director: Anna McGrath
Cast: Charmaine Bingwa, Caitlin Burley, Amanda Stephens Lee, Jill McKay, Janine Watson
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
The times might be a-changin’, but the American Dream goes on strong. Sue is a hairdresser who runs a small business in the town of Cortez in Colorado, and although she lives hand to mouth, her dreams of escaping poverty never fade. Dana Lynn Formby’s American Beauty Shop is about an underclass of the USA, that believes in hard work as deliverance. They may or may not understand the systematic oppression that they suffer under, but they focus only on labour and enterprise, without any attention placed on political action. Sue accepts her place in society, and plays by the rules, thinking that a commitment to drudgery is her only way out.

Amanda Stephens Lee is an affable presence as Sue. We understand her struggles, and wish the best for her, but let down by lacklustre direction, the women’s stories in American Beauty Shop fail to move us. The production feels under-rehearsed, and although most of the cast is able to demonstrate a good grasp of their individual roles, we are kept waiting for sparks that never fly. The stakes are high for the characters, but dramatic tension is sorely missing from this stage. Conflict and altercations are rarely convincing, as though we sense that all will be good in the end. It is a false sense of security, and the desperation of the Cortez poor, remains an abstract, and distant, concept.

The system is broken, but it was always designed to fail the vast majority. It is an illusion that all who have wealth are deserving of it, implying that those without, are wholly responsible for their own misfortune. The women in American Beauty Shop have ambition and the appropriate fortitude to push for better days, but the cards are stacked firmly against them. They know only to participate in a game that gives them miserably poor odds, and as we watch their fates unfold, it is the lack of fairness in our increasingly capitalist worlds that must leave an impression.

www.facebook.com/somecompanyproductions

5 Questions with Charmaine Bingwa and Janine Watson

Charmaine Bingwa

Janine Watson: All five characters in American Beauty Shop are female, ranging from seventeen to eighty. If you were casting the film version, and you could cast any five female actors (dead or alive), who would you cast in each role and why?
Charmaine Bingwa: Great question. I’d cast Viola Davis as Meg, no explanation required. Her back up option in case negotiations went south would be Aunjanue Ellis who can convey unfathomable heaviness without words; one to watch for sure. Hilary Swank as Doll, her rawness and ability to authentically play the underdog has always cemented her as a favourite of mine; would love to see her bring a little Million Dollar Baby magic. Sue, I would cast Julianne Moore, for her sensitivity; that degree of skinlessness is my favourite trait in actors. Meryl Streep as Helen. And Emma Stone as Judy for girlish charm and charisma. That is a pretty damn fine cast if I don’t mind saying so myself!

Your character ends up on the receiving end of some very uncool over-the-counter racism. Have you ever experienced anything like this in real life? If so, do you mind telling us about it?
Yes, sadly. I’ve had people assume I’m the shopkeeper, people call me the help – all sorts. To be honest I actually find the covert incidents worst, as it’s so insipid and hard to pinpoint or call out. But this is what gives my acting ambitions and career purpose. I feel it’s my duty to add to stage & screen diversity. I am often drawn to historical stories about persecution of racial minorities, because as a society I don’t think we have learnt the lessons of the past and it’s important to re-tell these cautionary tales.

Thinking back as far as you can, what’s the biggest beauty mistake you’ve ever made? Did you ever rock a side pony, for example?
Several! As an adult the extent of my beauty routine mastery is limited to applying foundation, blush and eyeliner – so I probably make several beauty faux pas. But yes, if you must know, in the Nirvana days there was purple lipstick, blue army pants and chokers. Before this I rocked blonde hair, which I’m happy to own. I dyed it black for Doubt: A Parable and have kept it that way ever since.

What’s your favourite thing about working with Janine Watson?
Everything! Her level of commitment, her attentiveness… she even comes to rehearsals she isn’t scheduled for just to observe. She is open, giving and all about the work, which is my favourite trait for collaborators. She can access such depth and uses her instrument masterfully.

Your character Meg has big dreams of starting a hair product line. Other than becoming an incredible actor, (nailed it!) what other big dreams have you had or do you still have?
Absolutely. My dream as an actor is to create incredible work on a global stage.

Janine Watson

Charmaine Bingwa: All five characters in American Beauty Shop are female, ranging from seventeen to eighty. If you were casting the film version, and you could cast any five female actors (dead or alive), who would you cast in each role and why?
Janine Watson: Mmmmm …. the options!!! Charmaine has nailed the casting already!! Lemme see – Jodie foster circa The Accused – Doll, Kate Winslet – Sue, Kerry Washington – Meg, Betty White – Helen, Winona Ryder circa Mermaids – Judy.

Your character Doll has a very sentimental attachment to the children’s story book Good Night Moon. What was your favourite story book as a child and why?
I had a book called The Big Book Of Fairytales and it opened with a really spooky intro of a little girl talking to the old wooden rocking chair that her grandmother used to sit in. She’d say ‘Chair of my grandmother, tell me a story…’ and lean on the rocking chair which would tell her the more obscure, sad and scary fairytales by Oscar Wilde, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen. I loved the book. I loved all the outsiders in those darker stories.

Let’s do some character analysis. Your character is named Doll. Is that short for Dolores or is it because she was conceived to a Dolly Parton song? If it is the latter, which song was it?
Let’s pretend it’s the latter and of course then it would be “Why’d You Come In Here Lookin Like That?!”. But really I’ve decided Doll’s name is actually from Dorothy… Doll was a popular abbreviation of Dorothy and it has a more mid-west Anglo connotation and we’re in the mid-west, rather than Dolores which would be from Irish or European derivation.

What’s your favourite thing about working with Charmaine Bingwa?
Charmaine is just spectacular. I saw her in Doubt and was bowled over by her emotional access and truth. She has gravitas, and infuses even the tiniest moments with great nuance. Plus she’s funny, very cool and can do a lot of push ups.

Doll’s a bit of a black sheep. Who’s the black sheep in your family?
In truth, in my family we’re all black sheep who found our flock… both blood family and extended and beyond.

Charmaine Bingwa and Janine Watson are appearing in American Beauty Shop, by Dana Lynn Formby.
Dates: 25 August – 16 September, 2017
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre