Review: Trevor (Outhouse Theatre Co)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jun 14 – Jul 6, 2019
Playwright: Nick Jones
Director: Shaun Rennie
Cast: Di Adams, Jemwel Danao, Garth Holcombe, David Lynch, Ainslie McGlynn, Jamie Oxenbould, Eloise Snape
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Sandra owns a pet chimpanzee, who in Nick Jones’ Trevor, fancies himself a professional performer, having appeared as a younger primate, on stage and screen. Work has dried up, and Trevor is increasingly restless about his career’s downward trajectory. This of course, is all in his own mind, with Sandra completely oblivious about the turmoil that is brewing inside of the animal. Trevor is given his own voice by the playwright, but he talks as though in a monologue, never expecting any of the humans to understand, thus setting up for the play an inter-species disconnect that figures heavily as its ultimate raison d’etre.

Actor Jamie Oxenbould is persuasive as the chimp, with animalistic energy emanating from all of his being, without excessive reliance on physical mimicry. We believe his ambitions and his frustrations as Trevor, and appreciate the dramatic escalations being presented, through every plot development. Similarly convincing is Di Adams as Sandra, whose own problems are revealed at a slower pace, although no less powerful. There is however, a significantly stronger emphasis on Trevor’s experience than there is on Sandra’s, and considering our predictable affinity with the human character, it is a strange choice that prevents us from a closer empathy with the story.

In allowing Sandra to be somewhat subsumed in the production, director Shaun Rennie risks a distance that could result in a degree of emotional detachment for the audience, but it is a show that is relentless lively, and we find ourselves consistently involved, if not always invested. In a similar vein, Garth Holcombe and Eloise Snape both play larger than life, and very flamboyant personalities, who amuse us at every appearance, but who do little in engaging us on more profound levels. Their costumes though, are notably striking, humorously assembled by Jonathan Hindmarsh, who also solves spatial challenges as set designer, with demarcations of the stage that are, by and large, surprisingly effective. Lights by Kelsey Lee and sound by Melanie Herbert too, are accomplished, for an overall theatrical impact that proves gratifying.

It is absurd that a creature like Trevor should ever be kept as a pet. Human environments are barely feasible for our own survival, yet we insist on removing animals from their natural habitats, to put up with what we know is completely impracticable for them. This is the extent of our arrogance and narcissism. We see nature as a resource to be plundered, and fail to consider the consequences of our incessant exploitation. Trevor is about nature fighting back, and a timely work that opens up discussions about extinction, of the human race.

www.outhousetheatre.org

5 Questions with Maggie Blinco and Lex Marinos

Maggie Blinco

Lex Marinos: What is your earliest performing memory?
Maggie Blinco: Earliest memory was in Russell Lea Kindergarten where I was cast as Mary Mary Quite Contrary which I think was a bit of early typecasting. The rest of the class sat as flowers in a row and I watered them and made the mistake of actually getting a drop on my best friend. She glowered and I knew what was in store for me.

Who has influenced you most?
Rex Cramphorn… I did not become “professional” till I was in my late thirties and for some years was cast on my comic and loud brash persona. For some reason I have never plumbed, Rex cast me in a very serious role in Edward Bond’s Summer, down in Melbourne at Playbox Theatre. It was the beginning of an awakening and a fruitful collaboration with that wonderful man.

What do you pursue when not acting?
I knit a lot. Complicated Kaffe Fasset patterns, A variety of stuff. I find it soothing and very good for the grey matter, working out patterns. I love cooking and getting friends around a table, actors mainly I suppose.I have a lovely family and spend time with them as much as possible. I shop and cook and keep house just like any old fashioned woman.

How many grandkids do you have?
3 granchildren. Over the years I have been very involved with them and minded them all a great deal when they were young. I had fun with them and I dearly love them.

Are you married? Are you wealthy? Answer second question first.
Unfortunately I am a poverty stricken actress who only occasionally makes any reasonable money, despite my long experience.If you were not already married to that lovely wife you have I might have grabbed you years ago.I do love working with you on this play. A sense of humour is a vital element in any man and you are loaded with it.

Lex Marinos

Maggie Blinco: Why do you balk at answering questions?
Lex Marinos: Um …

What do you enjoy most in life?
Waking up, realising I haven’t died in my sleep, it’s always on my bucket list. Then it’s family. I’m blessed with wife kids, grandkids, brother, aunts, cousins nieces nephews, in laws outlaws… all with interesting lives. We laugh as our default setting and cry when necessary.vI remember my Papou: “My child’s child is twice my child”

Can you remember why you wanted to be an actor/entertainer?
To find fame, fortune, and a girlfriend. Admittedly 1 out of 3 is not a great return, but I’ve kept on keeping on. Did’t want to work in the café. Didn’t want to work in an office. Didn’t want a regular job. Wanted to create shows like Omar And Dawn. Wanted to meet interesting people like you. Wanted to travel to exotic places like Tasmania and Qatar.

What is your simple guiding philosophy for dealing with this crazy world?
I just try and get through the day, aware of how capricious life is and that people can be dangerously dumb and brilliantly smart.

Do you cook?
I reheat and make salad and toast… Sometimes I do lamb shanks or a curry. I’m surrounded by brilliant cooks and am happy to serve as their taster.

Maggie Blinco and Lex Marinos can be seen in Omar And Dawn by James Elazzi.
Dates: 12 – 27 Jul, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

5 Questions with Jemwel Danao and Eloise Snape

Jemwel Danao

Eloise Snape: If your character Jerry was an animal, what animal would he be and why?
Jemwel Danao: Well, Jerry is an animal control officer so I would say… a dog! He’s very much like a dog with a bone. He’s very persistent, tenacious, and committed. 

We’ve had to invent a sort of gibberish language for a few moments in the show – how challenging was it and how did you tackle it? Also, please write 2 random sentences in gibberish. 
It was mind-boggling! Unlike anything I’ve ever done before. As a cast, once we found our structure of the gibberish, I was able to go away and process it. Finally, it all came down to rigorous repetition and understanding the intention behind the thought. From there, everything fell into place. 
Emoc hctaw ruo yalp. S’ti a tooh! 

Why is a play like Trevor important?
It deals with the impact of what happens when you try to domesticate a wild animal. During the course of the play, it delves into some very human issues such as miscommunication. That happens on every level in relationships all the time. Especially in this complex human-animal/mother-son story we see unfold on stage. It also explores the allure of stardom and what happens when dreams become unfulfilled which ultimately becomes a source of pain, anguish and ruin.
 
What’s one of your favourite moments in the play?
Without giving anything away, when we dive into the facets of Trevor’s imagination. It’s sheer hilarity! In rehearsals I still catch myself laughing at the same jokes over and over again. So it’s a true testament to the actors who keep those moments fresh and alive. 

If you had a pet chimp, what would you name it and why?
Bubbles! Wait – didn’t Michael Jackson have a pet chimp named Bubbles?

Eloise Snape

Jemwel Danao: Eloise, what drew you to Trevor? 
Eloise Snape: The script and the team of actors and creatives. I’ve never read a script like Trevor before! It’s hilarious and dark and I love the whole element of miscommunication. Trevor’s voice is really strong and sharp. I love that the play encourages us to look at ourselves through the lens of an animal. And yeah, it’s a pretty wonderful group of intelligent and fun chums, so how could I resist?

What has been your biggest challenge in the rehearsal process? 
Without a doubt the biggest challenge for me has been turning off the voice inside my head that stops me from following the interesting, big and absurd choices because they are a little scary. And comedy is scary. Morgan is a wonderfully fun character but it’s very easy to feel eggy and silly and BIG. So I’ve really had to allow myself to make wrong choices and feel like a bit of a dick sometimes. I’m lucky that Shaun is such an excellent director so I’ve been able to trust him and feel safe in the room to play. But the challenge is allowing myself to also trust my instincts.

What’s the best or worst advice you’ve been given about acting? 
Good question Jem. I reckon the best piece of advice I was ever given was probably ‘don’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring…’

If you could attempt another career other then acting what would it be?
It would absolutely be something to do with travel and/or aviation! I’m a bit obsessed with planes. But I’m also a little frightened of flying. Once I deal with that minor (major) speed bump on my path to being a pilot I reckon that would be the go. I also love animals. I once considered working in animal quarantine at the airport. Prob need some skills for that. Not to be pilot though. Just chuck me in the cockpit whatevs.

Every actor has a dream role, what’s yours? 
This is one of those questions where I think I know the answer immediately but I can’t think of one thing probably because there are so many! But to be honest at the moment a little dream of mine would to be in a ripper film or TV show made by excellent funny women, like Bridesmaids. Basically, I wish I was in Bridesmaids. Or maybe I just want to be friends with Melissa McCarthy. All of the above.

Jemwel Danao and Eloise Snape can be seen in Trevor, by Nick Jones.
Dates: 14 Jun – 6 Jul, 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre

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.

www.hbrcreatives.com.au | www.whiteboxtheatre.com.au

Review: Blood On The Cat’s Neck (Montague Basement)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), May 22 – Jun 1, 2019
Playwright: Rainer Werner Fassbinder (translated by Denis Calandra)
Director: Saro Lusty-Cavallari
Cast: Alex Chalwell, Jack Crumlin, Jemwel Danao, Deng Deng, Laura Djanegara, Deborah Galanos, Alice Keohavong, Emma Kew, Brendan Miles, Annie Stafford
Images by Zaina Ahmed

Theatre review
Phoebe Zeitgeist is an alien. She arrives disguised as a human, infiltrating what we might consider normal life, and learns to assume our behaviour. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Blood On The Cat’s Neck from 1971 might also be seen as a work about artificial intelligence, with Phoebe Zeitgeist a kind of technology, a robot perhaps, who disrupts our existence, gradually forming sentience within our midst, and eventually able to outsmart us. There is undeniable anxiety in Blood On The Cat’s Neck, whether relating to a certain perilous quality of our social interactions, or that increasing unease about being overcome by technology.

The abstract nature of Fassbinder’s writing provides a basis on which director Saro Lusty-Cavallari builds an immersive experience for his rendition of Blood On The Cat’s Neck. In the decadent surrounds of a bordello themed bar, we find ten performers scattered, as we are, floating in space with no designated stage and few allocated seats to keep us anchored. Scenes unfold one at a time, and we trace the action, eavesdropping in plain sight as though we too are aliens, scrambling to make heads and tails out of information dispensed mid-conversation, with little context for convenient comprehension.

The 70-minute show does however bear a coherent structure; a beginning, a middle and an end for a familiar flow that offers a sense of security. Hints of drama throughout help to sustain our interest, but its middle section feels repetitive and long, and we find ourselves occasionally disengaging from the artists, perhaps choosing instead to observe the more general goings on. As Phoebe Zeitgeist examines one character after another, we are on the outside, secretly scrutinising fellow audience members, as though all are curious.

A strong cast is assembled for the piece, with each personality bearing a distinct individual essence that accrue an air of gravity, that gives fortification to the production’s experimental style. Sophie Pekbilimli’s lighting design is a highlight, sensual and stealthy, rendered with a light touch that demonstrates artistic confidence. Costumes by Grace Deacon are cleverly coordinated, to depict character types, and to deliver charming imagery. Lusty-Cavallari’s sounds keep us on the right track, so that our interpretations are kept within parameters, as is our visceral experience of his unique kinetic theatricality.

Phoebe Zeitgeist’s convincing otherness is derived from her fictitious-ness. Technology on the other hand, cannot be divorced from its creator; it and us are one. The post-human story contained in Blood On The Cat’s Neck is frightening, because we know the worst of ourselves, and it requires no great stretch of imagination to see it manifested in robots. If artificial intelligence does eventually overwhelm us, we will recognise ourselves in them, and perhaps come to an understanding that evolution will take us on its natural course, and move us beyond a biology that will conceivably turn defunct. Mainstream culture has little appreciation for notions of everlasting life, but maybe we will grow smarter, and develop a new consciousness where we can find heaven, even if it lives inside a machine.

www.montaguebasement.com

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: 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